INDUCTED: November 4, 2022
Take the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles, which helped introduce the planet to the SoCal sounds of the Byrds and the Doors during the 1960s, or New York’s CBGB, universally recognized as the birthplace of American punk rock and its various offshoots in the 1970s.
Add to this list Boulder’s Fox Theatre. Beginning in 1992, the performance space, which holds 650 patrons, has helped launch one nationally known act after another, with many of the most successful demonstrating that a good jam can sound just as good as it tastes.
The building at 1135 13th Street, in the section of Boulder known as The Hill, was erected in 1926 as the Rialto Theatre.
But a financial bonanza wasn’t in the cards for that venture or a slew of its successors. The property changed hands multiple times over its first half-decade of existence but was vacant more often than not. Subsequent identities from the 1930s through the 1950s included the Buffalo Dancing Club, Anchorage Bar & Grill and Ted’s Buff Café, none of which earned an honored place in Boulder economic history.
Things began looking up in 1961, when the structure was renamed the Fox Theatre and began to regularly host movies. But in the early 1990s, a group of music-loving entrepreneurs — James Hambleton, Dave MacKenzie, Jon O’Leary, Dicke Sidman and Don Strasburg — devoted themselves to transforming the hall into a music mecca.
The upgrades at the new Fox didn’t stop at freshening and improving the interior, the stage, the bar and the general ambience.
Just as important was the sound system, lovingly assembled by Sidman with the assistance of audio expert Bret Dowlen. At the time, crisp sonics were rare at clubs in the Denver-Boulder area. But hearing George Porter Jr. and the Funky Meters at the reimagined nightspot’s March 6, 1992 grand opening immediately made it clear that The Fox has set a new standard for experiencing live music in Colorado. Dowlen subsequently worked similar magic at Mammoth Gardens, an ear-assaulting barn that was brought to fresh and vibrant life as the Fillmore Auditorium in 1999.
In tandem with these improvements, The Fox’s owners instituted a booking policy with a Boulder-friendly aesthetic. The city’s music fans had long displayed a fondness for the eclectic blend of sounds associated with the likes of the Grateful Dead, and The Fox catered to such folks by offering a platform to groups devoted to extending this ethic. Examples include a slew of Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductees — Leftover Salmon, The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band among them.
Other Fox-nurtured acts appealed to listeners of the radio format known alternately, as adult album alternative, Triple-A or A3.
For instance, the Dave Matthews Band, a once-obscure outfit that used gigs at the theatre as a foundation for a career that went on to fill arenas and stadiums across the globe. No wonder A3 radio-associated firms such as Gavin and Friday Morning Quarterback used The Fox as a base for annual conventions that gave locals and industry professionals alike a chance to see acts such as Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt in a setting far more intimate than those they typically played.
The eclecticism of the notable artists who’ve performed at The Fox is jaw-dropping. Everyone from Adele, Sheryl Crow and Lyle Lovett to Radiohead, Snoop Dogg and the Wu Tang Clan are alumni of this very special club — and so are generations of music fans in Colorado.