Red Alert

Red Rocks may or may not be sliding down the hill, but Friends of Red Rocks’ trust in the city is slipping away.

In an effort to stitch up the wounds, Fey began pushing to expand seating at Red Rocks "to 12,000 or 13,000," he says, and tack on a gaudy banquet/club facility. Because Fey contributed so much revenue to Denver via Red Rocks, which he'd helped turn into a must-play venue for rockers, the city listened seriously to his requests -- and that set into motion the renovation plans that are moving forward to this day. Yet the expansion plan soon fell by the wayside: When Fey Concerts and MCA (now Universal Concerts) forged a partnership in 1992, the impetus behind it petered out. Fey's decision to back away from the Red Rocks expansion, coupled with widespread public outrage over the thought of it, kept the amphitheater from growing in ways Burnham Hoyt likely never imagined. "I don't know if it would have been better or worse," Fey admits now. "But my house would probably have been picketed by the historic preservation people had it gone on."

Fey is no longer an active Denver promoter, but the city's master plan is in many ways a love letter to promotions firms in general. Most of the shows staged at Red Rocks fall into the rock or pop categories because, in Hillyard's opinion, "Red Rocks is viewed as a young venue -- that it's only kids who go there. And that's certainly not what it was built for exclusively. It was built for people of all ages." She hopes that improving restrooms and concession facilities will make promoters feel comfortable in bringing more -- and more varied -- events to Red Rocks.

Whether this theory holds water is a matter of some dispute. Aging music lovers may appreciate using a toilet that's in a stall rather than a plastic booth that can be tossed on the back of a truck, but since no one's suggesting the installation of escalators, they'll still have to walk up lengthy, winding paths. "It's somewhat of an athletic experience," Rutter says.

They see red: Friends of Red Rocks (from left) Ben Williams, Peggy Choate, Melinda Yeary, Scott Croushore, Tom Rutter and Greg Campbell.
David Rehor
They see red: Friends of Red Rocks (from left) Ben Williams, Peggy Choate, Melinda Yeary, Scott Croushore, Tom Rutter and Greg Campbell.

But even if the changes won't necessarily make Red Rocks as accessible to octogenarians as the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, both Chuck Morris of Chuck Morris Presents/Bill Graham Presents and Universal Concerts' Mark Norman say that they would consider booking a greater variety of concerts at Red Rocks if its comfort level was improved. Doug Kauffman of nobody in particular presents is also supportive of some improvements, as long as they don't go overboard. "There's very little wrong with the place," Kauffman says. "And there are a lot of shows I do that do better at Red Rocks just because they're there. I put Primus in there when they were good for a couple thousand tickets in this market, maybe 3,000 -- and they did 7,100. It was the most successful engagement of the band's career up until then, and that was just because it was up at Red Rocks."

Other concerts have suffered the opposite fate. Fey recalls telling Celine Dion's management that the singer should play at Fiddler's Green instead of Red Rocks because her crowd wasn't into roughing it. "But they didn't listen to me," he goes on, "and she did just a little over 6,000 seats even though she was selling out all over the country. Of course, she blamed me."

Experiences like these tell Fey that no matter how nice the restrooms are at Red Rocks, some people won't go there. "I've never heard anyone say they went to Fiddler's because of the great bathrooms," he says, "but I have heard people say they don't like Red Rocks because of the shlep. That's why the city can't expect every dollar they spend up there to come back to them in dollars and cents. If they want to improve things for the people who already go up there, that's a good reason. But if they're doing it to draw more people, they should keep their dollars in their pockets."

Although Fey's point of view might seem reasonable, such plain talk is unlikely to slow down the renovate-Red Rocks juggernaut. Sink Combs Dethlefs is in the midst of assembling soil reports intended to prove that the amphitheater could take a toboggan ride to hell unless something is done to prevent it. To Hillyard, such a disaster isn't beyond the realm of possibility -- hence the necessity for setting aside part of the city council's $5.8 million allotment just in case. "The majority of that money is for the upgrade of water and sewage and some other safety issues related to railings," she says. "But the soil reports we've been getting indicate that there's been even more motion on the south side of the amphitheater than we thought, and if we get a wet fall, the whole thing could go -- and if that's the case, we've got to be ready to go quickly."

As for the Friends of Red Rocks, Hillyard says she doesn't want to stifle their opinions. But at the same time, the city rejected a Friends proposal to formalize its role in the process, and Hillyard is currently putting together a fifteen- to eighteen-person renovation advisory committee that only one FORR member will be invited to join -- something that will provide the city with public-relations cover even as it effectively minimizes FORR's power. "We'll have representatives from all of the affected entities, including the town of Morrison, the conservation community, the entertainment community and even the American Indian community," she notes. "We think that will give us more balanced views than we're hearing right now."

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