Oriental Theater Hosts Live Music Again

Slim Cessna's Auto Club performing at the Oriental Theater in 2012.
Slim Cessna's Auto Club performing at the Oriental Theater in 2012. Jon Solomon
On this last weekend of June, the Oriental Theater launched its Safe Sound Series, which kicked off with trumpeter Wes Watkins on June 26 and Punk Rock Saves Lives on June 27, and also includes shows by punk act Reno Divorce on July 10, rock band Eric Martinez Band on July 11, rock duo In the Whale on July 24, the Yawpers on August 1, and more over the next two months. Each band will play two shows per night to small audiences (the full calendar for the series as well as other shows can be found on the venue's website).

“The Safe Sound Series was born by looking at what the realities of reopening would likely be given social distance requirements,” says Oriental Theater co-owner Scott Happel, “and imagining the best way to hold fun, safe and profitable shows for both the theater and artists. We knew we had to be creative, think a bit outside of the box, and find a way to use our large space to provide live entertainment in a safe environment.”

Since Happel says 2019 was the venue’s best year to date, the owners went into the COVID-19 shutdown with some cushion, but they needed support from the Small Business Administration to make it through the past few months.

“Today we are confident we will survive this and be ready to rock whenever full-capacity shows are allowed again,” Happel says.

The community, he adds, has been amazing to the Oriental from the beginning of the shutdown.

“We did some unique merch sales back in March to raise some money, and we're extremely touched by how many people pitched in,” he says. “At this point, all we ask is to come out to a show and say hi!”

Happel says the City of Denver has also been great: He’s been able to communicate with the mayor’s office directly, “and they have been as supportive and helpful as they can be in this ever-changing environment.”

He admits that it will be impossible for the venue to be profitable at such a reduced capacity moving forward. “Any dollar of income helps, but in order to truly turn the corner and be able to make money, we need the capacities to continue to increase whenever it is safe to do so,” he says.

When will that be? With a rise in COVID-19 cases in Colorado, Happel pays much closer attention to hospitalization numbers than new case numbers, as they are not skewed by increased testing.

“Those numbers are low and trending in the right direction,” he says. “As long as that continues, I feel good about where we are.”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon