Free shows, big names put the Ute on Rifle’s ‘entertainment radar’ |

Free shows, big names put the Ute on Rifle’s ‘entertainment radar’

Ryan Hoffman
The New Ute Events Center is lit up for a free concert by Bobby Mason Friday, Feb. 19.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

Since opening its doors in the spring of 2014, the New Ute Events Center has hosted concerts, proms, fundraisers, private galas, movie screenings and other events.

However, ramped up efforts to increase exposure in recent months appear to finally be putting the Ute onto people’s “entertainment radar,” said Don Chaney, cultural and special events manager for the city of Rifle.

The city in late 2015 shifted its free concert series from the summer to a winter concert series hosted at the Ute. With three free concerts in the books, Chaney admits it has taken some time but the shows appear to be catching on after what was a slow start.

That slow start could be due to timing. There seems to be a general lull in the immediate weeks following the holidays, and one of the first shows was on an evening with bad winter weather.

For those reasons, Chaney said he is considering starting the free concert series in February next year.

Things appear to be shaping up, though, and this past Friday’s free show, which featured longtime Aspen musician Bobby Mason, drew a crowd of a couple hundred people and some good energy, Chaney said.

“It’s slowly happening,” he said. “I think each one will get better, and people are telling us that for the first time they’re putting the Ute on their entertainment radar.”

Friday’s free concert was followed by a well received performance by comedian Bengt Washburn. Chaney started bringing comedy into the fold at the Ute in the past year with “five comedians for $5,” which typically feature comedians from Denver.

Following Saturday’s show, Chaney said he heard from people that they would rather pay more money — tickets for the show were $10 — to see the likes of Washburn, a professional comedian who tours the country.

“I’m still getting emails saying ‘keep doing that,’” Chaney said. “There will be a lot more comedy (at the Ute).”

Comedy, Chaney continued, is low risk and has a greater potential to generate a profit, unlike other events that are either free or fail to draw as big an audience.

Operating the venue does come at a cost — one that the city subsidizes. According to the 2016 budget, projected revenue for 2015 was $51,665 — less than half of the $106,500 in revenue originally budgeted. At the same time, projected expenditures were $56,462 less than the $192,730 approved in the 2015 adopted budget.

Those numbers were reflected in planning for 2016, which includes a more conservative estimate for revenues and a $28,000 reduction in projected expenditures. To cover costs, $86,500 was transferred into the general fund from three other funds.

The 2016 budget also recommended reevaluating rental fees, with the possibility of increasing the fees.

As far as entertainment, much of what goes on at the Ute is still experimental, Chaney said, adding there was an extended period of time when Rifle lacked a venue for live entertainment. With both the free and paid events drawing bigger crowds, though, it’s full steam ahead.

Chaney said he already has two big shows booked for March, the first being blues musician Tinsley Ellis on March 11, and the second being Nathan McEuen on March 18. Based on the response to previous shows such as Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Chaney said Ellis should be a well attended show, and McEuen, the son of John McEuen, will bring some high quality bluegrass to the Ute.

This Saturday, Feb. 27, the Ute will host the second annual “Hoot at the Ute,” a concert benefiting the Rifle Animal Shelter. Last year’s “Hoot at the Ute” was probably the best party the Ute has hosted and it benefits a good cause, Chaney said.

As for the free winter concert series, the next show will feature the Caleb Dean Band on March 5. Chaney hopes to continue the series through April.

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