The year 2023 was marked by big shows — and even bigger ticket prices.
Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Denver DJ-producer Illenium likely set records at Empower Field at Mile High, from the most tickets sold for a weekend run (Swift), to the biggest, venue-based concert in Denver history (Sheeran) and the biggest-ever show from a Colorado artist (Illenium).
As state and federal legislators again failed to pass meaningful legislation protecting consumers from outrageous ticketing fees, prices soared. A nosebleed seat to one of Swift’s shows at Empower Field may have cost less than $50 if you were lucky enough to get one during the disastrous Ticketmaster pre-sale. But thousands were forced to buy them on the secondary market for prices ranging from $500 to $10,000 per seat.
The Wall Street Journal found that the average price of a concert had doubled in the past five years, increasing from $125 in 2019 to $252 in 2023. The story was the same with re-sellers such as SeatGeek, whose resale averages doubled from the previous year to roughly the same price.
Those secondary-market tickets were also sold on sites like StubHub which, it should be noted, was forced to refund $3 million to more than 8,500 Colorado consumers in 2021 after the Colorado Attorney General’s Office found it wasn’t honoring its refund guarantees. Senate Bill 60 — a.k.a. Consumer Protection in Event Ticketing Sales Act — easily passed the state legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Jared Polis in June because it could upset “the successful entertainment ecosystem in Colorado,” he said after killing it. Supporters vowed to revive it.
Local notes, some off-key
Denver strengthened its hold on electronic dance music, with artists, fans and promoters reinforcing the Mile High City as the global capital of the bass subgenre. Transplants such as French producer and DJ CloZee notched crucial headlining spots on the way to bigger, better appearances at venues such as Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Provided you were willing to align yourself with mega-promoter AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, the path from support act to Red Rocks headliner had never looked clearer.
Even as massive concerts continued at the 18,000-seat Fiddlers Green Amphitheatre, and heritage acts played their final Colorado shows (see Eagles, Dead & Company, Foreigner), festivals in metro Denver took a dip. The pause of this year’s Westword Music Showcase left a local music hole in June as the multi-venue event took the year off. Fortunately, South Broadway’s Underground Music Showcase got more equitable and community-oriented as it increasingly catered to all-ages, sober and BIPOC performers, such as the fast-ascending, R&B/hip-hop sensation N3PTUNE, amid a hundred-plus other acts.
The jazz world wobbled as Vail Jazz shut down after nearly than three decades, Denver Post jazz columnist Bret Saunders wrote. The free City Park Jazz series was also clipped by a series of June rainouts, denting its much-needed donations and attendance. The dearly departed El Chapultepec made a comeback of sorts with a legacy/archive project. The former owners sponsored shows at the nationally acclaimed Denver jazz club Dazzle — which itself reopened in a slick, more affordable space in downtown’s Performing Arts Complex. There, blockbuster Broadway musicals such as the jukebox-hit “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” wowed audiences at the nearby Buell Theatre, drawing people to an urban core that’s still hollowed out from the pandemic.
Icons such as the historic Denver Folklore Center changed hands to an equally capable owner in Ian Dehmel, while nearby folk-music hub Swallow Hill welcomed a new concert director in music veteran David Dugan, just days after executive director Aengus Finnan finished out his first full year at the nonprofit.
Immersive entertainment company Meow Wolf, meanwhile, continued making good on its promise to support local artists with diverse, thoughtfully booked shows at the 488-person capacity Perplexiplex venue, from drag showcases to up-and-coming queer singer-songwriters.
Meow Wolf also brought back a slightly reworked Vortex music and art festival to Live Nation’s new-ish JunkYard outdoor venue. Smaller festivals and block parties mingled craft brews and local music favorites. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame inducted progressive bluegrass legend Yonder Mountain String Band, which celebrated the achievement at Telluride’s 50th anniversary bluegrass fest. Hazel Miller, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and jazz pioneer George Morrison Sr. also got overdue spots in the state’s music hall. Alongside, jamgrass veteran The String Cheese Incident (already in the music hall as of 2022) celebrated its 30th anniversary of helping create and lead the genre.
Colorado Symphony dipped further into its pop collaborations with its Imagination Artist Series, which included not only local platinum-seller Nathaniel Rateliff but also a world premiere from Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA. (More were just announced with the same artists for 2024.)
But as venues and performers struggled to sustain comebacks in the face of cost-of-living and rent increases, every little bit of support made a difference. That included potentially career-changing shows at Levitt Pavilion Denver, which presented 50 free, quality concerts over the summer, and programs from the nonprofit Youth on Record and the state’s Take Note Colorado music education drive.
A garden of faceplants
In terms of national acts, Drake came up with perhaps the most lame excuse for a concert postponement in the history of Colorado music, blaming a last-minute ghosting on “the distance the road crew has to travel along with the magnitude of the production,” which made it “logistically impossible to bring the full experience of the show to Denver … .” The show was rescheduled for January at Ball Arena, with another date added, but one would’ve thought they figured out production details before putting tickets on sale and prompting more than 10,000 people to schedule their lives around it.
We also mourned the latest tour-dissing by Beyoncé, and wondered why current tours from Janet Jackson, Pearl Jam and Metallica snubbed Denver.
Bizarrely, and sadly, Royal Trux leader and indie rock veteran Neil Hagerty was charged with a trio of felonies in an alleged assault on a Denver police officer. The gloom also hung over some indie venues as HQ (formerly 3 Kings Tavern) flooded and closed after a devastating water break (it has since reopened), and workers at the Mercury Cafe — which hosts jazz, experimental music, poetry and comedy — pushed for a union after complaining of unsafe work conditions. Punk rock mainstay Carioca Cafe (a.k.a. Bar Bar) and Wax Trax Records grappled with the city over noise complaints and permits, while jam band Lotus and other acts lost crucial members to untimely deaths.
Broomfield’s troubled FirstBank Center shut down, and Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center announced a name change to Blue Arena. In Colorado Springs, the $55 million Sunset Amphitheater complex broke ground on its way to a planned June 2024 opening. And at a Louis Tomlinson show at Red Rocks in June, nearly 100 fans got cuts, bruises and broken bones after intense hail. Some concession stand workers reportedly laughed at them from their shelters, prompting calls for earlier storm warnings and more safety coverage at the city-owned venue. With climate change worsening, it seems to be just the tip of the extreme-weather risks for future outdoor concerts.
On the brighter side, salsa destination La Rumba marked its quarter-century milestone as Spanish-language concerts at venues ranging from Ball Arena to Levitt Pavilion and Aurora’s Stampede proliferated. That, along with supportive, sober and all-ages options, are a pair of trends we’d like to see continue into 2024.