Colorado History

Comedy, Concerts, Films and Adventures: Lots of New Offerings at the Stanley Hotel

A 3-D rendering of the completed Pavilion Auditorium.
A 3-D rendering of the completed Pavilion Auditorium. Courtesy Reed Rowley
There's nary a dull moment at the Stanley Hotel, the iconic lodging in Estes Park that was the inspiration for Stephen King's The Shining. Under owner John Cullen, the Stanley is trying to become the epicenter of the worldwide horror-film industry by constructing a $24 million film center — even if there have been a few bumps along the way, such as delays in funding from the state and this year's cancellation of the Stanley Film Festival.

In October, we explored the hotel's colorful history and its ambitious steward, Cullen, in the cover story "Shine On." Since then, Cullen has continued to add new buildings to the property and expand its cultural offerings, in more areas than just horror.

To find out what's in store, we interviewed Reed Rowley, vice president of Cullen's management company. He shared a number of upcoming events, as well as providing an update on the planned film center.

Westword: This coming weekend, April 28 and 29, the Stanley is hosting the Comedy Weekend With an Edge event, featuring comedians Josh Blue and Dana Gold. What was the inspiration for starting to offer comedy shows, and how long has the idea been in the hopper?

Reed Rowley: It's been in the hopper for almost a year. We were really trying to find the right comedians and partner company, and we've accomplished that; we're working with Comedy Works Entertainment, and they're producing the event while we're in the hosting role, which is terrific. They've lined up Josh Blue and Dana Gould as the headliners, and then we've got about five opening acts, including ones from Colorado and well-known names in the comedy world.

Tell us about some of the Colorado comedians.

Josh Blue is probably Colorado's number-one comedian right now. He's really funny in his own way but has an inspirational story behind it as well. He has cerebral palsy, and he's really overcome his disability and finds a way to make light of it while also drawing attention to it.

Will this comedy show be the beginning of a regular series at the Stanley Hotel?

We're hoping that this event is a smash success and that comedy is something we can offer a few times a year. We want to have these kinds of overnight comedy weekends that are mini-festivals in themselves and where people can get away from the city and forget their problems up in Estes Park with some laughs.

The Stanley just announced that it's hosting the 5Point Adventure Film Festival on the weekend of May 19 to 21, which features outdoors films and was founded in 2008 by Julie Kennedy, former owner of Climbing Magazine, and Yvon Chouinard of the outdoor brand Patagonia. What is the idea behind, and aim of, the film festival?

We're clearly trying to embrace the whole outdoor-adventure brand up here. The back yard is so incredible here in Estes Park. I think people take Rocky Mountain National Park for granted. And even Estes Park and the area around it doesn't, I think, get the love that it should, because we tend to think of recreation as being tied to places where there are ski resorts. But in reality, thirty minutes from Boulder and an hour and a half from Denver are some of the best outdoor recreating areas in the entire country.

5Point 2017 Trailer from 5Point Film Festival on Vimeo.

Part of this adventure festival is to highlight how incredible northern Colorado is. The idea actually started with a buddy of mine, Chuck Sullivan, who runs Something Independent, which has been involved with bringing more outdoor recreation business to Colorado.... We looked at doing different kinds of events like climbing festivals, and [Sullivan] said we should look into the 5point Adventure Film Festival, which is really the premier adventure-film festival in the country, if not the world.

So we reached out to them about doing an event up here and tying it to National Public Lands Day — making that an element so it's not only hanging out and watching films and celebrating filmmakers, but also getting people to partake in volunteer activities during the festival like going out and doing trail improvements or at least going out and playing in Rocky Mountain National Park. So you'll not only watch athletes on screen, but also participate.

Is the Adventure Film Festival in any way to make up for the loss of the horror film festival?

No, I think that we still embrace that part of our history and heritage. We still look to produce something that's part of the horror-film genre. We're just waiting for the right opportunity and the right angle to bring that back. So I don't think the [Adventure Festival] replaces it; it's that we're adding something new.

So you're saying that the horror film festival could come back?

Absolutely. We're still really excited about the horror film center and the horror film festival. It's just that while we're trying to determine the best path to reintroduce that, we're also pursuing some other opportunities to make the Stanley a one-of-a-kind venue.

What are some of those other opportunities?

We're working with Kent Mountain Adventure Center, and one of the cool programs that we'll be promoting is called the Bucket Lister. You'll spend one night on a portaledge, basically suspended 300 feet above the ground, where you have your meal served to you by a guide that repels down to you; they'll bring you a glass of wine, dinner, breakfast in the morning. And then the next night you get a bottle of champagne and sit in the Stanley. I don't think there's anything else like it in the country.

If you're a decent rock climber, you can climb up to [the portaledge]. Or if not, [guides will] lower you down. Either way, you get that amazing Tommy Caldwell, Patagonia-esqe photo of you sitting at the top of the world drinking a glass of wine. But you do it with a lot more security and a little bit more ease.

click to enlarge Two people suspended on a portaledge. - COURTESY REED ROWLEY
Two people suspended on a portaledge.
Courtesy Reed Rowley
When does that program start?

We're selling it right now, but we've got to wait for the weather to get nicer, because it's overnight and there are winds and safety to consider. Right now we're looking at end of May, when we'll take people up on the cliff to sleep.We're envisioning it being great for anniversaries or wedding proposals — those really one-of-a-kind, spectacular once-in-a-lifetime kind of experiences.

How is the horror film center coming along? Have there been any more hiccups with the $11.5 million in Regional Tourism Act money you're supposed to get from the state of Colorado's Economic Development Commission?

There's a new executive director at the Colorado Office of Economic Development, so we're in conversations with her right now and working together with our Go NoCo partners and the city of Estes Park to bring the film center to fruition.

At this point, is there a tentative breaking-ground date that you could give?

No. I think we have a couple different avenues to bring that to fruition, but until we finalize what that looks like, I don't think I could give a date yet.

What about the Pavilion Auditorium you're building? How's that coming along?

We're targeting for the end of July [for it to be finished]. It's going to be such an incredible venue, with probably the best views on the entire property. We're calling it an indoor-outdoor auditorium with 250 seats. It's got 180 degrees of open air, and the area directly behind the stage is a pond with some granite features that will have lighting and waterfalls that run down them. I think it's going to be one of the most spectacular venues in Colorado to see a concert.

click to enlarge A 3-D rendering of the completed Pavilion Auditorium. - COURTESY REED ROWLEY
A 3-D rendering of the completed Pavilion Auditorium.
Courtesy Reed Rowley
 Any other events we should know about?

Yes. The first is that we're working with the Colorado State University to host a barbecue showdown on Memorial Day weekend. It will be a big party on the front lawn of the Stanley Hotel, with beer, bluegrass music and barbecue competitors from all around the country that basically do a 24-hour, overnight cooking and smoking program. All of the proceeds benefit Colorado State University's animal-science program.

We're also announcing a bunch of concerts shortly. The one concert that we can announce now is Yo Yo Ma's group, called the Silk Road Ensemble, in which Yo Yo Ma brings in musicians from all around the world that have different musical backgrounds and philosophies, and they all play together. It has a message of overcoming geographic or ethnic differences and all sharing this common theme of music.... For this particular event [on June 23], Yo Yo Ma will not be there, but we have a couple of guest musicians coming in to join them, including Zach Brock, who is a Grammy award-winning violinist. [The Silk Road Ensemble] has played the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, so to see them in a 340-person concert hall [at the Stanley] is going to be pretty extraordinary.

What would you say is the guiding philosophy for the events that the Stanley offers?

Films, outdoor recreation, comedy. I think for us, it's still all about one common goal and one common objective, which is: Bring people to Estes Park and give them a way to interact with art, culture and entertainment in a venue that's unlike anything else. And I think that same principle applies to horror, it applies to comedy, it applies to culinary food and wine events, and eventually we'd like to start hosting more outdoors recreation stuff throughout the year to coincide with each season.

What's fun about the Stanley is that we're willing to try everything, and we're willing to put our necks out there to push the limits and boundaries of how people think about a hotel and how they think of Estes Park. Some things are more challenging to roll out and some things are slam dunks, but we're continuing to explore every avenue and really let the fans and the guests of the hotel determine what they like and what they want to come back for year after year.

For more information on the events listed above, visit
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker