John Hickenlooper

INDUCTED: December 3, 2018

John Hickenlooper is one of Colorado’s most successful-ever politicians.

owing to his elections as mayor of Denver, state governor and U.S. senator. But he’s also a music fan who’s used his notoriety to energetically promote Colorado sounds. How did a struggling geologist turned brewpub co-owner (his Wynkoop Brewing Company was a trendsetter) who got into politics by fighting against changing Mile High Stadium’s name turn into someone the Denver Post called the “rock ‘n’ roll governor”? Simply by sharing his affection for recorded and live music with the enthusiasm of any other Colorado supporter of the sonic arts. And he didn’t temper his tastes for the sake of political correctness. Note that he never shied away from touting the Los Angeles punk band X even though its track “4th of July” was far less common than cuts such as “The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss.”


Lumineers&Hickenlooper RockyMntWay

During his two terms as Denver mayor

Which began in 2003, Hickenlooper boosted Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a Colorado Music Hall of Fame honoree that tripled the number of shows it hosted into the triple digits, and he used property tax discounts to help support live-music venues downtown. He also touted Denver as rivaling or even surpassing meccas such as Austin and Nashville when it came to the number of places where folks could catch a show and publicly supported organizations like the Colorado Symphony and Swallow Hill.

After becoming Colorado’s governor in 2011, Hickenlooper went even further when it came to celebrating the joys of music. His inauguration in January featured venerated local acts DeVotchKa and OneRepublic. That July, he introduced the Avett Brothers at their initial Red Rocks concert; the Avetts returned the favor by doing a meet-and-greet with him the next year that benefitted victims of wildfires. In 2013, he appeared alongside The Lumineers and Nathaniel Rateliff prior to a presidential debate at the University of Denver and raised money for Colorado flood survivors with help from Dave Matthews and Colorado Music Hall of Famers Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

bonnie and John Hickenlooper


And in 2014, he sang and played banjo at Red Rocks with Old Crow Medicine Show.

Another Colorado music star, Isaac Slade of the Fray, paired with Hickenlooper on Take Note Colorado, a statewide initiative to provide every K-12 student in the state access to musical instruments. And Hickenlooper was the driving force behind the Colorado Music Strategy, a public-private partnership “to support statewide music programs run by businesses, artists and educators.” The project also created the position of Colorado Music Ambassador.

Sing It To Me Santa

Becoming a U.S. Senator in 2019

meant a move to Washington, D.C. for Hickenlooper. But he didn’t forget the music industry in Colorado, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic struck. He grew concerned that small businesses of all kinds were having a difficult time accessing relief funds through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and wanted to make sure clubs and theaters weren’t left out, too. Thanks in part to his efforts, 469 so-called Shuttered Venue Operators Grants were distributed to entertainment and cultural venues statewide, totaling more than $230 million. Hickenlooper’s goal was “to ensure that live music can continue thriving in Colorado.”

By Michael Roberts

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