Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rainbow Music Hall


Some of you have noticed a large, rusty piece of metal hanging from the ceiling above the vinyl section recently. If you look carefully you will see that the word “Hall” can be seen on the metal. This twisted relic is all that remains of the original Rainbow Music Hall. Music fans who have lived in Denver for a number of years will have fond memories of the Rainbow. It was an intimate club with amazing sound, unprecedented sightlines (unless you were behind a beam) and a line-up of famous and soon to be famous stars that makes me drool in hindsight. I saw acts as diverse as Dylan, Miles, Jerry Garcia, The Clash, Yellowman and Cheech and Chong there, as well as countless bands that were underground at the time and would become much more famous later -- The Police, U2, Los Lobos etc. It was a very special place to see a show. People would line up all day, because seats were never reserved, it was always first come first served, and the scene outside was a big party. Inside, there was an un-definable sense of intimacy. The stage wasn’t very high and the audience was right up in the artists’ faces. Standing three feet away from Dylan as he pointed an accusing finger at Allen Ginsburg in the audience and said “don’t be fooled by false idols” during his “Saved” tour was one of many unforgettable experiences there. Obviously, it was a different time and part of my feelings about the place are just that -- my feelings. But, I think if you mention The Rainbow to many long-time Colorado concert goers, you will see their eyes mist up with memories of a special place and a special time. What follows is the tale of how the piece of the sign got from the trash heap of history to our store.


Over the Rainbow
Several years after Ebbetts Field ended its glorious run in 1976, concert promoters Barry Fey and Chuck Morris were looking for a new, bigger room. They finally decided on a location at Monaco and Evans in Southeast Denver and named their new 1,300-seat venue the Rainbow Music Hall. The Rainbow started life as a three- screen movie theater; Fey tore down the walls between the screens to make one large and oddly shaped concert venue where no seat was more than 70 feet from the stage. ListenUp installed the sound system, as well as an on-location recording studio for more live broadcasts and taping. “We created a pretty amazing system – it still gets talked about,” says Walt Stinson. “We were doing more live broadcasting than had ever been done in Denver’s history. And we worked with some of the legends of the music industry, such as Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and U2. It really was a heady time, with a lot of exposure for ListenUp and the Rainbow, which was, like Ebbets, named Billboard magazine’s ‘Club of the Year.’ Jerry Jeff Walker opened the place on January 26, 1979 and the hall was the site of shows by some of the music world's brightest lights, and $2 shows helped start the careers of bands including U2, The Police, Devo, and Pat Benatar. "Most of those $2 shows were amazing shows. These bands were out working the streets. They were playing to the fans," Rainbow manager Dave McKay said.
A who's who of rock 'n' roll, including more than a dozen Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, passed through the 1,400-seat building in 10 years and more than 1,000 concerts. Warren Zevon was the final show in November 1988. In between it hosted Miles Davis, Robin Williams, Talking Heads, Cheap Trick and hundreds more. In October 1981 the Rolling Stones came very close to playing a secret show there, to the point where banners and tickets were printed. Bob Dylan played three shows at the Rainbow in 1980 on his first tour after converting to Christianity, an era when he was playing only his new Christian songs and no classics. Fey recalled a concertgoer calling out mid-set: "Hey Bob - Jesus likes the hits, too!"
"It was a very small, tight, packed place," said Kevin Oxley, who worked security at the Rainbow in the '80s. "It was really a classic place, just one big party atmosphere. By 7 o'clock in the morning people would be lining up around the building, partying and having a great time." Stars such as Stevie Nicks hung out after her show and signed autographs for fans, and Fey was an ubiquitous presence, Oxley said. "It was one of Barry Fey's little gems. He was always there, every night." Chuck Morris, now Denver's most prominent concert promoter, opened the place with Fey and booked 173 shows the first year alone. He remembered seeing U2 in 1981 and immediately calling their high-powered booking agent in New York. One April, the place held 29 shows in 30 days. Catering was usually a King Soopers deli tray.
Here are only some of the Rainbow Music Hall artists: Jack Bruce • Graham Parker & the Rumour • Split Enz • Rick Derringer • Joe Jackson • Prince • The Clash • Stevie Ray Vaughan • The Police • Barry Manilow • Miles Davis • U2 • Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers • John Cougar Mellencamp • Eurythmics • Robin Williams • Bob Dylan • The Pretenders • B.B. King • Willie Nelson • Pat Benatar • Blondie • Talking Heads • Nick Lowe • Devo • Warren Zevon • Roxy Music • The Cure • Def Leppard • The Fixx • Hall & Oates • The Ramones • Motorhead • Journey • Andy Kaufman • Judas Priest • Los Lobos • Stevie Nicks • Head East • Lou Reed • Iggy Pop • Robert Gordon • Gentle Giant • Amazing Rhythm Aces • Stryper • .38 Special • Cheech & Chong • Elvin Bishop • Al Jarreau • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band • John Prine • The Chieftains • English Beat • Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five • Laurie Anderson • The Blasters • Dave Edmunds • Bobby Womack • Boomtown Rats • Leo Kottke • Black Flag • Midnight Oil • The Alarm • Sinead O'Connor • Rick Springfield • Howard Jones • The Cult • R.E.M. • Weather Report • Jaco Pastorius • Oingo Boingo • Freddie Hubbard • Stanley Clarke • Til Tuesday • X • Black Flag • Ronnie Montrose • New Order • Psychedelic Furs • John McLaughlin • Jean Luc Ponty • Al DiMeola • Robert Cray • Jerry Garcia • George Benson • Larry Carlton • George Carlin • The Knack • Ozark Mountain Daredevils • Metallica • Bonnie Raitt • The Band • J. Geils Band • Stephan Grappelli • David Bromberg • Lou Reed • Steppenwolf • Bon Jovi • Modern English • The Alarm • Jefferson Starship • Leon Russell • English Beat • Hot Tuna • The Hooters • Maynard Ferguson • Icehouse • Arlo Guthrie • Ray Charles • Circle Jerks • The Church • Echo & The Bunnymen • Jeff Lorber Fusion • Dickie Betts • Ozzy Osbourne • AC/DC • Poco • Third World • Taj Mahal • Little Feat • Asleep At The Wheel • and much, much more!


The End
In April of 2009 Rick Shaw and Craig Keyzer noticed that the historic Rainbow Music Hall sign, which was supposedly protected, had been taken down. Hoping that it had only been disassembled and taken away for storage, Rick and Craig hopped the fence behind the vacant building on April 18th. The sign had been completely and utterly destroyed, a crumpled pile of twisted metal and plastic fragments. Taking a hacksaw, they were able to save the word “Hall” from the base plate of the sign (it had holes drilled for installing lightbulbs behind the yellow plastic letters) and only one complete yellow letter “L”. They also collected as many broken yellow sign fragments as they could.

28 comments:

joe said...

First concert I ever saw was at the Rainbow -- Lene Lovich. Also saw Black Flag (twice, including the famed Nig Heist show, where they got arrested), Circle Jerks, Peter Tosh, X, Los Lobos, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Amazing place.

Ike77 said...

Perusing the list of Raibow concerts, I fail to see two of my most memorable; Jim Messina solo and Herbie Hancock and Chic Corea together. Both were in the 1980-81timeframe.
Jimmy Messina had just released "Oasis" and it again showcased his great song-writing skills. I remember the concert was during a driving snowstorm, and the weather was so bad, Messina said that Richie Furray (former Poco bandmate) couldn't get down the mountain to come to the show.
Hancock and Corea played two grand pianos, sometimes solo, sometimes simultaniously. But always captivating jazz! They later released an album from this tour.
I loved the intimacy of the Rainbow!

Anonymous said...

I am trying to remember teh name of a wonderful black woman jazz/blues artist who played at Rainbow probably 1980-1981. The last album (literally - a vinyl) that I had of hers was named for her disabled daughter - I think it was her third album. It was white with a graphic/abstract sort of image of her head with curly hair. I thought she went into rock shortly after. Anyway, can anyone help me remember who that would be?

A J said...

I worked there, in the offfice, I can tell you that it was a phenomenal experience. There hasn't been a venue in the Denver that can compare to the Rainbow since.

Madcircle said...

I saw the police, New Order, then The Cult...it was surreal. At the Cult show, Ian Astbury broke his leg during the encore, a tradition he would copy years later with Billy Idol and Metallica. The Rainbow was the best...

McBlogger said...

They sometimes did two shows a night at the Rainbow. I saw Def Leppard and Blackfoot on one of these nights back in 1980 or 81. We were at the second show of the night and Def Leppard was supposed to open for Blackfoot, just like they had at the first show. Blackfoot decided that they didn't want to stay late to close the show so they went on first making Leppard wait about 4 hours between performances. Def Leppard was royally pissed off and made that known when Joe Elliot started the show saying, "This gig is f***ed!" They went on to play a great show anyway! The Rainbow was a great place to see a show!

CW said...

Awesome - thank you so much for the memory. I saw Spyro Gyra, Devo,...so many others there. The day it was closed and turned into a Walgreens I was the 'other' day the music died.

Anonymous said...

I was at the Blackfoot/Def Leppard show. Went to see Blackfoot, but I was a immediate Leppard fan from then on out buying their 1st 2 albums the next day...Also saw .38 Special there with a unknown one man opening act. Standing in line before the show a black man staggering thru the line wearing a very loud outfit that made the line of people take notice and start smurking and commenting. Needless to say everyone was very surprised when he came out and started playing wildly and completly out of control at times as the opening act.(who was that wildman?) They were shows I will never forget. Thanks Denver for the Rainbow.

Marketing Sociologist said...

Opening night was Gail Davies and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Liz D said...

I saw the Burrito Brothers there, who opened for Emmy Lou Harris and her Hot Band. Thought the Brothers were great. Then Emmy Lou came on with her band, and blew the Burrito Brothers away with their playing. Became a big Emmy Lou fan, thanks in part to the Rainbow's intimate setting.

Anonymous said...

Saw Christine MCvie during her solo tour. She played two shows and the second show had only about 100 people but she still played her heart out. It was excellent. Also saw Little Steven and the Disciples of Souls, Frankie and the Knockouts which was Fogelberg and a gruop of other musicians who came together and jammed. It was a great venue and atmoshphere. I recently picked up a signed "Boy" album flat by U2 which hung on the walls of the Rainbow since '81". Its my connection to one of the great eras of music in Denver.

Nancy's 101 in 1001 said...

Anonymous, I'm pretty sure you're thinking of Phoebe Snow.

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough to see Ozzy Osbourne (with the late great Randy Rhoads on guitar), June 18th, 1981. Motorhead was the opening band. I was completely blown away by the virtuosity of Randy Rhoads. To this day, still one of my favorite guitarists. The Rainbow was intimate. Didn't matter where you sat, it was a great experience.

djmandh said...

Was an awesome place. I think Sammy Hagar caused irreparable hearing loss though. Southside Johnny was a great show, and saw the late Clarence Clemons and his band play there. It's sad to find out it's no more.

Anonymous said...

I realize this article is now four years old, but it still brought a welcome smile to me. I just returned from Denver to San Francisco (where I now live), and while driving through the city I fondly recalled the Rainbow Music Hall, where I saw several remarkable concerts, including:

(1) U2, on the "October" tour in 1982. The band only had two albums and some singles, and literally ran out of material. It was one of only a handful of concerts that they ever played the still 45-only release song "Celebration." The show concluded with a 10 minute-plus version of Neil Young's "Southern Man," in which members of the audience were invited to sing lead vocals. Bono claimed that the day before, the Edge went skiing for the first time.

(2) Squeeze, in 1981, on the "East Side Story" tour, featuring (in his very short stay with the band) Paul Carrack. A sign of the times -- my recollection is that tickets were ungodly cheap, like $5.00 or$8.00, or something. Some interesting warm-up bands also lent themselves to the fun atmosphere, like Sylvain Sylvain, in his solo career following the disbanding of the NY Dolls.

(3) The Ramones, who seemed intent on not saying anything coherent to the audience.

(4) Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, in 1988. Let's just say that even though I didn't bring anything illegal with me, enough others did that I definitely felt buzzed by the end of that concert via the wonders of second hand smoke...

zregime said...

3 shows there whilst going to school at AFA! Pretenders, Talking Heads and Ian Hunter. God bless the Rainbow Music Hall. Looked like shit from the outside, rocked like gold on the inside.

Anonymous said...

I heard Karla Bonoff's voice to perfection in 1979 or 1982. Her sound was amazing from that stage. She has written hits for many famous artists, but nothing will ever beat the moments at the Rainbow long ago. Her voice crushed me and made me dive deeper into myself - I floated out of the Rainbow that night. I was one row back from the stage and felt like I was sitting right next to her. So I guess the Rainbow gave me my first musical crush. ;)

Anonymous said...

1979 /80 were heady times in the Denver music sceen. The Rainbow opened Red Rocks was doing 50 shows + a summer. Fey and Morris had the Rockies rockin. I had a first row seat to all of it. Every show. I worked with Chuck / Dave and Fey tolerated things. Yup a very special time. I have one of the Rainbow Rollingstones tickets and an original Rainbow tour jacket. Amazing times!

Anonymous said...

Saw AC/DC with Bon Scott there,among others shows went by the other day and noticed missing sign, very bummed!

Anonymous said...

-Iggy Pop standing on one leg throughout entire show. The only thing that he said was "Everyone in Colorado is an asshole."
- Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie all in top form in 1978.
-Bob Dylan in bad form.

Anonymous said...

April Wine, Judas Priest, Devo, Rick Derringer,and Commander Cody and his lost planet airmen. Some shows I can't remember to this day.

Nancy Brooklyn Smith said...

While attending U of Denver, my friends and I slept out for tickets for The Police. We sat towards the front of the stage. Sting threw his tee shirt out into the audience and my friend caught it. I remember how amazing the sound was!

Anonymous said...

I actually have one of the signs that hung on the poles as you came into the lot that reads Rainbow Music Hall Parking
Only No Trucks over 7000 lbs. It was surprisingly enough still there a couple years after the Rainbow closed. I would have gotten the other one as well but it was too high up on pole.-

Stan Campbell said...

I still have 5 ticket stubs from the Rainbow Music Hall. Im sure Im missing a bunch more. But the ones I have are: The Henry Paul Band 6/14/79, Blackfoot 7/2/79, Rossington Collins Band 7/11/80, Bonnie Raiit 2/23/84 and Steve Morse on 12/13/84.
The Rossington Collins Band show was incredible. The surviving guitarists and bass player from the Skynyrd plane crash 3 years earlier had the crowd in the palms of their hands.
Freebird was bittersweet instrumental, with a spotlight shining on a lone mic stand with one of Ronnie Van Zants gambler hats perched on top. There wasnt a dry eye in the place until the middle of the songs where the lyric would have ended and the fenetic leads took over. I'll never forget that.
The Rainbow Music Hall was a killer venue with great people, prices and bands. Take me back....

Stan Campbell said...

I still have 5 ticket stubs from the Rainbow Music Hall. Im sure Im missing a bunch more. But the ones I have are: The Henry Paul Band 6/14/79, Blackfoot 7/2/79, Rossington Collins Band 7/11/80, Bonnie Raiit 2/23/84 and Steve Morse on 12/13/84.
The Rossington Collins Band show was incredible. The surviving guitarists and bass player from the Skynyrd plane crash 3 years earlier had the crowd in the palms of their hands.
Freebird was bittersweet instrumental, with a spotlight shining on a lone mic stand with one of Ronnie Van Zants gambler hats perched on top. There wasnt a dry eye in the place until the middle of the songs where the lyric would have ended and the fenetic leads took over. I'll never forget that.
The Rainbow Music Hall was a killer venue with great people, prices and bands. Take me back....

Ron B. said...

In 1980 and 1981, I saw Peter Frampton, Jan & Dean, and John Waite (supported by Harlequin)at the Rainbow. Yes, what a great place. When the Walgreens moved in, I heard that a commemorative plaque was going to be installed inside the store; I never saw it if it was there. Years later, I worked for Lewan & Associates, which still occupies the building next to the old Rainbow; it was strange parking there to go to work when I once parked there for something so much more important: Rock 'n roll! Boy, how times change. I miss the Denver from the 70s and 80s; it was special. We're just another L.A. now, and that's not a good thing.

Anonymous said...

As a teenager I took the Rainbow for granted but now in my 50's I realize it was quite a gem. Saw Judas Priest on their first visit ever to Colorado in June, 1980. Also, Triumph, April Wine, Def Leppard and Blackfoot. I have all of my ticket stubs and JP and Triumph were each $7.20 but April Wine was $2.70 (not a misprint, and that includes taxes). Some of the other bands people are discussing have me wondering what the heck I was doing that caused me to miss shows like U2, Ozzy, and AC/DC with Bon Scott. dammit!:)

Anonymous said...

huge respect to anyone who can answer the following question -

the warmup band for April wine was called "Kid Sister". For some reason they dropped out and were replaced by a local Denver band. I believe the replacement group name was the guitarist's last name.

Any idea who it is?

p.s. I can picture them but have no idea of their name