The Most Difficult Music Venue to Book in the United States

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre | © Flickr user daveynin

It’s not very uncommon for artists to need to book a venue months ahead of a performance. But five years in advance, that is rare.

On Wednesday, Variety published a feature detailing why Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado (located right outside of Denver) booking policy is “the most extreme of any venue in the country.”

Red Rocks first gained esteem thanks to the praise of renowned opera singer Mary Garden in 1911. Since then, legendary acts such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny & Cher, Depeche Mode, Widespread Panic, The Grateful Dead, and U2 have all taken the stage. These names and the amphitheatre’s epic scenery—nestled in the mountains with the Denver skyline sitting behind the stage—have made performing here a rite of passage of sorts in an act’s career.

Demand for concerts has surged dramatically in recent years, with paid events doubling from 73 in 2010 to 155 in 2016. As Variety reports, the artist-booking policy is constantly evolving, and reserving performances up to five years in advance was common practice until recently:
As of November 1, the city will reduce the advance-booking time to two years at that time — an act will be able to hold a date in November 2019.”The competition for the dates, and people placing holds for dates that far out, when who knows what’s going to happen, didn’t make a lot of sense,” says Tad Bowman, the venue director who oversees bookings. Some artists have trouble with the lengthy advance notice, which is unlike almost any other venue in the world, because they time tours to album releases.

Even more convoluted, and expensive, is Red Rocks’ date-challenging procedure, which Ween, Widespread Panic and others have employed. Just about anyone can book an open Red Rocks date, but another agent can storm the date and force the original performer to put up money to hold it. The first act then can choose not to pay — and lose the date.
On Monday, Southwest Airlines announced a competition, dubbed “Destination: Red Rocks,” in which six artists are vying for the opportunity to open for The Fray at Red Rocks on June 26.

Unfortunately, this kind of an opportunity doesn’t come around very often, so, if you’re hoping to play Red Rocks, you better have a good agent, some extra cash, and an open calendar.

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