The City and County of Denver publicly unveiled its new Red Rocks Visitor Center on May 3, meaning the place is now officially a geological theme park. Replete with interactive exhibits and a hello-Cleveland feel, the sprawling center chronicles the sandstone space's evolution from dinosaur habitat to world-class concert venue. (The place occasionally still hosts prehistoric creatures, including the Dead and Jackson Browne, both slated to take the stage this summer.) Like Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, the $16 million-dollar facility will be open 365 days a year, which means that rain or shine, you can step inside yet another monument to the civic legacy of outgoing mayor Wellington E. Webb. (At least the live shots of performers on the Red Rocks stage and cool photos of the area in its pre-development days are a lot more entertaining than Lady Wilma's collection of dresses that line the walls of the new Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.)
Red Rocks might be Denver's finest attribute: beautiful, perfect-sounding and a hell of a place to get stoned and contemplate alien life, or so Backwash is told. It's also one of the most expensive to maintain, which is why civic boosters and the business sector have been engaged in an endless debate over what role corporate sponsors should play in the otherwise au naturel environment.
While that dialogue -- and other, thornier ones about how user-friendly to make the place for those who don't relish the long hikes up the hill, and what effect radio towers on the premises have on the land and its inhabitants -- will no doubt continue, the city has found some ways to keep the Red jewel in the black, including multimillion-dollar deals with all three major concert promoters. (Under the contract, Clear Channel, House of Blues and Nobody in Particular Presents are required to place a minimum number of shows in the venue per year, which arguably was a contributing factor to last year's bloated summer concert season. But it's an unquestionably sweet setup for the city, which gets paid even when shows stiff.)
Fortunately for those more interested in Red Rocks' music than its business savvy, the city's most recent cash-finding effort comes with a fine soundtrack: Carved in Stone: Volume One. The compilation of ten live tracks culled from Red Rocks performances marks the first official project by Preserve the Rocks Fund, a nonprofit entity within the City of Denver that raises money for Red Rocks renovation efforts. Big Head Todd and the Monsters ("Bittersweet"), Little Feat ("Hate to Lose your Lovin'"), String Cheese Incident ("Close Your Eyes") and the Allman Brothers Band ("Ain't Wastin' Time No More") are among the artists who appear on the collection.
Erik Dyce of the Denver Division of Theatres and Arenas, who served as the project's executive producer, says the format was loosely modeled on KBCO's wildly successful Studio C compilation series. (KBCO is the city's radio sponsor for Carved in Stone, and program director Scott Arbough wrote the dedication in the liner notes.)
"People have come to us over the years wanting to do something like this, but nothing ever came of it -- so when we decided to go for it, let's just say I stole the idea from Studio C," Dyce says, laughing. "[Those compilations] are so perfect, because they always have this endearing collection of artists that make it so appealing. We wanted to do the same thing: to find the artists that not only had their own live recordings of their Red Rocks shows, but who have something to do with the overall fabric of the place. Blues Traveler, for example, had to be on there because they're here every summer; they're part of Red Rocks. And we wanted to start off with Big Head Todd as a big tip of the hat to the local scene and the community. There were lots we couldn't get to. All I can say is, we'll get 'em on Volume Two."
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No one can fault Dyce for charging forth with plans for a sequel: He says early sales of Carved in Stone have already exceeded expectations, with 10,000 units moved and a spot in the Billboard Top 200. But some might fault the city for the way it racked up those numbers in such short order: At the moment, Best Buy is the only retailer authorized to move the disc -- which means that a decidedly non-local company is the sole purveyor of a totally homegrown recording. Instead, concert-goers who normally purchase their CDs -- and Red Rocks concert tickets -- at local places like Twist & Shout have to get their Red Rocks compilation from the big-box chain. That doesn't seem very pro-Denver, does it? Maybe not, Dyce concedes.
"Our goal was to roll it out nationally, and Best Buy was willing to put the disc in all of its stores and donate all of the proceeds to the Fund; they're not taking anything from the sales," he says. "As far as it being available to local retailers, it's absolutely and completely my fault. There's a learning curve here, with putting out this first CD, and I literally haven't been able to reach out to all of them. But my goal is to get it to where anyone who wants to carry the product is welcome, and encouraged, to do so."
Let's hope the public will still be hungry for the title by the time Denver merchants get their piece of the pie. In the meantime, there's always the Visitor Center.
A bitter pill: All of clubland laments the closing of Soma, the Boulder dance club that was almost universally regarded as one of the finest and most progressive spots in the country. After five years in business, Soma somewhat unexpectedly closed its doors on Saturday, April 26. Backwash thinks this kind of sucks, and suspects that many of you think so, too. In an effort to compile a proper obit to the place, I'm soliciting your thoughts on the matter. Let's call it the "Top Ten Reasons Why Soma's Management Should Change its Mind and Not Close the Place" campaign of 2003. By sending e-mails to the address below, you, too, can support the cause. And isn't it your duty to do so?