Iconic music-maker Chuck Morris and AEG’s partners at Fiddler’s Green amp up for another season of live music in the Rockies
Chuck Morris got involved in Colorado's music business in the late 1960s, and started booking rock acts at Tulagi's in Boulder in 1970.
The next November, he booked a band for their second slate of shows ever for $50 a night. The crowds were sparse, about "12 people a night," but Morris says he knew the band was going somewhere.
He was right. The band was the Eagles, who have sold a tidy 150 millions record in the four decades since.
"I watched history," Morris says. "They played in front of nobody and played 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' and other songs off of their first album."
Now CEO of AEG Live Rocky Mountain, Morris has continued to rub elbows with rock royalty on a regular basis ever since, even booking the Eagles themselves for a sellout at the Pepsi Center in 2013.
Over the years, he's worked with a who's who of the Colorado concert business, including stints as the late Barry Fey's top lieutenant at Feyline and other companies, managing artists like Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and running venues like Ebbets Field and The Fillmore in Denver.
Today, with Morris at the helm, AEG Live Rocky Mountain produces about 700 live events annually, about 80 percent of them in Colorado at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the Pepsi Center, and other venues. The company also produces several festivals, including Jazz Aspen Snowmass and others in Nashville and other places beyond the Rockies. "We've been blessed to do things around the country," says Morris.
The Denver staff has grown from four people and 50 shows in 2006, the year Morris joined the operation, to 28 employees today.
Morris says the big news for 2014 is AEG Live taking over and renovating Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre in Englewood -- and, yes, that will be the name moving forward.
"It's Fiddler's Green," he says. "We are keeping that name."
Thus, Comfort Dental Amphitheater is a thing of the past. And so are the outdated facilities at the 18,000-person venue. AEG Live and the venue's owner, the Englewood-based Museum of Outdoor Arts (MOA), are pouring $5 million into Fiddler's Green, giving everything from the concourses to backstage a much-needed update.
The seating and other infrastructure was first installed in 1988. By the time AEG Live took over the lease last year, "It was in bad shape," says Morris. "They hadn't changed a thing since it opened."
MOA Executive Director Cynthia Madden Leitner describes new feature for Fiddler's when it reopens in May: a 400-foot "living botanic wall" with 25,000 plants by California-based Paul Kephart. "It'll be beautiful and wonderful and open to the public during the day," she says, describing MOA's working relationship with AEG Live as "a really good cooperative experience."
Morris is bullish on the venue's reboot. "We took over the 1STBANK Center and turned it around," he says. "We'll do the same with Fiddler's Green."
To back up the claim, Morris points to the résumés of AEG Live Rocky Mountain's top people. "We have over 80 years of experience," he says of his 44 years in the business, a number nearly matched by colleagues Brent Fedrizzi and Don Strasburg.
And, over the course of those 44 years, how has Colorado's concert business changed? "It's become a real business, and I'm not saying that in a bad way," answers Morris. "It needed that. It changed and became big. The times changed, and we had to change with them."
A prime example, say Morris, is a paradigm shift in advertising and promotion. "In the old days, we would spend 85 to 90 percent on print and radio. Today, 60 percent is going to social media."
Regardless, some things never change. "I've always had the philosophy that you don't worry about the economy, you don't worry about the competition, you just pick great bands and everything else falls into place," Morris says.
To this end, AEG Live Rocky Mountain has booked a wide variety of artists for the 2014 summer, including Bruno Mars, Linkin Park, a ZZ Top-Jeff Beck double bill and Kendrick Lamar at Fiddler's Green.
Morris has booked more than 1,500 shows at Red Rocks, and AEG Live will produce about 60 shows at the legendary Morrison venue this summer. The 2014 calendar includes Lyle Lovett, Skrillex, and the Fray, and Morris hopes to soon announce another Red Rocks show by Willie Nelson, who's performed at the venue more than any other artist. "He's one of the finest, nicest, most genuine people I've ever met," says Morris.
Morris, 69, says he'll retire if and when rock and roll loses its luster. "If it stops being fun, I'm done."
Challenges: Finding -- and retaining -- a talented staff. "The challenge is to hire great people," says Morris. "You're only as good as the people around you."
Opportunities: First and foremost, turning around Fiddler's Green. "We just want to go with what we have," says Morris. "We have a lot on our plate right now."
Needs: "You always want to find the next U2," says Morris, noting that booking the Irish rock legends at Red Rocks for the Under a Blood Red Sky concert film was one of this top three career moments.
So who's the next U2, Chuck? "Alabama Shakes," he says. "I've heard some things off their next album [due out in early 2015]. It is mindblowing. They're going to be