Industry Profile: Erik Dyce
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Erik Dyce, Chief Marketing Officer, City and County of Denver’s Division of Theatres and Arenas.
Erik Dyce won’t rest until everyone in America visits Denver, Colorado.
Until they saunter through the Denver Theatre District downtown and enjoy its theaters and restaurants there.
And, he certainly won’t rest until they trek out to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Red Rocks Park for an “Oh, my God” breath-taking scenery moment or enjoy a night of music by many of today’s top acts there.
Even then, Dyce, as chief marketing officer, City and County of Denver’s Division of Theatres and Arenas since 1999, won’t really rest.
With his 76 trombones sales delivery, and his wonderful, wonderful tune, promoting all things Colorado that he plays on every heart, Dyce—no low-brow huckster—deftly oversees the marketing strategy, and revenue production concepts for the 8 businesses within his organization.
Denver’s Theatres and Arenas Division includes: Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver Coliseum, Denver Performing Arts Complex (Boettcher Concert Hall, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, and Buell Theatre), the Crossroads Theater, Colorado Convention Center and the Wells Fargo Theatre.
Dyce is in charge of securing sponsorship for these facilities, and has created a highly successful strategic program for marketing these venues as tourist destinations. He also oversees the marketing of each venue to agents, managers, promoters and artists.
The jewel of Dyce’s world—and his and Denver’s pride— is the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where concerts take place in the summer in a magnificent open-air amphitheatre that is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver.
At Red Rocks, there is a large, tilted, disc-shaped rock behind the stage, a huge vertical rock angled outwards from stage right, several large stone outcrops angled outwards from stage left, and a seating area for up to 9,450 people in between.
Performances have been held at Red Rocks for over 100 years. The earliest documented performance at this natural amphitheater was the Grand Opening of the Garden of the Titans, presented by noted magazine publisher John Brisben Walker on May 31,1906, featuring Pietro Satriano and his 25-piece brass band.
In 1927, the City of Denver purchased the area of Red Rocks from Walker. Upon the construction of the amphitheater to its present form by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the venue was formally dedicated on June 15, 1941. It has held regular concert seasons each year since 1947.
Red Rocks has been a favorite performance setting for artists for decades. Among those who have filmed shows there are: U2, John Denver, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Oasis, Insane Clown Posse, the Dave Matthews Band, John Tesh, Incubus, Blues Traveler, Steve Martin, the Moody Blues, Widespread Panic, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
The best known single performance at Red Rocks is U2 on June, 5 1983, that resulted in the release of their ground-breaking concert film, “Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky” and the companion tour EP, "Under a Blood Red Sky." The band's performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from the film has been cited as one of Rolling Stone's "50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock and Roll."
Prior to his current position, Dyce was first assistant GM, and then GM, for Red Rocks, the Denver Coliseum and McNichols Sports Arena. Earlier, he was a stage hand and production manager at the Lafayette Auditorium; and production manager at The Cajundome, both in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Among Dyce’s coups are conceiving and developing plans for the Denver Theatre District; and creating the Film on the Rocks series at Red Rocks, as well as its “Carved in Stone” CD series.
Dyce also oversaw the production of the concert film “Live and on the Rocks,” as well as two souvenir books on Red Rocks; and “Showtime,” a book chronicling the history of the Denver Performing Arts Complex.
Dyce received a Communications Degree, Honors Program from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette; and has an MBA from the University of Colorado in Denver.
You seem wildly happy working in Colorado.
I have the best job in the world. I am so privileged. Tonight, I will drive up to Red Rocks for a show. I still get the same feeling of awe (there). When the lights go down and that first note hits, the hair goes up on the back of my neck.
At most live music venues, people work in buildings that can be replaced. Red Rocks must be like working in the Sistine Chapel.
Well, it truly is. Everybody that goes there, whether it’s the promoter, the stage hands or the acts themselves--everybody honors and respects that. It’s a humbling, humbling experience to play that venue.
Any 'dos' or 'don’ts' for new crews coming to work there?
New crews tend to bitch. This isn’t an arena where you open up four overhead doors, back the semis in, and dump the gear out front. We take extra good care to make sure that we aren’t beating up the backstage area. It’s one of those venues where you have to use shuttle trucks. We built a special ramp to accept semis, but we off-load the gear, and we shuttle it up very carefully to the stage. That sucks, I know. That takes a little extra bit of work. But, I will tell you that at the end of the day, it’s worth it. It is so worth it. To those crew (who bitch) we say, “Chill out. This is a different venue.” Red Rocks is the number one concert venue in the world. That’s not me saying it. It’s every friggin’ artist that gets behind the microphone here.
How did you come to work in Denver?
I came up to Denver to ski. I saw Red Rocks, and fell in love with it. I went to the guy running the venue and said, “You don’t know me, but I’m the best in the country. You need to hire me.”
You had worked as a production manager in Louisiana.
At the Cajundome (in Lafayette), and at the Lafayette Auditorium. Great venues.
You fell in love with Colorado?
Oh yeah. But it was Red Rocks. It’s magical. It’s a temple. When someone asks how old it is, I have to say, “300 million years.” The Fountain Formation, the red sandstone, is 300 million years old. The Dakota Formation -- the hogback is what we call the white stuff -- that’s 150 million years old. The geologists around here have some interesting stories about that. So many people (visiting here) want to know how it happened. When you work at Red Rocks, you have to know that stuff. It is so ridiculous to think that the white man was the first to do the first song or the first dance there. That’s not true.
Hopi and Navajo tribes have made their home in Red Rock country for centuries. You can feel an ancient native spiritual presence throughout the region.
We built a visitor center (the Burnham Hoyt Visitor Center) at Red Rocks a couple of years ago, and we consulted with a bunch of the Indian tribes. I think we counted 27 different tribes that claim (Red Rocks) as their sacred grounds. It was considered a place where there was to be no warring. If there was a war, if two tribes were going to square off, they came down into the Plains.
You don't just look after Red Rocks.
I look after eight theatres.
What is your day-to-day job? Dealing with agents, promoters, and managers to promote the different venues?
I spend more time with our corporate sponsorships these days, assisting them in finding different ways to interact at our venues. We deal with how to get the word out (on an event) from a single source. So if you go to any of our web sites for our various buildings, you will see pretty cool web sites. Everybody is trying to figure out social networking; we’ve got over 100,000 fans on Red Rocks’ site. That’s a pretty respectable number for a site.
[The Red Rocks Amphitheatre launched a new website at the start of the 2010 concert season. The website allows users to view a full list of events scheduled at not only Red Rocks, but also at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the Wells Fargo Theatre at the Colorado Convention Center, Crossroads Theater, and the Denver Coliseum.]
Did the upgrades at Red Rocks, as well as popularity of the new Denver Theatre District lead to the revamped website?
That’s right, and it’s tough to stay on top of that. What we want to do, is to encourage any of our tenants; any of the promoters, or if we are talking about the art complex, whether it’s symphony, ballet or opera; that our job overall is to be transparent. If you think about it, people don’t go to venues, they go to events. Red Rocks is an anomaly because people will go to a show at Red Rocks, and they won’t give a crap what the show is.
And it’s a schlep getting up there.
We don’t apologize for that. No, no, no. Listen, we put the symphony and opera up there, and we’ve got octogenarians trucking up there. We have made it a lot easier. We are fully ADA (Americans Disability Act) compliant at Red Rocks. It certainly can be an athletic experience (getting up there). That’s Colorado.
Red Rocks is an open venue.
It is totally open. Open for promoters, open for ticketing.
Does AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) lead the way in shows there this season?
This year it has been neck-and-neck. AEG is ahead but Live Nation has had a very strong year as well.
There sure are some strong (promoter) characters in your market.
I don’t know what it is about this market, but we have absolute geniuses in the music industry here. They all know each other, and love each other. It’s an incredibly healthy market. There’s lots of competition here. It’s great to see that happen. Let’s not forget that this is also Philip Anschutz’s home town.
How many shows at Red Rocks this year?
For concerts, we average in the lower 60s. Add 10 Film On The Rocks (events), as well as graduations and so on, and we are in the mid-80s.
[The Film On The Rocks series at Red Rocks offers concerts featuring Colorado artists performing original music, and featured films--including productions by Denver film makers--on a 60 x 30 foot screen.]
2007 was a peak year for the venue.
This year looks like we are going to be one concert off that all-time high. I’m waiting for one more booking. This has been just a crappy year for the economy of the United States of America, but we are damn near tied with the most number of shows that we have ever had at Red Rocks (in a year).
And the gross revenue?
It’s fantastic. Food and beverage is down a single digit, perhaps. But I have to tell you that people still love our business.
There are still some great shows doing business whenever promoters give concert goers what they want.
I saw Lady Gaga and I thought that was a fantastic show. I was at Paul McCartney, and James Taylor and Carole King and both (shows were) fantastic. Those artists are doing great business, and everybody is talking about the shows (afterwards). Everybody in town is going, “Did you see the show? Oh wow.” I took my kids to see Lady Gaga, and I saw 60-year-olds there. She has obviously completely captured the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) market. Wow. Fantastic. Applause, applause.
With such a bad economic year, have you had to be diverse in bookings at Red Rocks?
The promoters say that every artist wants to play here. So, it is that 3-D chess of shuffling (band) routing and (bands figuring out) “How can we get into Red Rocks?” They all want to play there. Thank God that we have a market that is this strong. We have got great promoters here, and we are geographically situated so that (artists) almost have to go through Denver.
Also, entertainment attracts tourists.
The Colorado Business Committee for the Arts has done an (annual) study for years and years. For the past 10 or 15 years, more money has been spent in Denver in arts and culture than on sports. And we have all top sports teams here. I can prove (the impact of entertainment on tourism) by the Longwoods Survey, where we went from Number 17 (in 2008) of tourist destinations to last year (2009) when we were Number 2. And by God, we will be Number 1. Here is a concert venue (Red Rocks) that is now a major tourist destination for the state of Colorado.
[The Colorado Tourism Office, through Longwoods International, conducts an overview of Colorado’s travel and tourism market and provides a detailed profile of the state’s visitors for each calendar year. This information is based upon data on the day and overnight travel patterns of a representative sample of U.S. households. Denver managed to buck a national decline in business and leisure travel in 2009, setting a new visitor spending record.]
Is the impact of the arts on tourism understood by the politicians?
It is. It has taken awhile, but the current mayor of Denver, (John) Hickenlooper, gets it in a big way. He’s poised to be the next governor of Colorado. And, yay for us, because he loves Red Rocks, and he understands its economic impact.
[Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper currently holds a double-digit lead in the three-way race for governor of Colorado. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Colorado voters finds Hickenlooper, with 43% support. Businessman Dan Maes, the recent winner of the Republican primary captures 31% of the vote, while American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo trails with 18%. Three percent polled prefer some other candidate in the race, and 5% percent are undecided.]
There are also corporate events held at Red Rocks.
Oh sure. The (Burnham Hoyt) Visitor Center is a 30,000 square foot center with a restaurant, the Rock Room, and the Heart of the Rock theatre. Both of those are set up for corporate meetings. They are used constantly. We are also doing weddings, bar mitzvahs, you-name-it there. So, the place is booked year-round. We just finished being part of the Biennial of the Americas, which is a Mayor Hickenlooper endeavor. That was a big deal.
[During July, Denver and Metropolitan Denver’s artistic and cultural centers celebrated The Biennial of the Americas, a series of collaborative events and exhibitions that honored the ideas, progress and vision of the Americas, and illuminated the diverse cultures of the Western Hemisphere.]
It was Mayor Hickenlooper who approved our crazy notion of creating the Denver Theatre District. That took in the Denver Performing Arts complex, which is the largest arts complex under one roof in the United States; and the Colorado Convention center, which we doubled in size a few years ago. This one campus is now the zenith of the Denver Theatre District, which is a 24-block area of downtown Denver that is 'Times Square' with a public purpose.
You worked on the pre-planning of the Denver Theatre District.
That’s right. My boss said, “Erik would you do for the arts complex what you did for Red Rocks?” Of course, I really had to think about that. But, one day I woke up, and I thought, “Denver Theatre District.” Then, we immediately went to some of our great business leaders, like Walter L. Isenberg (the Denver-based hotel developer and president of the Sage Hospitality Group), and (Downtown Denver Partnership CEO) Tami Door. These folks immediately got it, and got behind (the project). They realized the (potential) economic vitality for this chunk of downtown to bring in people. Instead of people showing up for a 7:30 (theatre) curtain at 7:15, we want people to come down for cocktails, go for dinner, go to the show and, oh my God, go out after the show.
Thomas Edison once called Curtis (the original center of Denver’s theater scene) the brightest street in America, and historic photos show it lit up with theater marquees. Did it take significant re-zoning of the area to complete the transformation?
Oh, major. This was major change. We started in 2006, and we really rolled (the transformation) out for the Democratic National Convention in August ’08. We have slowly grown this program, which allows for non-traditional advertising. A percentage of every piece of that advertising revenue goes to the Denver Theatre District for programming the streets with live art and performing art.
You started working in Denver in 1988. Barry Fey was the powerhouse local promoter then.
Absolutely. Oh my God. You bet.
[Barry Fey is an icon of American live music culture. He mounted his first show in 1966, booking the Association for a fraternity-sponsored party at the University of Denver. He promoted Led Zeppelin’s first North American date in 1968. Feyline Productions earned a national reputation by promoting dates for the Rolling Stones, and the Who throughout the U.S. After flirting with retirement in the late 1990s, Fey finally left the music promotion business in 2004.]
Barry remains a legend among promoters.
I give all the credit in the world to Barry (for developing the local market). There was Ron Delsener on the east coast; Bill Graham on the west coast; Louis Messina down south and others. Here were these (promoters) who came in and took control of all of the (live) business (in America). There was an understanding (between them). That just doesn’t exist today.
It is completely corporate ties (today). You just don’t have the personalities. I remember settlements where everybody was chomping cigars, and there were guns and cash on the table. That was settlement. And that was normal. That was just the way it was done.
That changed with Michael Cohl’s CPI becoming North America’s innovator in full-service touring; and Cohl pulling off the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels world tour in 1989. Then, there was Robert Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment, which was sold to Clear Channel Entertainment and spun off as Live Nation.
Oh sure. Each iteration was definitely different. It was very interesting to see all of that. Of course, it's Chuck Morris (president and CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountains) who rules our world in Denver now.
What effect did these changes have on your business?
Well, what we concern ourselves with mostly is the patron. They don’t know settlement. They don’t understand load-ins. Certainly, there were changes with Ticketmaster deals or who was controlling (shows) but all of that was invisible to the experience of the patron. What probably happened, if we really did the analysis in looking back at those years, was that ticket prices escalated. Ticket prices are (still) escalating because bands are smarter. They see other people doing bigger deals, right?
And there’s competition between Live Nation and AEG Live.
It is always what-a-market-will-bear strategy. It’s hard in our business to do anything else. As long as we still have the demand, the supply is going to take care of itself.
I think it’s fair for Michael Rapino (president and CEO of Live Nation) to say that if he doesn’t pay a band their asking price, then someone else will.
That’s the risk.
That risk has always been there for promoters.
Yeah, but it was a different risk. Barry Fey would pick up the phone, call Janis (Joplin) and ask how much she wanted to play Denver. She’d say $10,000. Barry would sell $150,000 worth of tickets. Now, we keep stumbling across this word transparency. Everybody knows the deals. There are no hidden secret deals anymore. Pretty much everything is out on the table.
The selling of tickets? Not so.
But everybody is aware of those components of the game.
Concerts at Red Rocks go back decades.
The dedication (of the amphitheatre) was June 15, 1941. We immediately started doing shows. Shows at that time were pageants. So it was Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” ( the popular term for the beginning of Act III of “Die Walküre,” the second of the four operas by Wagner) or it was one of these spectacles.
There used to be an orchestra pit at Red Rocks.
Yes. Also the doors that lead up to the ramp on stage right and stage left were built so that a person on horseback could come out onto the stage. On upstage right, there are these massive rolling doors that were for the set pieces. And those two—what people call towers—there are three levels where we had stage lighting. All of the lighting was originally footlights, and lighting off of stage right and left. You had nothing (in lighting) overhead. It cast some pretty strange shadows.
The Beatles played Red Rocks.
We were the sixth stop on their (first) American tour. It did not sell out. The promoter was Verne Byers. Two years ago, his son sent me some footage that I haven’t released yet from that show. There are 5 songs and there’s about 30 seconds of each song. We also had Hendrix here. (Jimi Hendrix played at Red Rocks in June of 1969, just two months before Woodstock).
[The Beatles played Red Rocks on August 23, 1964; seats cost $6.50. Promoter Verne Byers had wanted to book the show at Denver University Stadium, where he could sell 2,000 more seats, but the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein wanted Red Rocks.
The morning of the concert, the Rocky Mountain News printed a strongly-worded editorial message, boxed on the front page. It read:
“Attention! Teenagers of Denver, you have the opportunity of attracting worldwide attention today! Don't be rowdies. Don't throw things. Don't try to smuggle beer or liquor into Red Rocks Theater. Don't kick and elbow. Gird on the self-discipline that is the mark of a true American citizen.”
The Beatles’ concert at Red Rocks was a 32-minute event. The show has the reputation as being the only one on the group’s 1964 tour not to sell out.
On August 18, 1964, Byers received a postcard warning him to cancel the concert. The card read: “If you know what's good for you, cancel Denver engagement. I'll be in the audience and I'm going to throw a hand grenade instead of jelly babies. — Beatle Hater.” While the FBI investigated, no charges were laid.
A big band bass player, Byers operated the Denver club The Baja, and The Robin's Nest, a late-night jazz club atop Lookout Mountain. He booked Peter, Paul & Mary, Otis Redding, James Brown, Glen Campbell and others at Red Rocks and at his clubs.]
Rock and roll wasn’t allowed at Red Rocks after a Jethro Tull concert in 1971.
Well, that’s right. It was one of those knee-jerk reactions by city council. To his credit, Barry Fey said, “B.S. This is ridiculous.” He took them to court, and got (the decision) overturned. That was the right thing to do.
[An incident during a performance by Jethro Tull on June 10, 1971 led to a ban of rock concerts at Red Rocks. Following the "Riot at Red Rocks," Denver Mayor William H. McNichols, Jr. banned rock concerts from the amphitheater. For the next five years, shows were limited to soft rock acts.
The ban was lifted through legal action taken by Feyline’s Barry Fey, who tried to book America at the venue in 1975. After being denied a permit by the city, Fey took the city to court. The court ruled that the city had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in banning rock concerts at Red Rocks. Starting in 1976, rock bands were again welcomed at the venue.
In 1976, Fey started his Summer of Stars Series at Red Rocks, which made the venue the place to play. For three consecutive years (1978, 1979, 1980), Fey was voted promoter of the year by Billboard. In 1983, Fey, Chris Blackwell, and U2 produced the “Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky” concert film.]
In 1999, local environment groups were very concerned about the future of Red Rocks.
That’s an interesting story. The mayor (Wellington E. Webb, mayor of Denver 1991-2003) had a press conference about a couple of things. One of which was that we were going to do improvements at Red Rocks. We had a director of theaters and arenas (Ron Bernstein), who asked me to come along (to the press conference). At the time, I was the director of strategic planning (for the city venues).
Of course, a cub reporter asked the question, “How are you going to pay for these improvements? Times are getting tough.” The director said that we were going to be putting in some additional concession stands, and some corporate boxes. There’s an (alternative) weekly tabloid in Denver called Westword with the cartoonist Kenny Be. He picked up on the story, and drew a cartoon of Red Rocks with every imaginable corporate logo on the red rocks themselves. There was a ski jump running up the middle of (the amphitheatre). There were sky boxes. It was, of course, ridiculous. Well, this group, The Friends of Red Rocks banded together, “Oh my God, we’re going to take down the city. What the hell are you going to do?” Everybody thought that the cartoon was real. The power of the press is stunning.
[In 1999, when the City of Denver decided to renovate the Red Rocks Amphitheater, members of the Wellington Webb administration floated the notion of upping revenues at the venue by installing box seats. Local citizens turned out for the Landmark Preservation Commission's hearing on the proposal. Since Red Rocks is both a Denver and national historic landmark, all substantive changes are subject to LPC review. The commissioners rejected the city's proposal as too compromising of the park's historical integrity.
As a result, the City of Denver altered its public stance in regard to the renovation of Red Rocks, emphasizing that its $22 million plan for the amphitheater was focused on fixing what's broken, not breaking what's fixed.]
The City of Denver did do the upgrades on Red Rocks.
Yes, we did. We built the 30,000 square foot visitor’s center. We put in new water and sewer pipes. They hadn’t been replaced since the venue opened in 1941. If you went into the washrooms, they were naked concrete, and they smelled.
Still no corporate logo or box seat.
No. Still no corporate logos; still no box seats. Out tag line is, “Keep it pure” and that’s for a reason.
Burnham Hoyt Visitor Center opened in May, 2003 and transformed Red Rocks into a significant tourist destination. Was environmental wear and tear a concern in planning for the increase in people coming through there?
Oh yeah, but I have to tip my hat to Don Dethlefs, (CEO) of the architectural firm Sink Combs Dethlefs. When we put that visitor center (in), it was the product of a master plan that we commissioned in 1990. We spent two or three years and a quarter of a million dollars (on the plan). We asked, "What should Red Rocks be for the next few generations?" We knew we had a lot of tourists going up there. People drove up to that top circle lot. They walked down, and they broached that view plain. Everybody says either, “Oh shit” or “Oh my God.” Right? They do the “wow” thing. Once they do the “wow” thing, they turned around and got back into their car. It takes about 7 minutes.
When we started putting road counters up there, we figured out that at the beginning of the count that there were 3/4 of a million to about 1.2 million people a year going up there. So we put that visitor center in, and Sink Combs Dethlefs put it underground. To this day, people ask “Why didn’t you put corporate box seats there and this thing (the center) could have been above ground. Of course, I’m thinking about the Kenny Be cartoon. We are like, “No way in hell.”
[The ground breaking for the Burnham Hoyt Visitor Center took place on September 11, 2001. Yes, that 9/11 September 11th.]
How do you deal with the environmental wear and tear of the site?
Everything was built to minimize the environmental impact. I think that we do a great job of controlling the naturalness, the pureness of Red Rocks. We can handle lots of visitors as well as the concert-goers, which average half a million a year.
[Red Rocks is a greener venue than most, with composting and recycling services, low-flush toilets, energy efficiency measures (and the fact that no A/C is needed—or possible—at the outdoor venue) and the use of mostly green cleaning products.]
In 2007, the U2 tribute band Under a Blood Red Sky re-created U2’s Red Rocks’ famous 1983 performance for the Film on the Rocks series. This re-creation even had the flaming towers brought in for the '83 filming. You re-created everything but the weather which had been 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
Well, that’s right. We missed having the 20th anniversary. Every time we get the chance to talk to (U2 manager) Paul McGuiness, we try to say, “Jeez, you gotta bring the boys back.” We are going to keep asking until they actually do come back. Imagine that show event at $1,000 a ticket. It’s going to sell.
Their performance was, of course, released as a full concert-length video, “Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky.” A rock classic.
It still is. You see it on VH-1 and MTV. Young kids see it and they are overwhelmed. What a fabulous thing for Red Rocks, and what a fabulous thing for U2.
There have been so many music DVDs, videos and commercials filmed at Red Rocks. Do you encourage that?
You bet. A lot of venues have origination, and filming fees. We say, “Please, c’mon in.” In fact, I think we charge them $1 for the consideration. We want to see Red Rocks featured. We are delighted to see Red Rocks in music videos, and in car commercials. Clothing companies go out there, and shoot their entire catalogs at Red Rocks. We do everything to support and to assist their endeavors.
What happened with the planned TV series “Live On The Rocks?”
Well, we’ve had a lot of home runs, but sometimes you swing and you miss. We are still talking about doing a television series out of Red Rocks. But just like with anything else when you are working with multiple bands, it’s very hard to get everyone on board. We know that one day, we are going to be successful.
You did release the 2005 DVD “Live and on the Rocks.”
For us, that was a big budget deal. We had the support of Coors, our backyard beverage partner here. We shot that at the Coors Light Mountain Jam. It was a phenomenal, incredible night. A hell of a bill. Ten acts, (including Cypress Hill, Ludacris, Kid Rock, and Nickelback). We shot the whole (event). It was a couple hundred thousand dollars to shoot. I think that we had 16 cameras. It was amazing.
You have recently been working on the promotional documentary “Red Rocks Territory.”
We’ve got Isaac Slade from the Fray talking about Red Rocks, as well as Patrick Meese from Meese, and the drummer (Brian Nevin) from Big Head Todd & the Monsters. We are using it as another tourist attraction to say, "This is why you want to stay in Denver for an extra hotel night stay." You can go to the Coors Brewery, Dinosaur Ridge, and Red Rocks. I just saw the rough cut a couple of weeks ago. We’re getting close to finishing it.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Virginia, but I was moved when I was six months old. I grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, north-east of Raleigh. My dad was the staff manager for Home Beneficial Life Insurance. We grew up doing pig pickin’ under oak trees, and pulling out guitars and playing bluegrass or true Americana (music).
[Pig pickin'--also known as rolling a pig, pig pull, pig roast or as boucherie in French-speaking Louisiana--is a party or gathering held primarily in the American South, which involves the barbecuing of a whole hog.]
You have been in several bands over the years.
I have been in six or seven bands over my life. There was a country iteration there but that was just G-D-A, G-D-A kind of chords with me sitting back and letting the pedal steel boys take all of the glory.
You didn’t want to be an Allman Brother?
Believe it or not, “Eat A Peach” (1972) was my first album (I bought) as a kid. I loved the graphics in the interior of that album.
You went to university in Louisiana.
I did indeed. I woke up one day when I was in (Greenville) North Carolina working as a DJ at East Carolina University. I got all of my clothes for free, all my food for free, and the female to male ratio there was 4 to 1. I decided that it was too much, and I booked (a flight) to Houston, Texas where my mom was living. Then I met a Cajun girl. I didn’t know then what that was. That’s how I got to Lafayette.
Later on, you worked as a stagehand, then as a production manager at the Lafayette Auditorium. Lafayette was a pretty unruly town in the ‘80s.
It was a fabulous place. When I was there, Lafayette was in an oil boom. It was unbelievable. It was the best possible time to live there. It was dripping with money everywhere. In fact, the only way you knew who really had money was that they would all drive white LTDs. Anybody that was driving a Ferrari or a Porsche, forget it. There was so much money around. Oil field parties every night. It was a constant party down there. I still love Lafayette. It is a fabulous (live music) market.
For two years, you worked at The Cajundome there. What a great venue.
Greg Davis (The Cajundome director for 25 years), and those guys down there are just fantastic. In those days, it was a spanking brand new building (opened in 1985) and we had some amazing concerts. But my favorite memory out of that place is with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
I remember that I went down there (one morning) to open the building up. It was pitch dark outside. I parked my car where I normally parked it, and I walked in. “What the hell is all of this stuff?” All of the lion cages were there. I realized that I was about a foot and a half away from the face of one of these bastards. It gave a ROARRRRRRR. Scared the hell out of me. Gunther Gebel-Williams, the lion tamer, convinced us that his poor cats couldn’t possibly stay outside in this terrible (hot) weather. So we put them in one of the tunnels leading into the arena. Those damn cats pissed 30 feet high. That place smelt for two years.
[For decades, Gunther Gebel-Williams was the unrivaled star of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. From 1947 to 1968, he worked as an animal trainer for Circus Williams in his native Germany. The 5 feet 4 inch tamer came to the U.S. when Irvin Feld, then an owner of Ringling Brothers, bought out Circus Williams, primarily to get Gebel-Williams to perform for American audiences. Gebel-Williams starred with Ringling Brothers from 1968 to 1990, when he retired from performing and became VP for animal welfare for the circus, and a part owner of it as well. Gebel-Williams gave over 12,000 performances, and never missed a show. He died in 2001 at his home in Venice, Florida. He was 66.]
So what do you do for Cajun food in Colorado?
There are a couple of Cajun places here. They come and go, but I get my fix. My best friends down there (in Louisiana) will send me boudin on occasion, and stuffed pork chops.
Many restaurants who serve Cajun food try to make it really spicy and hot. But, it’s not.
You’ve got to have your red beans, rice, and gumbo---all of the staples. I use a little Tony Chachere spice on everything. I put it on eggs, meat, and salad. There’s a restaurant here called Lucile's Creole Café (on Logan Street). I go there for breakfast every once in a while. I will get the eggs sardou. That’s (creamed) spinach with egg on top and hollandaise sauce with Gulf shrimp swimming in grits with a buttermilk biscuit.
You are chairman of the board of trustees for Outward Bound Denver. “Rugged” and “wilderness” are the words most associated with this organization.
It keeps me young. Outward Bound is an amazing organization that touches so many people from young to old. It is a privilege to be part of this team here in Colorado. The (organization’s) impact worldwide is really enormous, but there is so much work to do. Almost everyone, at some point in their life, goes through some crisis. When you are put on an Outward Bound course, you are pushed to your limits. And it’s done in a very safe and respectable way. You walk away and you are a changed person.
How many people are usually in an Outward Bound course?
Typically, they are broken up into groups of about 7 or 8. Sometimes, you can have two or three groups together depending on what the context is. You might have 20 or 30 people from a corporation decide to do an activity together. Generally, you can sign up as an open enrollee and say, “I want to do this dog sledding in Minneapolis.” You will be sleeping out in minus 10 degrees, and you will be loving it.
Are you doing much sailing these days?
I was just sailing last night with my girlfriend. (The Catalina 25) was honking along pretty good at about 15 knots. I got to take my oldest son to the British Virgin Islands for his college graduation gift in February. So yeah, I still do.
You recently turned 50.
I’m just a young buck. I feel great. All of us are 19 in our head. My kids listen to hip hop and I’m singing, “I want to be a billionaire so frickin’ bad.” (from Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars’ “Billionaire.”) I sing that (rap) stuff all of the time.
Well, you went to see 50 Cent perform recently.
That was a hot night. I got my picture taken with him, which I really enjoyed. He’s an amazing dude. You and I have been so privileged and blessed to meet everybody (in contemporary music). What is really interesting, is that the music that we grew up with is still the best music. My kids, they want to listen to Foghat, and AC/DC. They love that stuff. That’s so great.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.