As of February 2, international media giant Live Nation will handle booking and operations for two of Denver's most popular independently run venues: the 1,100-capacity Summit Music Hall and the 450-capacity Marquis Theater. No currently booked concerts will be canceled.
Live Nation signed a twenty-year lease with Soda Jerk Presents, which will continue to own the buildings but will no longer book or promote shows at the venues. Soda Jerk has been the most prominent independent promoter in Denver.
This is a major step for Live Nation, as the company builds a more competitive presence in the Denver market. Anschutz Entertainment Group now dominates club ownership and promotions in the area; in addition to booking concerts at Red Rocks and other venues, it runs the Bluebird, Ogden and Gothic theaters, 1STBANK Center and Fiddler's Green.
"I think it changes the game in Denver quite a bit — at least for Live Nation," says the president of the Colorado branch of the company, Eric Pirritt. "It’s a game change for us to have the ability to have the proper place to build artists from 400 seats to 1,000-plus."
Live Nation currently owns and operates the Fillmore Auditorium and promotes shows at venues including Mile High Stadium, Coors Field, Red Rocks and the Pepsi Center; the company promoted more than 250 concerts, including major tours by Metallica and Guns ’N Roses, in 2017. Soda Jerk Presents ran 850 concerts last year.
"What they do now is great," Pirritt says of the Marquis and Summit. "You could walk in there tomorrow, turn the key and be in business. We’re looking to expand on where they’ve got to in this market."
Live Nation plans to expand the genres offered at the venues. While he's unsure of the timeline, Pirritt's best guess is that the company is likely to begin remodeling the venues in the summer and reopen them around Labor Day.
Mike Barsch, the owner of Soda Jerk Presents and a longtime friend of Pirritt's, says that his company is coming off of its most successful year in the nearly twenty years it's been in business. This wasn't a decision made out of desperation, he notes, and Soda Jerk will continue operating the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs and Hodi's Half Note in Fort Collins, as well as explore other promotion opportunities in other Colorado markets — mostly outside Denver.
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As to how the Live Nation deal will impact the concert-going experience for Denver residents, Barsch says, "Live Nation is the number-one promoter in the world. They have access to all the best talent that’s out there. I think they’ll do a great job filling these venues with all the best shows."
How this deal will impact Soda Jerk's current staff is still under consideration, he says. And whether his company will maintain a presence promoting one-off events in Denver is still under discussion.
So why would an independent like Soda Jerk make a deal with a multinational corporation like Live Nation?
"I think the timing was right. I think there’s going to be a lot of change coming down the pike in the city. Personally, I think the timing was right for me and my family," Barsch says. "I think this is the way the industry is going. I think in every major city, you’re seeing consolidation. This is sort of what’s happening."