IF only the young, music student Libby Anschutz could have imagined who she would be today. She probably wouldn’t believe that she’d still be playing the piano, let alone in front of audiences in concert halls and at music festivals.
As a young girl, Anschutz took classical piano lessons in her Denver home, following in her dad’s footsteps. She is the middle child of Nancy and Phil Anschutz, business leader, philanthropist and trained classical pianist himself. Despite the best of intentions, she got tired of the lessons and gave up the piano… only to rediscover it 30 years later.
Music has reinvigorated Anschutz’s life and she is now on a mission to have others, especially children, discover the magic and power of music.
“If only there was the chance to learn modern music back then, like the songs I heard on the radio, maybe I would have stuck with it,” she said.
She is now one of the masterminds behind Take Note Colorado, a statewide initiative that calls for every K-12 student to have access to musical instruments and instruction (takenotecolorado.org). Among its efforts, Take Note Colorado has partnered with another nonprofit, Little Kids Rock, which offers a modern band curriculum where students learn how to play current hits.
In 2013, after several rounds of new piano lessons, Anschutz founded her very own rock ‘n’ roll band, Tracksuit Wedding, with her best friend from grade school, lead singer Ali Frankfurt. Stu Miller (guitar and vocals), Josh Skelton (guitar and vocals), Trevor Mariotti (drums, percussion) and Roqui Lluma (bass) complete Tracksuit Wedding which is known for its bluesy rock sound and energetic performances.
“I always liked rock ‘n’ roll raw,” Frankfurt said. “My friend Libby grew up so polished when it came to music but she is getting out of that mold.”
Anschutz is also getting out of the mold when it comes to giving back. As a board member for The Anschutz Foundation, she supports a great deal of charitable work in Colorado but she admits she wanted to change things up a bit. As she describes it, she is using her band to give back. Tracksuit Wedding has rocked some of the bigger fundraising galas in Denver including Colorado Symphony and University of Colorado Cancer Center benefits.
“I love being involved in so many organizations but I wanted to see an alternative to the standard gala,” Anschutz said. “I really have the most fun when I go to a rock and roll show. I love music and I love concerts. To marry a great concert experience with a charitable event is what I was wanting to create.”
That’s when she got busy on how to fundraise using her music. The mother of a son who now 15, she knew she wanted to focus her energy on quality education for all children. With that, Anschutz spent time on her stationary bike. It’s where she thinks the best, especially when it comes to creating set lists for shows and brainstorming ways to make each show be a standout.
In December 2014, Anschutz organized her first Sing It To Me Santa benefit concert for Teach for America Colorado.
Every year since, she has brought together on stage the likes of musician Michael Franti; LA-based band The Record Company; and Colorado musicians including Isaac Slade of The Fray, Todd Park Mohr from Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Billy Nershi of String Cheese Incident. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has also jumped up on the stage with his banjo. Tracksuit Wedding weaves the show together with its original songs and some covers. The evenings frequently wind up with all the musicians side by side, singing Christmas carols and holiday songs with the audience. (Imagine the closing scene of White Christmas, but with a bunch of rock stars in the Ogden Theatre). It’s always a spectacular show.
In the most recent years, Sing It To Me Santa benefited Denver Public Schools Foundation.
But the December 2017 show raised money for Take Note Colorado. Even though this is a statewide program, the proceeds of the show fund music education for Denver Public Schools. Anschutz's plan is to take Sing It To Me Santa on the road every December from here on out with the proceeds benefiting local school districts.
The vision for Take Note Colorado actually came from Colorado’s music-loving leader, Gov. Hickenlooper. In June of 2016, he approached Anschutz and a few others with the idea and they ran with it. “Colorado believes in high quality education for every young person in the state and a high-quality education includes music,” he said. “Take Note Colorado is about making sure that every young person has access to music education and instruments in order to thrive as leaders in this community.”
Anschutz pulled together a committee that meets regularly in her family room. Among the music masterminds helping out: Slade of The Fray, representatives from The Bohemian Foundation; and music industry leaders such as Chuck Morris of AEG Presents. Anschutz founded a new nonprofit called the Colorado Music Coalition to house the Take Note Colorado initiative, which is the organization’s priority.
Within ten months of that first meeting, the first Take Note Colorado benefit concert took the stage at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, starring Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, OneRepublic and Isaac Slade just to name a few. It raised $530,000.
“We are working with each school district to understand their individual needs,” said Take Note Colorado executive director Karen Radman. “We want to work with communities across the state to discover the best way to expand music access to kids.”
For the 2017-2018 school year, five school districts in the state are benefitting from support through the initiative. There are 176 school districts from the eastern plains to the western slope.
“Take Note Colorado needs time to build,” Anschutz said. “We want to raise the funds for music to be in all school districts in Colorado.”
Another benefit concert is being planned for 2018. Depending on the bands that commit to play, the venue may move from the 1STBANK Center to the larger Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village.
“I know how important music-making is in my life, and I want to share this opportunity with kids,” Anschutz said. “Learning to play and perform music is a great way for kids to express themselves and gain self-confidence, which will benefit them for life.”
Anschutz believes the entire state will benefit from these young creative thinkers. So, she says now is the time for Colorado to take note and support music education for all students.
Take Note Colorado
Mile High United Way is serving as the fiscal sponsor for Take Note Colorado.
After two decades as a broadcast journalist in Denver, Kyle Dyer started Kyle Dyle Storytelling. She now partners with groups like the Colorado Music Coalition and shares their stories so others learn about and engage with their mission. Dyer, a former grade school soloist and talent show finalist, appreciates Take Note Colorado’s initiative to enable students to find themselves through music.
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