As a huge fan of live music, I was thrilled when I first heard about the Sunset, a planned 8,000-seat amphitheater going up on the Northside of Colorado Springs. Local businessman J.W. Roth, who’s also responsible for the 1,000-seat indoor Boot Barn Hall at Bourbon Brothers music venue, is the developer. But this paragraph in an April 6 story published by The Gazette gave me pause: “Roth said the Sunset will feature A-list talent — ‘the same kinds of tours that you would see at Red Rocks or at Fiddler’s Green.’”
Think about this: Colorado Springs is a city of over a half-million people. The metropolitan statistical area has a population of more than 720,000. Podunk we ain’t.
Also consider: Colorado Springs has a bunch of music venues. There’s The Broadmoor World Arena, the Pikes Peak Center and Weidner Field to name a few of the large ones. And there’s The Black Sheep, Lulu’s and Stargazers Theatre on the smaller side. And that’s just a sample.
I moved to Colorado Springs in 1989, and historically, the biggest acts that come through the Springs tend to start with “Disney” and end with “on Ice.” Very seldom do we see big names in musical entertainment (comedy isn’t much better) stop in the Springs. Why is that?
Again, it’s not the size of the city. I lived in Boulder for four years in the late ’90s — a city a fraction the size of the Springs. There were nationally recognizable names playing that burg at least once a month. There have been plenty of opportunities and no shortage of venues for A-list acts to appear here in Olympic City USA. But when they do, it’s the exception, not the rule.
The reason, in my opinion, is our culture. Following a pretty dark period (the ’90s) in the Springs, it’s taken decades for this city to build a reputation as a somewhat welcoming place — but all of that work is in danger of being erased.
Artists, whether musical, visual or other, tend to be a pretty open-minded bunch. They also don’t like to be told how to think and they generally avoid places that are contrarian.
And just as the cultural scene in the Springs started to look like it had room to thrive, we’re seeing far-right candidates taking over school boards; we’re seeing the constant and blatant blurring of the line between church and state; we’re seeing transphobia and racism spewed by public figures; we’re seeing those who would rather ban books than read them take over our public libraries.
We’re seeing our city move in the wrong direction.
The Colorado Springs Business Journal recently ran an editorial about the passage of Amendment 2 in 1992, which earned Colorado the “Hate State” moniker (not great brand for attracting tourists). That amendment, written by religious fundamentalists based in the Springs, barred the state from considering homosexual or bisexual identity or activity as being protected in any way from discriminatory laws or action. That’s how Colorado Springs became the hate city in the hate state.
The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum writes: “Groups such as the U.S. conference of mayors cancelled conventions, cities issued travel bans to Colorado for their public employees, movie stars lent their names in protest, and businesses and nonprofits changed plans to relocate to the state.”
The Business Journal reported Amendment 2 — what organizers called the largest civil rights boycott in U.S. history — “had real and lasting effects.” That included an estimated $35 million in lost revenue from canceled events, and a list of 112 people and organizations that pledged to boycott the state, according to the protest organization Boycott Colorado. That list included the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Harvard University, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, the Kennedy family and more.
Maybe nobody cares about Streisand or Madonna today — but they did in 1992. And who knows what acts might have come here over the past 30 years had Colorado Springs chosen a different path. We can go ahead and build yet another venue, but until we do something about our devolving culture, the Springs may find itself doing the ‘90s all over again.