As live shows return in full, venue operators hope concertgoers appreciate ’the hard work of making music happen again’
Entertainment industry professionals in Vail, Denver and Aspen talk about what it takes to resume larger, in-person shows
As the demand for concerts surges across the region, local venues are doing everything possible to put shows on safely and hoping concertgoers will return the favor.
The COVID-19 pandemic made us think differently about the appreciation we show for various industries. This included hospital workers, of course, but further into the pandemic many people began showing increased respect for other essential workers like grocery store employees, public transit officials and restaurant staff.
Brian Kitts, the marketing and communications director for Denver Arts & Venues, which operates the historic Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, said venue operators and other professionals in the entertainment industry will need this kind of support to keep large-scale shows safe.
It is something many of us haven’t thought about before, he said. In fact, concerts are the time that some are at their wildest and show the least regard for those around them. But the era of COVID-19 has called for a new way of thinking about what is expected of concertgoers at shows.
“It’s a partnership between musicians, or artists, and venue management and fans,” Kitts said.
Venues across the region are doing all they can to increase safety but, at a certain point, they must rely on and trust the goodwill of attendees, he said.
In Eagle County, where 65% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, event organizers are optimistic that most live music lovers will do their part.
“No doubt the vast majority of folks will cherish and respect all the venue operators and our staff and our box office people,” said Tom Boyd, the senior director of communications for the Vail Valley Foundation who oversees operations at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.
“Others, frankly, will return to maybe just the way that it used to be and may not think of that,” Boyd added.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is encouraging live music lovers to get vaccinated before attending shows and has even gone so far as to offer COVID-19 vaccinations on site, Kitts said.
Venue operators are recommending, but not requiring, the use of face masks. Both Red Rocks and Vail’s Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater will operate at full capacity this summer after a year of limited operations.
“It’s probably the most rewarding thing when you see somebody come to a Diplo show and walk up to get a vaccination and people are applauding,” Kitts said. “And then, on the other hand, it is so disheartening when you get a kid who walks in and … they are about to go into a crowd with thousands of other people and they just don’t care, and they tell you that to your face.”
“If COVID took a sudden turn again … I’m not sure that any of us would keep our jobs,” he said. “That’s the impetus for doing these sorts of programs and for encouraging people to remain healthy.”
The Belly Up Aspen also will open at 100% capacity this summer and will not require masks, according to its website.
The partnership between employees and attendees highlighted by Kitts is perhaps even more important at a small, intimate indoor venue like the Aspen club, which attracts some of the biggest names in music.
For each show, the Belly Up will require that 80% of attendees are vaccinated and non-vaccinated attendees will be asked to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the show to be granted entry, according to the club’s website. This follows the policy set forth by the Pitkin County Board of Health for indoor concert venues.
Trying to make do
Many venues across the region put on limited capacity or virtual shows last year to try to retain some revenue, but most still had to furlough workers, Kitts said.
Last summer, Red Rocks hosted musicians from various genres for a three-night virtual festival, which attracted a lot of attention but didn’t provide the same connection that makes live music so special, he said.
“We ended up with 10 million people viewing those live streams from around the world, which in a good year we’ll have 1.3 million people come through Red Rocks,” Kitts said. “So just on those three nights we had 10 times the people that would normally have access to the venue. But, that said, it’s not the ideal fan experience.”
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater also hosted a number of reduced capacity shows last summer and relied heavily on fans to follow social distancing guidelines, Boyd said.
Michael Goldberg, part owner of the Belly Up, said that, as an indoor venue, it simply was not safe or profitable for the club to try to open up last year.
As a result, the Belly Up has not hosted a single show since mid-March of last year, Goldberg said.
“For us, the only feasible option for opening is at full capacity, so we went from nothing to full in a matter of days,” he said.
When asked how planning for the summer has been going, Goldberg said “we’re already past the euphoria stage and into the hard work of making music happen again.”
Pent-up demand soars
Across the region, high vaccination rates and the start of the summer season has caused the demand for live music to soar.
“We’re all excited to be opening and there’s a lot of pent-up consumer demand,” Goldberg said.
Concert venues in Eagle County also experienced this pent-up demand from concertgoers who were eager to get back to seeing music live, Boyd said.
Tickets sold quickly for the amphitheater’s first two large, in-person shows, Michael Franti and Spearhead and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, who will play shows with his band, Wolf Bros, at The Amp on Friday and Saturday to coincide with the GoPro Mountain Games.
The venue sold tickets to see Weir in two batches – the first half sold out in eight minutes flat and the second half was gone in about 90 minutes.
“The demand is nationwide,” Goldberg said. “The supply of artists is a different story as tours have to plan in advance and, until recently, there was not a universal path to reopening indoor venues.”
The supply seems to be catching up quickly though, Boyd and Goldberg said.
“The focus for many artists has been to push tours back to the fall of this year or into 2022,” Goldberg said. “Artists have only recently focused on summer of 2021 shows so we are playing catch-up trying to put a schedule together for this summer.”
Red Rocks has been booking acts for the summer months and even into the fall, which is unusual as artists typically don’t want to risk playing an outdoor venue in the Rockies in the fall, Kitts said.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater has four, big-ticket shows coming up: Bob Weir and Wolf Bros (June 11 and 12), Lindsey Stirling (July 8), Rodrigo y Gabriela (Sept. 3) and Death Cab for Cutie (Sept. 11), according to the Vail Valley Foundation’s events calendar.
Red Rocks and the Belly Up have also made up for lost time, scheduling big-name acts. This summer, Red Rocks will host Zeds Dead, Wilco and The Avett Brothers, among others, and a few of the acts gracing the stage at Belly Up are deadmau5, the Beach Boys, Kip Moore, Melissa Etheridge and comedian David Spade. Kygo and Louis the Child will play at both venues.
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