What Level Yellow COVID-19 Guidelines Mean for Live Music

Aaron Thackeray
This is what Red Rocks shows look like at 175-person capacity.
As Colorado shifts its COVID-19 dial again and the City of Denver moves to Level Yellow, music venues eager to host slightly larger audiences are celebrating the news...and the loosened restrictions, which start today, February 6.

At indoor unseated events, venues can host up to 50 percent capacity — but no more than fifty or a hundred people, depending on the size of the space and using the state's Social Distancing Space Calculator. Indoor seated events can have up to a hundred people or 50 percent capacity — whichever is smaller. Outdoor events can have up to 175 people or 50 percent capacity — again, whichever is smaller. Venues operating as indoor restaurants can have 50 percent capacity or fifty people (or even up to 150, based on the state's calculator).

Just as important, as many venue owners tell it, is a slightly later last call, which has been bumped from 10 to 11 p.m.

Outdoor venues, including Red Rocks and Levitt Pavilion, could now be eligible for variances that might help them get back to a sustainable level. That means Red Rocks could see the larger crowds — though far from the old, sold-out days — that Denver Arts & Venues hopes to bring back by summer.

Gwen Campbell, co-owner of independent music venues Larimer Lounge, Lost Lake and Globe Hall, reopened her spots when Colorado went back to Level Orange on January 4. Now she's elated by the slightly looser restrictions.

As at most music venues, much of Campbell's revenue comes from drink sales. Although stopping alcohol service at 11 p.m. instead of 2 a.m. will continue to hit her club hard, even an extra hour will help in a year that has already driven so many businesses into debt. "We're happy," Campbell says of the changes, then adds, "Can't wait to open until 2 a.m. again."

Paula Vrakas, owner of the Roxy on Broadway, says that Level Yellow won't have a massive effect on her business, but every little bit helps. "We are absolutely thrilled to be heading into a less restrictive tier," she says. "While the 25 percent vs. 50 percent doesn’t make a huge difference due to six feet table distancing, any difference is welcomed!

"Our musicians are so ready to play for as many people as they can; even eight more people change the game," she adds. "Additionally, we are confident that as we continue to move tiers, our guests will begin to feel more and more comfortable in our space."

Grizzly Rose owner Scott Durland recently shut down his country venue down after hundreds showed up to party on January 30; he would like to see an end to the restrictions altogether. But if the state does feel obliged to noodle in how businesses operate, he'd need 50 percent capacity — or at least 500 people at his 50,000-plus square foot space, which in normal times has a capacity of 2,000 — before he reopens. That's around what it would take for him to break even and stop dipping into his personal savings, he says.

Mayor Michael Hancock, whose personal Thanksgiving travels garnered criticism for his being a COVID hypocrite, has offered words of gratitude to the people of Denver for keeping up the good work social distancing, wearing masks and managing the virus.

"I want to congratulate the people of Denver for their tremendous and tireless efforts to help us reduce the spread of the virus in our community and get us one step closer to putting this pandemic in the rear-view mirror,” he said in a statement issued February 5, on the eve of Denver's move to Level Yellow. “You are not only saving lives, you are also helping our city transition from rescue to recovery. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re getting closer to the end.

"Keep up the great work by continuing to wear masks, social distancing and avoiding large groups, because it’s more important than ever.”