If there is a strange request that a concert promoter can make of a musician, it's a safe bet that Scott McCaughey has heard it. He co-founded the Young Fresh Fellows in 1983 and played with R.E.M. for close to twenty years. Lately, he's been on tour with the Baseball Project, an '80s-college-rock supergroup that also features Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M., Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate, and Linda Pitmon. So McCaughey has played thousands of shows, but when he was asked to swap out his hat before the Baseball Project played at Coors Field last month, that was a first.
McCaughey was wearing one with a San Francisco Giants logo -- he's a lifelong fan -- and when Rockies staff members saw it, they immediately went to find him some more appropriate apparel. It was only partly a joke. The staffers were stretched thin because of a broken water main, however, and in the scramble, the best they could come up with was a plain black hat marked "MLB," a giveaway from a game earlier in the season.
The Baseball Project is not idly named: The band's three albums contain nothing but songs about the sport. Some tell the stories of obscure players, some refer to historic games. The leadoff track on the most recent album, 3rd, is nothing more than a list of numbers that correspond to well-known MLB statistics and records.
So the group is an appropriate choice for a concert at a ballpark. It had played a regular show at the Oriental Theater the night before the game and mentioned the one-off set at Coors Field from the stage. A couple dozen fans followed them to the ballpark, and for close to an hour before the scheduled first pitch, the Baseball Project played in a cabana while the crowd filtered in. When it got to "The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads," a song about a game in 1974 when pitcher Dock Ellis intentionally hit the first three Cincinnati Reds batters he faced and tried to hit two more, the Rockies put Scott McCaughey with his bandmates and replacement hat up on the Jumbotron. They were playing the Reds that day -- or at least were supposed to: The water main couldn't be fixed in time, and the game was ultimately postponed.
But the Baseball Project got its full set, and while this was a one-off concert orchestrated by a friend of both the band and the team, live music may soon be a regular fixture at Coors Field.
Last off-season, the Rockies decided to bring the booming LoDo bar scene into the confines of Coors Field, removing 3,500 seats from the upper deck in right field and putting in a two-story party deck. The Rooftop, as it is called, features a handful of bars, restaurants and, uh, cabanas, and is open at each home game to anyone in the stadium. Fans can also buy inexpensive tickets that include access to the Rooftop and open seating in a handful of nearby nosebleed seats.
The venture has proven successful. Crowds routinely line the catwalks between the bars late into blowouts and good games alike. The Rockies have experimented with additional programming in the space, bringing in the occasional DJ and hosting lawn-game tournaments. The Baseball Project was only the second band to have played there, but Director of Promotions and Special Events Jason Fleming says the organization is considering a regular concert series next season. "We want to do it; we're up for it," he says. "It just kind of depends."
One thing it might depend on is keeping the organizational headaches to a minimum. Right now, there isn't much infrastructure to support live music: There is no sound system in place for that purpose, and no way to plug a band playing on the Rooftop into the stadium's P.A. To accommodate both the Baseball Project and reggae-fusion band Simplified, which played in June, the Rockies hired Denver-based sound-production company North End Sound to bring in a temporary equipment. "We were all really happy with the way it turned out," says Fleming. A future series would likely involve North End Sound, though those conversations won't start in earnest until the off-season.
Deciding how (and when) to program concerts on the Rooftop is another thing left to speculation at the moment. Fleming says one possibility is hosting them whenever a home game falls on a Saturday (something that occurs roughly twice a month), and he says he'd like to get local musicians involved. "We're throwing a few lines out there," he says. The Rooftop opens two hours before the first pitch. That's usually halfway through the Rockies' batting practice, and Fleming says future concerts would likely take place during the opposing team's batting practice, in the hour or so before the game starts.
Coors Field occasionally hosts live music on the field itself: Nashville songwriter Sara Evans played the Rockies' second annual Country on the Rox concert immediately after a game in late July. But a Rooftop concert series would give many more musicians a chance to play inside the ballpark. Some of them might even show up wearing the right hat.
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