Longtime Denver promoter Chuck Morris is known as a colorful man who speaks his mind. So it’s no surprise that the president of AEG Live Rocky Mountains doesn’t mince words when describing the takeover of Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre from rival promoter Live Nation.
“The building was in dire need of repair and worse than I even thought,” he said of the 17,000-seat amphitheater in Greenwood Village. “I was astounded. It was built in the mid-’80s and I don’t know if they did anything to it since then.”
AEG Live’s ongoing $6 million, two-year renovation includes improved sound systems, concession areas, more access to bathrooms and common areas, and an ambitious series of aesthetic tweaks like a “living wall” made of tens of thousands of Colorado flowers.
The promoter’s first event in the venue, the Memorial Day-themed Volunteer Jam featuring Charlie Daniels Band and others, takes place May 24, so we thought it the perfect time to catch up with Morris about Fiddler’s, plans for the new home of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and more.
Hi Chuck. How is everything?
Everything’s great. We’ve got another great year of shows. Red Rocks has more than 60 shows this year. Last year we did 61 shows there and this year we’re doing that many and we’ll probably sell out 40 or more of them.
Tell me why you’re kicking off AEG’s first year at Fiddler’s with the Volunteer Jam.
When we took over Fiddler’s and decided to remodel I wanted to do something a little bit different and have a soft ticket to open the place — something to give back to the community. I’ve been blessed to have a long career so the first thing that popped to mind was doing something like this. And I thought about Charlie (Daniels), who plays for the military overseas, and Charlie said, “Funny you said that, because my Volunteer Jam’s going out on the road. So far we’ve given out almost 90 percent of all the tickets — about 14,000 — to the military, first responders, police and fire people around state, city workers and state workers in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. And we’re selling a limited amount to the public for $10 to $20. It’s going to be (broadcast) live on our AXS TV network around the U.S.A. and rebroadcast on the worldwide military network three days later, I think.
I’m guessing you have a relationship with Charlie given your four-decade career in the music industry.
I do. And we just really wanted to do something interesting to break in the new place, and I thought it would be a wonderful thing to give away tickets at Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley, Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, the American Red Cross, the Wounded Warrior Project, different veterans organizations and of course the entire Colorado National Guard. I’m really excited about it.
How far along are the Fiddler’s renovations at this point? How is the average person’s experience going to change?
I think it’s going to be changed dramatically. We’ve restored, rebuilt and redesigned the entire space. The whole concessions area has been rebuilt and there are new buildings, a new police area, and new areas for catering and production. Pretty much everything backstage is new. A few things are not quite done, but we have temporary buildings for the artists and need another month because of this long winter here.
What about the sound system?
As far as sound I always thought it was one of the weaknesses there. We raised the sound wings about 15 feet on each side and put 30 percent more speakers on the lawn, which is like a night and day difference. There are new point-of-sale systems, so buying your beer or food goes about three times as fast. There’s beautiful new signage throughout the entire venue, with an artistic design done by Jeremy Stein from Madison House in Boulder, who did the 1stBank Center. There’s new artwork on stage. We’ve also improved the flow going from the halls to bathrooms, and the concessions to the exits. We’ve broken those areas up and made them about three times as wide. They updated every bathroom in the place.
I’m guessing you had to learn a lot about the venue during this process.
It’s basic building 101, which I never quite understand. The funny part is that if you go to the back of the lawn, you go down 14 steps and down at the bottom of there where 10,000 people stand or sit, there are almost 30 bathrooms that people never knew about! And a dirt road that goes to them from the food and beverage area. But it was blocked off, so we opened it up and people will come in and realize it’s part of the arena now.
When do you expect you’ll be completely finished with the renovations?
We’re doing things through this summer and next year. This is a two-year process. We weren’t allowed in until Jan. 1. But whatever we wanted to do, we did it three times as much. You know we did it at 1stBank, we did it at Tulagi’s in Boulder. I mean, we built the Fillmore up from when it was the old Mammoth Events Center, so we pride ourselves on this stuff. At Fiddler’s we have brand new LED HD video screens, and we’ll be putting in new kitchen equipment. There are lots of upgrades. We’re the first amphitheater to put in a living wall, which is basically sustainable architecture and flowers that grow in an art piece. It was done by the expert who started it in America, Paul Kephart of Rana Creek. It was an idea of Cynthia Madden (Leitner), our partner. (Note: Madden runs the Museum of Outdoor Arts, which owns Fiddler’s and leases it to concert promoters like AEG Live).
Will the living wall affect the acoustics?
Well, it’s basically ecologically sound landscape design. I don’t think it’ll affect the acoustics dramatically, but it’s going to be gorgeous. It’s basically a painting made from natural growth and it’s really interesting. Cynthia always wanted to do that at either her museum or a venue, so we flew out Paul who’s done it on buildings and bridges in Los Angeles and in Europe.
How many shows will you have at Fiddler’s this year?
We’re going to end up with about 18 shows at Fiddler’s. The previous people who ran it had 18, which they thought was their biggest year. I want to make this a jewel among major amphitheaters in the U.S.
What’s the latest on moving the Colorado Music Hall of Fame from the 1stBank Center to Red Rocks? When do you expect it to open?
We’re moving it to the Trading Post at Red Rocks probably by mid-summer and our next induction will be in late fall. It’ll be an induction of my dear friend, the late Dan Fogelberg, along with Joe Walsh and Barnstorm and Caribou Ranch Studios. It will also be timed to coincide with the release of a Fogelberg tribute album I’m co-producing. Garth Brooks is supposed to send me his track for it soon!