This story was originally reported for Westword in Denver.
Denver talent buyer Tony Mason has left the Larimer Lounge, Globe Hall and Lost Lake in order to book the much bigger Gas Monkey in Dallas ... and he’s laughing about it.
Growing up a punk snowboarder and skater in Winter Park and Grand Lake, Mason was taught to hate Texans. He thought they were clogging up the roads and slopes. A “cold weather mountain boy” who still loves to zip through the powder, he admits he sweats too much when it’s hot.
Despite his longstanding loathing of the Lone Star State, Mason’s a notoriously friendly figure among Denver’s often cutthroat talent buyers. His kindness and willingness to take risks on the smallest Denver bands have made him a well-respected small-venue booker, beloved by local musicians.
As a kid, he wanted to be a rock star, so he formed a couple of punk bands. But at 21, he was stuck in the mountains while all his bandmates had left for college. So in 2005, Mason decided to move to Lakewood and study music production at Red Rocks Community College. A teacher there encouraged him to get his bachelor's degree in the music-business program at the University of Colorado Denver, and he followed that advice. Soon after, he dropped his aspirations to be a musician and focused entirely on becoming a talent buyer.
While still in school, Mason started throwing singer-songwriter nights at the Mercury Cafe and the now-defunct Cafe 13 in Golden, plastering the Front Range with flyers and bringing in roughly 30 people a night to see small acts. He booked his first punk show at the late Old Curtis Street Pub — and started doing regular nights there.
Eventually he formed a promotion company, Tone Dynamics, and began going door-to-door to such venues as 3 Kings, the hi-dive and the Skylark Lounge, promising to fill the house on off nights by throwing punk, hip-hop, metal, garage and indie-rock shows. He became well-known in the community and developed a strong network of musicians.
In 2008, Mason started an internship with AEG Presents Rocky Mountains talent buyer Scott Campbell, who independently owns the Larimer Lounge, where Mason was given the title of publicity manager. Through that, he learned to reach out to the press, promote shows and book artists, getting a sense of the business.
Mason graduated from college in 2010 and was immediately recruited to be the talent buyer at Herman’s Hideaway. "I had an interview, and I fucking crushed it,” he recalls. He brought in a three-ring binder with every show he had booked, along with notes about profits and how many people had attended. Management was impressed, and he was hired on the spot.
So he left the Larimer Lounge and went to Herman’s, which was past its heyday as a major rock venue. Mason brought new energy to the club, building its social-media presence, bringing in hotter bands and working the door.
A couple of years into the job at Herman's, he bumped into old boss Campbell at a Red Rocks show, where Mason was selling merch. The AEG talent buyer was thinking of buying a rundown bar on Colfax Avenue and turning it into a music venue, not unlike the Larimer Lounge. Its name: Lost Lake Lounge. Campbell asked Mason to lead the remodel and run the bar.
Mason checked out the space. The stage and sound were awful, the crowd was grim, and the room was small. Would he really give up booking a 500-capacity venue for this dive? Hoping to get in good with Campbell — a logical step if Mason wanted to make his way up in the talent-buying world — he ultimately decided to give it a try.
Starting in 2013, he worked at the venue from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., overseeing construction, getting the space up to code, meeting with city code enforcers and eventually booking shows, working the door and keeping the venue going. It worked for a while, but Mason was stretched too thin.
A couple of years in, the Lost Lake calendar for October — which should have been filled with concerts — was all but empty. Campbell was furious, Mason remembers, and wondered what was going on.
Mason confessed. “I'm drowning and stuck paying bills,” he said, so there was no time to book shows. Campbell understood, and eventually brought Mason on as a full-time talent buyer, handing over the management of Lost Lake to someone else. By the time Campbell bought and renovated Globe Hall, his third independent venue, Mason was the lead talent buyer, booking almost all locals, while Campbell and his team at AEG filled nights with smaller national acts.
Over the last three years, Mason has taken to booking more national bands. He has had very few misses, rarely losing more than a few hundred dollars on a show; more often than not, Mason has been making money for Campbell’s clubs, while the owner watches from a distance. “His way of teaching is tough love,” Mason says.
Acts in Denver's independent music scene have appreciated Mason's work promoting small bands and helping them move up the ranks toward playing larger venues. From Colfax Speed Queen and Allout Helter to YaSi and Bud Bronson & the Goodtimers, Mason has championed music he loves and given even obscure bands a chance.
"He’s a huge supporter of local arts and local artists," says Campbell. "He’s a super-nice guy. Goes out of his way for anybody. He helps bands move up the ladder and has good instincts."
While other staffers of Campbell’s smaller clubs — such as Connor Shapiro, who worked under Mason — were recruited to work for Campbell at AEG, Mason stayed in place, in part because of what a good job he was doing. But he wanted more.
“I wanted to book bigger rooms and not just be the guy under Scott Campbell,” he explains.
Campbell says he tried to find Mason a job at AEG but wasn’t able to. Meanwhile, competitor Live Nation has had only one talent-buyer job open up in recent years — and that was for an EDM booker, which didn't interest Mason.
While jurying for 93.3's Hometown for the Holidays, Mason bumped into independent concert promoter Peter Ore, a defiantly independent force in local music. (“I love kicking the corporate guys in the fucking dick,” he told Westword in 2018.) Ore runs Anchors Away and is a co-owner of the Oriental Theater and Streets Denver; he also serves as the talent buyer for the Gas Monkey in Dallas.
No doubt, poaching Mason would be a jab at Campbell and AEG, but Ore says that had nothing to do with why he picked Mason for a new gig in Texas.
“There’s no maniacal laughter behind this at all," he says. "I needed something done. He wanted to go bigger in the business.”
Ore invited Mason to check out the Gas Monkey, which has 2,000- and 1,200-capacity rooms, a dream for any up-and-coming talent buyer. The two flew down together, and within hours of arriving in Dallas, Mason found himself skateboarding with Ore and his business partner, Alex Mendonsa, and Mendonsa's kids. Mason appreciated how straightforward and relaxed everybody was, and his hesitations about Texas soon melted away.
“I would never go skateboarding with Scott Campbell,” he says, laughing.
Mason returned home, researched other jobs in bigger cities and saw nothing as good, so soon after, he accepted the Gas Monkey offer.
“I think he felt that what we do is something cool,” says Ore, “and we do it with the right perspective and right attitude, because this should all be fucking fun — not some grind where you’re treated like a rented mule and chained to a desk.”
Mason, who also recruited Jake Westerman to leave Campbell and go to the Gas Monkey, plans to start booking for the venue on Feb. 17. Still, he'll stick around Denver through snowboarding season, soaking up a little more of his home state before heading down south.
“It’s gonna be a big step up,” Mason says. “It’s going to raise my personal value.”
Both Campbell and Ore agree that Mason's departure is a big loss for Denver and a coup for Dallas.
“My partner and I couldn’t be more thrilled,” says Ore. “I hope those dudes move to Dallas, kick ass and one day tell me they’re quitting to be fucking kings of the world.”