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!
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.