By Jason Pohl
From sitting in a crowded Nashville coffee shop with just $4 to her name to taking the stage to accept FoCoMA’s lifetime achievement award, Colorado music legend Liz Barnez has seen first-hand what a turbulent life in the industry looks like.
Chat with her for 10 minutes and that appreciation of struggle – and ensuing inspiration – becomes apparent, rivaling only her sincere devotion to the local music community and deep compassion for other artists.
That’s why Fort Collins-based Bohemian Foundation jumped at the chance to bring her on its music programs team this year as
a full-time artist relations manager. It’s a job description Barnez, 48, called too good to be true – transitioning from a part-time singer-songwriter to a behind-the-scenes broker who can lend Fort Collins and Colorado bands a hand by offering them a paid opportunity to play the Bohemian Nights music festival this August 16-18, sharing the billing with national headliners.
“There’s nothing that I love or am moved by more than music or appreciate more than a really great song told in a way that makes us pay attention or provokes us to feel something,” the New Orleans native said. “That’s the biggest motivator for me – the art of it.”
When her friend Steve Amedee of the Subdudes moved to Colorado in 1987, she followed – and hasn’t looked back. Opting to play more intimate gigs across town and build a following for more than 25 years has defined her as an artist, according to Chris K, host of local radio’s Colorado Sound. Barnez’s piercing and bluesy-soul voice is unmistakable – she has made a style of her own.
“There have been very, very, very few women in music in Northern Colorado who have such gorgeous and expressive voices – that is so rare,” he added. “Those voices come along once in a generation – they really, truly do.”
Since 2010 Barnez has done contract work with Bohemian Nights – running the music festival’s green room, ensuring each musician is treated with class – the way she knows they deserve. In her expanded and permanent role, Barnez assists struggling and established artists who can, in turn, lend their talent to energize the city’s vibrant music scene.
“I see the future looking like we are really revealing Fort Collins as a music community,” said Merry Hummell director of music events with Bohemian Foundation. Hummell has headed the annual Bohemian Nights music festival since its inception nine years ago, and bringing on Barnez, she said, was a no-brainer. Her raw talent, community rapport and – perhaps most importantly – blend of creativity and managerial strength made her the perfect candidate.
“The thought process she brings to the table is a really different creature,” Hummell said, adding later that, “she is just one of the most genuine and nice people I have ever met.”
More broadly, Kristen Karabensh, Bohemian Foundation’s director of music programs, stressed that Barnez’s new role will strengthen the Foundation’s three-pronged music mission – to heighten the area’s music scene, bolster musical resources for youth who may lack the opportunity and ensure every musician with a desire to succeed is given a solid chance.
It’s a new gig of sorts for Barnez – one she looks forward to playing long into the future.
“Bohemian Foundation’s music mission totally resonates with everything that I’m about,” she said. “We’re aligned in those ways.”