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Fiddler’s Green Fires Up Another Summer of Sounds

Fiddler’s Green has become an institution in Denver’s live-music scene since it began hosting classical concerts in the mid-1980s and began showcasing rock, pop and R&B performers in 1988.

The outdoor amphitheater can hold 17,000 fans with its 7,500 fixed seats and surrounding turf for standing or picnicking — nearly twice the capacity as Red Rocks, the famed sandstone concert venue carved into the foothills to the west. The audiences at Fiddler’s face west, so they can watch the sun set and the stars come out over the Rockies.

Fiddler’s has been a haven for music fans for 35 years. The venue’s 2023 summer lineup promises a return to the musical variety Fiddler’s has been known for, from blues legend Buddy Guy to British alternative rockers The Cure, from the R&B celebration “Jammin’ de Mayo,” headlined by Zapp, to a night of jamming with rockers Little Feat and Colorado’s own Leftover Salmon.

Audiences will enjoy a refurbished Fiddler’s Green when they turn out for this summer’s shows. After a full off-season of renovations, the venue has fresh paint and, for the first time since 1984, new seats throughout.

Fiddler’s Green was envisioned as a work of art — an earth sculpture — and it’s owned by the Museum of Outdoor Arts, as is the attached Marjorie Park. That’s why the campus is a dazzling display of sculptures. Music promoter AEG Presents has partnered with MOA to add murals by local artists to the site. And by this summer, the amphitheater’s “living mural,” which spans its inside walls, will be be in full bloom, with 35,000 plants and flowers planted on vertical panels as “paint.” The living mural, first planted in 2014, is tweaked or redesigned each year. It’s another reminder that Fiddler’s Green brings music to fans in a space that pays tribute to both the arts and the land the art sits on.

The first rock show that introduced Fiddler’s to Denver audiences was Dan Fogelberg, in June 1988, and the big names continued through that summer: Elton John, Eric Clapton, John Denver, The Beach Boys, George Michael, Bob Dylan (the first of four shows between ’88 and 2013) and Jimmy Buffett, who would go on to become a regular at the amphitheater.

At the time that Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre was added to Colorado’s concert calendars, I was Westword’s music editor. I saw some amazing shows at Fiddler’s during my tenure. Here are some that stand out:

I saw the Australian new wave band INXS that first year, with horn-punctuated rock that got the audience dancing. In 1989, I saw Elvis Costello and his band the Rude 5 play Fiddler’s, and got one of the prized mementos of my music-critic years: a signed poster scribbled with “To Gil: thanks.”

I also saw a terrific performance by then-superstars Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with opening band The Replacements, the Minneapolis punks beloved by rock critics but not pop radio. The concert itself was a blast, but the aftershow was one for the ages. Members of the “Placemats,” as the Replacements’ raggedy fans called them, showed up at the LoDo club Rock Island, followed by members of the Heartbreakers straggling in. The two bands chased a local group off the basement stage, and the combined musicians jammed into the night.

In September that year, I sparked two years’ worth of hate mail when I criticized The Cure (the band is returning to Fiddler’s this summer).

The Pixies, Love & Rockets and Shelleyan Orphan opened for The Cure, and though not all were goth on stage, it was all goth in the audience. At first I felt sort of oddly at home with a sea of young folks with jet-black hair. But in my review, I commented on the irony of thousands of young peoples’ individualism being expressed with everyone looking the same, with surface embellishments like mascara, black lipstick and clove cigarettes. The letters castigating me and my musical taste came rolling in to Westword week after week (this was before email was common). I now admit that the artists I used to dislike weren’t all that bad, including The Cure. (Please, hold your “I told you so!” emails.)

There were other Fiddler’s shows I attended, including Steve Winwood in 1991. I caught one of Jimmy Buffett’s hipster-redneck showcases with his legion of Parrothead fans. I saw Blondie, Crosby, Stills and Nash...an earlier generation of performers.

In 1994, I got to see the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour organized by the jam band Blues Traveler, and that year the traveling circus included reggae star Jimmy Cliff, alt-rocker Sheryl Crow and more. H.O.R.D.E. also had Big Head Todd & the Monsters on the marquee, and I sat with Todd after their set in a tour bus behind the stage for a story about the trio’s successful career since forming at the University of Colorado Boulder.

A great concert venue can be the source of wonderful music memories for everyone, from musicians and crew to fans and yes, even critics. Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre has a bunch of new memories just waiting for you to take home in 2023 and treasure in the future.

Tickets for the Fiddler’s Green Concert Calendar are on sale now at axs.com:

Thursday, May 4: 107.9 KBPI Birthday Bash, with Godsmack, I Prevail, Bad Omens, Fame on Fire

Saturday, May 13: Jammin 101.5 Presents Jammin De Mayo, with Zapp, Midnight Star, Evelyn “Champagne” King, GQ, All-4-One, Color Me Badd, MC Magic, Amanda Perez, A Lighter Shade of Brown

Tuesday, June 6: The Cure

Saturday, June 10: Kane Brown, with Gabby Barrett, LOCASH

Friday, June 16: Dirty Heads & Stick Figure & Atmosphere with DENM, The Grouch, Mike Love

Saturday, July 1: 98.5 KYGO Birthday Bash, with Brothers Osborne, Niko Moon, Kameron Marlowe, Hailey Whitters, Randall King, Double Wide

Sunday, July 9: Fall Out Boy, with Bring Me the Horizon, Royal and the Serpent, Daisy Grenade

Friday, July 21: Little Feat and Leftover Salmon

Saturday, July 22: Hawthorne Heights Presents Colorado Is for Lovers

Saturday, July 29: Buddy Guy & Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Monday, August 7: Lynyrd Skynyrd & ZZ Top

Tuesday, August 8: GHOST, with Amon Amarth

Saturday, August 12: Lost 80’s Live, with Wang Chung, Missing Persons, General Public, Naked Eyes, Animotion, Musical Youth, Stacey Q, Kon Kan, Bow Wow Wow

Saturday, August 26: Mudvayne, with Coal Chamber, GWAR, Nonpoint, Butcher Babies

Monday, August 28: Weezer, with Spoon, White Reaper

Wednesday, August 30: Goo Goo Dolls with O.A.R

Saturday, September 2: Gojira & Mastodon, with Lorna Shore

Sunday, September 3: Jelly Roll, with Yelawolf, Struggle Jennings, Josh Adam Meyers

Saturday, September 16: Rob Zombie, with Alice Cooper, Ministry, Filter

Saturday, September 30: Tyler Childers, with Wynonna Judd, The Travelin’ McCourys

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