When Eagles singer and guitarist Joe Walsh popped into Colorado State University on Thursday to speak via video, he highlighted the stellar curation that makes the school’s music-business program such a hit — thanks in large part to the reputation of founder Chuck Morris.
“Chuck and I have been able to bring in people the parents can relate to, but also people the students can relate to, so it’s a balance,” said Eric Griffin, assistant director of CSU’s three-year-old Music Business Program. “It’s taking our list of 16 weeks and looking at who we can get.”
That includes not only Walsh, but names that college students would likely recognize, such as up-and-coming Boulder band The Velveteers, which has lately been opening for The Black Keys, singer-songwriter Neil Francis, and EDM artist GRiZ.
Many of the students aren’t sure who the Eagles are, however. But that won’t stop other teachers and parents from stopping by the classroom to see Walsh’s guest lecture, Morris said.
“An old pal asked me to show up and speak with his students, so I agreed to out of friendship,” Walsh told The Denver Post via email.
Morris remembered it differently.
“I’ve known Joe since he moved to Boulder and started Barnstorm in 1970,” Morris said. “He has a funny sense of humor, because when he heard about the program he said, ‘Why haven’t you invited me yet?’ ”
The list of top-tier musician lecturers has included Bob Crawford (co-founder of The Avett Brothers); Mike Gordon (Phish); Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons); Rob Squires; Todd Park Mohr and Brian Nevin (Big Head Todd and the Monsters); Verdine White (Earth, Wind & Fire); Wynona Judd and Cactus Moser; Parker Jacobs (creator of Yo Gabba Gabba, co-founder of Aquabats); Lyle Lovett; Myles Daughty (Slightly Stoopid); Michael Franti; and Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon).
Financial supporters of the three-class, nine-credit program are watching, too, as it balloons to anywhere from 250 to 300 students per semester. That’s a long way from its beginnings as a single, pandemic-era virtual class with 47 students. When Morris retired as CEO of mega-promoter AEG Presents Rocky Mountains in 2019, having helped build Colorado’s billion-dollar-plus music industry, he devoted all of his crackling energy to the CSU program and quickly raised close to $1 million to support it. He remains a tireless, highly effective promoter.
Morris had the blessing of conservative Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, whose Anschutz Entertainment Group dominates the regional music market with more than 1,000 concerts per year, including the majority of shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Morris’ decades in the business and personal connections have helped bring in managers, lawyers, agents, streaming experts, game designers and even CSU’s head football coach, Jay Norvell. One of the classes is being integrated into the university’s core curriculum, or AUCC, Morris said.
“Knowing what I know now, I would probably go to law school,” said Morris, who graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder. “But that’s why we’re so lucky to have Eric Griffin.”
Griffin, a longtime lawyer and music manager, formerly taught at Belmont University, a private Christian college in Nashville. There and in Los Angeles he found success behind the scenes, having started out by working security at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and at Tulagi in Boulder (where Morris also worked).
“This program provides an alternative to the way I did it,” Griffin said.
Along with the guest artists who lecture and take questions from students, there’s also the head of the Unreal engine games-division for Epic Games — which happens to have created a game called Fortnite that boasts about 3 million active players — and managers for artists such as Dead and Company.
“Chuck Morris is a legend in the music industry,” CSU president Amy Parsons wrote in an email to The Denver Post. “The program is housed in our top-ranked business school, in a city with a tremendous music scene. Fort Collins’ venues host local and national acts every day of the week, and musicians and music workers come from around the region and across the country to be part of our world-class music scene.”
Despite his past at AEG Presents, Morris has fulfilled his promise to bring in a wide range of professionals who compete fiercely with each other outside the classroom, and not simply promote his former employer. This year, he secured Dani Grant from Mishawaka Amphitheatre and Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass to teach classes amid the parade of big guests. (Morris stops by once a week but doesn’t teach, he said.)
Morris relies on his staff and friends to keep him current, which is tough when he’s not working daily in the music business, he said. It’s another reason he sees the program as a rare and valuable addition to on- and off-stage music work.
“When I was at (late promoter Barry Fey’s) Feyline, we used to get every new release from every label, and I would listen to every record we got and hear all the new bands,” Morris said. “I think that’s why I became a pretty damn good booker. But it’s hard to be on top of everything these days. This program is terrific at that.”
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