Rifle’s Ute Center brings big names in first year
Rifle’s theater renovation won a 2014 Governor’s Awards for Downtown Excellence — “Best Adaptive Reuse or Rehabilitation” from Downtown Colorado Inc. The New Ute Theatre Society, a local nonprofit group, helped Rifle acquire and remodel the former 1940s-era movie theater. The remodeling was unveiled in May 2014.
A year ago, it was almost inconceivable that acts like country chart-topper Suzy Bogguss or Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founding member John McEuen would perform in Rifle. Aside from the Garfield County Fair, there just wasn’t a venue for that level of entertainment.
But in its first year, the New Ute Events Center has brought in Bogguss, McEuen and more. Not only has it drawn them to Rifle, but it’s impressed them.
“Just about every performer we’ve had, I just don’t think they had that high of an expectation of a theater in Rifle,” said Don Chaney, Rifle’s cultural and special events manager, who also manages the Ute. “They said, ‘This is just as nice as any place that we play.’ And I’m not exaggerating; virtually every artist has had something like that to say.”
Before McEuen’s performance Feb. 6, he told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that he’d played the fair in Rifle before, but he was excited to have the chance to play in a more intimate space.
“This new room sounds incredible,” he said. “It’s happening around the country where smaller towns are redoing one of their theaters or having a facility where people can go to a concert, some of them for the first time in a long time. You don’t have to drive to Denver or deal with going to Grand Junction. It’s in your town, and it’s actually better than playing in some places. It’s so much fun to play a nice theater like the Ute.”
But the Ute is more than an intimate, high-end concert venue. It’s a community center, a gathering place, the perfect setting for a birthday party or wedding reception. It hosts craft shows and fund-raisers, like February’s Hoot at the Ute benefit for the Rifle Animal Shelter.
That has been one of Chaney’s favorite events so far because it gave him a chance to see some great local music, which he hopes to support even more in the future.
“The Rifle Animal Shelter benefit we did, I’d do that three times a year,” he said. “Sometimes some of the greatest music is the stuff like we did at Hoot at the Ute.”
Chaney also loves that the Ute is serving as a facility for private events or parties.
“I think the best party so far was an 80th birthday party,” he said. “Everybody in Rifle was at the Ute at some point that day.”
Chaney said the Ute has also had a profound impact on the Latino community in Rifle. He said at least half of all private events have been booked by Latinos, many of whom used the space for quinceañeras.
While the facility was built with great equipment, leaving little on Chaney’s wish list for improvements, he said he does hope to eventually install retractable seating to offer better views.
Construction on another, less-intensive improvement — a plaza in front of the building — will begin this month and should take a few weeks to complete, Chaney said. The fenced-in plaza will have tables and chairs, providing a space for people to gather during the day or take a break during an event.
The new plaza is just one more way the Ute accomplishes its goal of being a community center.
“To have a centerpiece where community events can be held right in the center of downtown, in a community that’s had its highs and lows, that’s always going to be a positive thing,” Chaney said.
Dylan Fixmer, a music teacher at Highland Elementary School and a founding member of Rifle performing arts group Boomtown Players, directed a play, “West Slope Story,” that opened at the Ute on April 2.
This was the first Boomtown Players production at the Ute, and Fixmer said performing at the center had been a goal of his since he found out about the plans to remodel the building. He said the Ute’s ability to create community has already made it an asset to Rifle.
“It’s a really great space, and it’s incredibly versatile,” Fixmer said. “You can use it for literally anything. That’s why they call it an events center and not just a theater. It’s such a beautiful building, and I really see it as a way for Rifle to build community. That’s really essential for this town. To have a space where we can create community is just awesome, and that’s what Rifle really needs right now.”
Whether it’s hosting a high-profile musician, comedian, fund raiser, football game live stream, orchestra concert or private event, the New Ute Events Center is a space for Rifle residents to come together, and Chaney hopes its presence grows even more in its next year.
“We just want people to come see the theater and realize it’s part of the community, and we’re here for the community,” Chaney said.
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