Features, Print March 31, 2021

Into The Great Wide Open: NoCo & WY Venues Hopeful for a Full-Capacity Fall

by Dan England

President Joe Biden believes we’ll have smaller gatherings with family and close friends by the Fourth of July. But this Labor Day sounds like it could be a party. 

Those who operate Northern Colorado venues say they are hopeful they can host full, loud and fun concerts again by September. Even though Biden said in mid-March that he will direct states to offer vaccines to all adults 18 and over by May, venue operators still plan to hold limited-capacity concerts throughout this spring and summer.

“There are people saying July or August, but we are confident things will be returning to normal in September,” said Dani Grant, owner of the Mishawaka Amphitheater in the Poudre Canyon outside of Fort Collins. “We will stick to a low-capacity situation until things return completely normal.”

The Mishawaka Amphitheatre in the Poudre Canyon expanded it’s season because of COVID restrictions. Planning to continue the extended schedule, they are hopeful for full capacity shows in the fall. Photo by Kevin Johnston

Grant is booking shows into the fall, as are many venues, and some, like the Mish, made permanent changes as a result of the pandemic: the amphitheater expanded its season from April to November, a change it made last year. Before COVID-19, the Mish only operated during the warmer months, from May to September, but decided to go from 30 to 50 shows.

“We just wanted to get people some work,” Grant said, so they heated their stage, offered fire pits for rental, served hot drinks and supplied blankets to keep people warm in November. And given that this is Colorado, its residents aren’t exactly, um, snowflakes. Ergo, the demand was so great that they plan to keep the expanded schedule.

The Aggie Theater, a Fort Collins staple venue, will continue to operate at limited capacity until the state’s new guidelines roll out.

Cheryl Liguori of Z2 Entertainment opened two places, the Aggie and the Boulder Theater at limited capacity in February. 

“Can we pay all our bills? No,” she said. “But are we happy to flow the cash burn? Yes.”

Liguori will operate at that limited capacity, however, until the state changes its guidelines, and she doesn’t anticipate that happening until the fall.

Acts have begun inquiring about booking her venues as much as she’s been asking the bands. Agents are putting together tours, she said, although that’s tougher when states offer different guidelines. Some, such as Wyoming, Texas and Florida, are already operating at full capacity with mask mandates. 

“I’ve heard tours are looking at those places,” Liguori said. 

Even so, she does have “a ton” of holds for her fall calendar, and a slate of local acts that can help both sides make a little money through the summer. 

“It’s great to have live music in the venues and be able to pay them again in a way that works for both of us,” she said.

The UCCC (at left) has offered unique opportunity to acts and private individuals interested in using the space during COVID restrictions. Read our full, online April issue starting April 1st at BandWagMag.com

Most city venues, such as the Union Colony Civic Center, have shuttered since the pandemic broke out last March, but even they are slowly opening. Jason Evenson, who manages the UCCC for the City of Greeley as a part of his duties, said he’s already booking shows for the fall. Some are acts they had to cancel, and others are new to replace the ones who decided not to tour this year. The acts are the same kind of national touring performances the UCCC booked before the pandemic. The only caveat is, the UCCC needs to be at full capacity to make the show work, financially. 

“The numbers don’t work if there are still restrictions in place,” Evenson said. “I can’t afford that or charge what it would take to pay those people. We want a full house.”

The UCCC is offering its venue for small rentals with a capacity of 300, a third of its actual cap, in its main theater. The UCCC also only charges for 300, not 1,000 seats, so there are some good deals if acts and individuals want to take advantage.

Evenson said the public should still “finish” all those challenging things that they did to get to this point, such as wearing a mask and staying isolated, to free them of the pandemic.

“Some think it’s too early, but I think there’s a balance that can be struck,” he said. “If we all follow all the rules, we think we can do it.”

Other venues don’t have to follow the same restrictions as Colorado, such as the Chinook Drive In at the Terry Bison Ranch, but it will probably draw the same Colorado crowd – Wyoming is at full capacity again.

“We are super stoked,” Hamilton Byrd, a promoter with the concert series at Chinook tells BandWagon. “That definitely creates a ton of optimism.”

Over the borderline: Terry Bison Ranch, just across Colorado’s northern border, currently offers drive-in sshows with lighter COVID guidelines than Colorado does. Wyoming’s different rules plus a lot of open space to produce full-capacity shows at varying distances, is a game changer.

As for restrictions? 

“I’ve got a pretty funny answer to that,” said Byrd. “We have 27,000 acres. That’s a pretty wide net.”

The Chinook’s first show will be the Subtronics in the first part of May, who were also scheduled to play Red Rocks on May 15, though that show in Morrison has been cancelled.

Byrd says the drive-in should have enough shows through the summer and into the fall for one every weekend. “One of the nice things about waiting to announce our schedule is to see how the pandemic goes,” Byrd said. “We want to maximize the customer’s experience but do whatever is safe and legal and that’s what has been changing every week.”