Big name acts a challenge for Rifle events center
Ryan Summerlin June 26, 2014
Katy Perry will not be coming to Rifle for a concert any time soon.
Instead, it’s more likely familiar and up-and-coming — if less known — musical acts are more likely to grace the stage at the New Ute Events Center.
A number of factors — mainly financial — will likely mean the recently opened former movie theater, at 132 E. Fourth St., won’t be hosting currently popular, well-known musical performers for small, intimate concerts, according to the concert promoter who is in charge of managing the facility for the city of Rifle.
Ron Wilson with Sandstone Entertainment in Grand Junction books musical acts in several cities, including Riders in the Sky, a Western music and comedy group, in the events center on Friday, July 18.
Sandstone Concerts would like to begin a steady pace of presenting smaller national touring artists in the events center, Wilson wrote in an email.
“With only 300 seats, the margins will be thin and the risks will be very real in presenting ‘name’ acts in this room,” he wrote. “It will take time to get folks accustomed to going out semi-regularly for concert attractions.”
In an interview, he said most artists want about 50 percent of the gross revenue from their performances. With fewer seats in the 8,600-square-foot Rifle facility than larger venues, a limit to how high ticket prices can be set due to the local economy and a smaller base of potential concert-goers, the gross isn’t satisfactory, Wilson added.
Time needed to get on the map
Cultural and Special Events Manager Don Chaney is in charge of booking events at the New Ute and said he has no budget to attract performers. The nonprofit New Ute Theatre Society helps Chaney develop a diverse schedule of performances, events and activities.
Chaney said one familiar country-western band, the Kentucky HeadHunters, almost agreed to perform in Rifle.
“I think a ways down the road, acts like that will want to come here,” he stated.
Riders in the Sky will be a feather in the venue’s cap, Chaney added.
“Once word gets out on the circuit that we have a quality venue, the acts will start contacting us,” he said. “I just sent out letters and photos to all the record labels, asking them to consider the Ute when they have an acoustic act looking for a fill-in date” between larger shows.
Wilson said those types of performers are what Rifle should see in the near future.
“Once you get a couple of those acts in Rifle, word-of-mouth about the quality of the venue and how nice it was will spread,” he said. “It’s not a bar, it’s a nice place. It might take a few years of having these acts, but you can create growth.”
“It’s more likely you’ll see acts like Riders in the Sky, maybe a George Winston and the solo, duo and trio performers that don’t have the huge overhead,” Wilson continued. Through Thursday, Wilson said close to 100 tickets for the Riders in the Sky show had been sold at $25 each, and he expected it to sell out.
Examples of performers that Wilson said might find the events center an attractive venue include Richie Furay, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member; and Chris Hillman of the 1960s rock band The Byrds. Other successful acts might include “clean” comedy, jazz a couple of times a year and acts that appeal to all ages, he said.
Economy means price is key
Getting Rifle residents to spend their limited entertainment budgets on shows at the events center is another challenge, Wilson noted.
“The average concert-goer attends two or three concerts a year, tops,” Wilson said.
With a small population, that can make most concerts a break-even proposition at best, he said.
Chaney agrees that the depressed state of the Rifle economy means local residents are very unlikely to pay more than $30 to $40 a ticket, limiting the musical acts that will appear in Rifle.
“This is all a big experiment to see how much people will pay,” he said.
One factor that could help Rifle shows work financially is having Tickets West outlets in City Market stores, Wilson said, to make it easy to purchase tickets in the region and bring out-of-area fans to concerts.
Technology may help make Rifle concerts financially attractive to performers, too. Chaney said one trend in the music industry is to have bands and performers offer access to their live concerts over the Internet for $2 or $3 a view. That can help generate tens of thousands of dollars if a concert proves popular, he said.
Gaining a reputation
The programming approach Chaney and the NUTS (New Ute Theater Society) group are taking is to attract diverse, talented performers from the region and state.
“There’s a lot of great, new talent all over the country, and the task is to find them before they get popular,” he said. “Then, you can get a reputation for finding those performers who put on a great show, but no one’s heard of them.”
Chaney pointed out when he worked with the LoDo Music Festival in Denver, Jakob Dylan (son of rock icon Bob Dylan) and his band, The Wallflowers, played there a year before they became nationally known.
Local bands are welcome, too, he added.
“We want to get some film festivals, maybe one on rock climbing, since we have Rifle Mountain Park,” which is a popular rock climbing destination, Chaney said.
“We hooked up a Wii to our system the other day and had some kids come in and play video games on the movie screen,” he added. “That was a lot of fun, so maybe we’ll hold some video game tournaments.”
Upcoming events on the schedule right now include the Boomtown Players performing a play for four days toward the end of the year and a possible performance of a Shakespeare play by an Aspen group, Chaney said.
Other events already on the calendar are the Fall Festival in October and a New Year’s Eve celebration.