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Photo: Wes Watkins (provided by Denver Film) | Written especially for COMBO by Peter Jones | Multimedia artist Sam Krentzman remembers the precise moment in March 2020 when he first realized the enormity of the worldwide covid-19 pandemic. Like a lot of creatives, Krentzman had been working a side hustle—in his case for a Denver pizzeria.

“I was helping with the dishes one night and we were watching the news, and I saw what was happening in China,” he said.

It did not take long for the rumors of an Asian virus to hit home in the Mile High City. Krentzman had just opened Armory Denver, his own grant-funded creative production house in Curtis Park, when virtually everything—including Krentzman’s new recording facility—was forced to close down.

“We had just kind of launched our space and were getting ready to build out our first session when covid appeared,” the musician and filmmaker recalled. “During that time, my band broke up. It was all kind of triggered around either the stress or the realistic complications of covid.”

Even the bands that managed to keep it together during the ensuing lockdowns would find little to do musically as the world’s nightclubs and concert venues fell prey to social distancing. With his brand-new state-of-the-art studio sitting empty, Krentzman decided to take the lemon of a worldwide pandemic and make lemonade, finding a way to somehow utilize his new facility while offering work to Colorado musicians and unemployed technicians. Before long, Armory Denver was livestreaming original in-house performances by Colorado musicians and soliciting help to keep the labor of love afloat.

“We were just making it happen,” Krentzman said of the quickly assembled effort. “It was really just us finding a way to do something that we loved and we thought was important—for fans to be able to appreciate the energy and the emotion and the communication of the artists they connect with.”

This web-based lifeline to Colorado music did not go unnoticed. The venture was rewarded with a flood of donations and regional recognition by Westword as Denver’s Best Livestream Production in 2021.

Krentzman was a few weeks into the project before he started seeing the larger picture. This grassroots effort to keep the music alive had become more than just a pragmatic goodwill effort—the livestreams, like covid itself, had taken on a life of its own.

“As we were in the middle of this work, it occurred to us that this was a real moment,” Krentzman said. “People were watching the artists perform, but they were also hearing them speak about what they were going through and what that moment was like for them.”

Some two and a half years later, the result is When the Music Stops, a new documentary that takes a hard—yet often fun and musical—look at how the pandemic affected Denver’s live music scene, as well as the musicians, technicians and promoters who suddenly found themselves out of work. As much of the film was shot in the throes of the pandemic, the crew wore N-95 masks during production, which took place in a ventilated studio with 34-foot ceilings and social-distancing protocols in place. Some of the musicians chose to wear masks during the on-screen interviews.

Amid the artists’ reflections on the covid experience are original performances by the likes of Patient Zeros, Rob Drapkin and many other Denver-based musicians, many of whom were able to collect the same pandemic unemployment compensation that was for the first time made available to gig workers, freelance writers and many other independent contractors.

As Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa says in the film, not everyone was really in the same proverbial covid boat—some were on yachts, while others were stuck in dinghies or clinging to driftwood. Yet When the Music Stops winds up as something of a case study on what happened to virtually everybody—in one sense or another—while using music as the film’s unifying theme.

“It’s a local representation of a global phenomenon,” Krentzman said of his documentary. “I felt like it’s representative, not just of the music industry experience, but to most of our experiences. There was a lot of uncertainty and loneliness in the world. It’s kind of a universal story.”

When the Music Stops will have its world premiere at the Denver Film Festival, Nov. 7 and Nov. 10, at the Sie Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. Krentzman and editor Michael Hartzog, along with several Colorado musicians, will appear in person. Kid Astronaut will perform live after the screening.

One question that the film could not completely answer is in what ways the local music industry might be forever changed by the pandemic during its newer endemic phase and aftermath.

“We didn’t know what was going to be on the other side, but it was going to be different,” Krentzman said. “People still love to see live music and the energy that is there for live shows, but the complications are still there. People have had to move on and support their families. There are less people in the industry than before.”

The filmmaker remains optimistic about the viability of the Colorado music scene, which struggles to pick up the pieces amid a common struggle that ironically brought people together, even as they were pulled apart at the height of the pandemic.

“There were things that we definitely missed,” he said of the world after covid, “but hopefully, there’ll be things we gained too.”

For tickets and more information about the Denver Film Festival, visit

Peter Jones
All Purpose Communicator
Twitter: @askpeterjones

Photo: Wes Watkins of the Other Black and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats is one of the dozens of Colorado musicians who appear in the documentary When the Music Stops, which premieres Nov. 7 at the Denver Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Denver Film

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