Best of Denver

Why Levitt Pavilion Beat Red Rocks as Denver's Best Outdoor Venue

Levitt Pavilion beat out Red Rocks Amphitheatre as Denver's Best Outdoor Venue.
Levitt Pavilion beat out Red Rocks Amphitheatre as Denver's Best Outdoor Venue. Joel Rekiel
Every year we talk about striking the Best Outdoor Venue category from our Best of Denver edition for one obvious reason: Red Rocks. Historically, our readers always pick it and so do we, so why state the obvious again and again?

And it's not just us. When other publications draw up lists of the best outdoor venues in the world, Red Rocks often wins. The music-industry publication Pollstar has even named an award after Red Rocks after having recognized the venue so many times.

No doubt, Red Rocks is big business for the City and County of Denver. Denver Arts & Venues has made a killing owning Red Rocks and leasing it out to promoters like AEG and Live Nation, using revenue to support the arts. It's an innovative model, one the region should be proud of.

But this year, Red Rocks didn’t top our list. Instead, Levitt Pavilion, a nonprofit music amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park, won the category. While this might upset more than a few people who grew up going to concerts at the Rocks, we think dethroning this venerable institution makes sense, even though Red Rocks is stunning, brings in world-class acts, and is a bucket-list destination that draws tourists from around the world.

Levitt Pavilion also brings in big acts, but it hosts many smaller artists, from national touring bands on the brink of success to local outfits who’ve mostly played bars and house shows. The diversity of the past season — with an emphasis on Spanish-language and bilingual bands — makes Levitt a spot for discovering emerging groups as well. If finding out about new music is your passion, there's no better place to do so without shelling out your paycheck...while also taking comfort in the fact that artists are being paid industry standards.

More than fifty of Levitt’s concerts each year are free. Absolutely free. No $49.95 general admission tickets. No sky-high service fees (the paid concerts, booked by Emporium Presents, which was recently purchased by Live Nation, do have service fees, but even paid-concert prices at Levitt are reasonable compared to those at other venues). The nonprofit also hosts fundraisers, local breweries, and food trucks dishing out Denver delicacies. When Levitt's not running shows, it's creating music education programs in schools.

Anyone who's suffered through the traffic jams at Red Rocks or lost their breath climbing the stairs can tell you that accessing the venue can be a veritable pain in the ass, with drive times that can be nearly as long as concerts. Levitt, on the other hand, offers concert-goers a number of easy ways to get there — by car, bike, public transportation or walking — and it's conveniently located right in southwest Denver.

Finally, many of Levitt Pavilion’s crowds are smaller (something the promoters there surely want to change). But the joy of attending those concerts is that there is ample room to move around without getting overwhelmed. Not much compares to enjoying a free concert on a warm summer night on the green expanse that surrounds the Levitt stage.

While Red Rocks predictably won our Reader's Poll this year as the Best Outdoor Concert Venue and has for many years in the past, we hope you give Levitt a chance in 2019 and discover why we think it's the best outdoor venue in the region. 
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris