Backwash

Clear Channel moves in on Red Rocks, while Tenacious D takes a crowd to the moon.

Clear Channel made it pretty clear last week that it isn't scared of a little ol' legal spat. In a move that competitors viewed as alternately surprising and downright horrific, Clear Channel revealed that it would soon enter into an agreement with the City of Denver that gives the company a priority, first-rights booking status at Red Rocks Amphitheatre -- and a chance to tighten its grip on the local concert market by claiming the state's very best music space as its own (or close enough for government work). The timing of the move, just a few weeks after Nobody in Particular Presents filed suit in federal court claiming that Clear Channel engages in anti-competitive, monopolistic practices (see "Taking on the Empire," August 23), has more than a few people wondering if anything short of the plague or some other natural disaster will slow Clear Channel's appetite.

Some people are also wondering why an exclusive contract for a city-owned venue was even discussed without input from competing businesses or the public.

"I think in a city venue that everyone pays for -- and one that everyone is about to pay a lot more for, with the construction projects coming up -- it does not seem right to just take it away and give it to one company without even giving the others an opportunity to bid," says Jesse Morreale of, yes, Nobody in Particular Presents.

If Clear Channel's deal goes through, it will mark the first time that a promoter has officially enjoyed preferential booking at Red Rocks. (Clear Channel has a similar arrangement with the Pepsi Center.) During the '80s, Barry Fey's Fey Concerts laid virtual claim to Red Rocks simply by dint of being the only promoter in town with the muscle to move major acts through the venue on a regular basis. But while Fey certainly used Red Rocks as a weapon against then-rival MCA -- which built Fiddler's Green, a venue comparable to Red Rocks logistically, if not aesthetically -- he never had a contract with the city that guaranteed exclusivity at Red Rocks.

"I think there was a general feeling and belief throughout the industry that Red Rocks was Barry's, and I think Barry kind of fueled that," says Morreale, who worked for Fey Concerts for two years. "There were deals in place that were available to any promoter who brought a lot of shows through. Kind of like volume discounts. Like, if you do ten shows, you might get a rebate on some of your rental costs. If you do twenty, the amount of the rebate goes up. But it was never an exclusive arrangement at all."

Clear Channel and the Denver Division of Theaters and Arenas reportedly brokered the deal after city officials became worried that the City Lights Pavilion, the tentlike structure scheduled to open in the parking lot of the Pepsi Center next spring, would suck business from Red Rocks -- both in terms of bookings and ticket sales. (Although the Pepsi Center is located inside Denver city limits, it isn't owned by Denver; despite its Morrison address, Red Rocks is a Denver asset.) To make sure the city doesn't suffer (and also doesn't oppose City Lights), Clear Channel will agree to book X number of shows per year at Red Rocks -- around thirty to forty, according to statements made by Chuck Morris, senior vice president of Clear Channel Entertainment for the Rocky Mountain Region.

Without question, it must seem like a fine deal to both parties: The city ensures that the beautiful amphitheater has plenty of music-loving bodies coming to warm its ruddy sandstone seats, while Clear Channel makes certain it can book an artist into the venue anytime it likes. (Other promoters can request Red Rocks dates, but they must give the city -- and Clear Channel -- 48 hours to exercise a first right of refusal.)

But for anyone outside of those two parties, especially NIPP and House of Blues, it looks like a raw deal. While neither promoter currently uses Red Rocks nearly as often as Clear Channel, they both want the opportunity to do so without first gaining the approval of their sworn foe.

Fortunately, it is not a done deal: City officials, including Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, have promised to look into whether other promoters should have been allowed to vie for a similar contract. Often when a city department enters into a business arrangement with the private sector, it requires approval by the Denver City Council and at least some discussion among its members, if not a public hearing; there is certain to be plenty of discussion over this.

At the very least, the city should consider what effect this arrangement will have on its own entertainment calendar: Theaters and Arenas currently books a fair portion of the fare at Red Rocks, including the great Film on the Rocks series and the Mayor's recent Jazz on the Rocks event. Technically, Clear Channel may have the ability to bump the city from its very own venue. Maybe someday Clear Channel can program the carillon high above the City and County Building, too.

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