I remember the first time I walked into the Rainbow Music Hall. It was not for a concert, because the building was then a tri-plex movie theatre. It stood on a piece of ground that had been adjacent to the Valley Drive-In Theatre (1953-1977) on the southwest corner of Evans and Monaco. Later the entire corner was redeveloped, and The Rainbow Music Hall was born from the removal of all interior walls of the movie theatre. Under the guidance of Colorado Music Hall of Fame Inductees Barry Fey and Chuck Morris, and boasting “Sound by Listen Up,” the theatre was an incredible upgrade to the Denver music scene. Intimate (capacity just under 1,500), perfect sight-lines, and what seemed like impossibly good sound, it provided a truly world-class venue to see truly world-class acts. When I think back to all I saw there, it’s almost hard to imagine. Yet, The Rainbow stayed open for only a decade –from 1979 until 1989. A full list of the ~1,000 acts that played there is available several places online, but I’m not sure any are completely accurate.
Who was most impressive you ask?
Well, just a small sampling of the amazing acts that graced that stage: Miles Davis, U2, The Police, The English Beat, Jerry Garcia Band (and his Jazz side-project Reconstruction), David Bromberg, Rickie Lee Jones (on her first national tour), The Blasters, Los Lobos, a drunken but musically valid Gene Clark, Cheech & Chong, a super young and hungry Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Ramones and of course, three nights of Bob Dylan playing an incredibly charged show of gospel (and no hits).
At that Dylan show, genius poet and American treasure, Allen Ginsburg (then a resident of Boulder, thanks to The Naropa Institute) sat one row behind me. Mid-show Dylan pointed at him and said: “Don’t be taken in by false prophets, there is only one true way,” and he pointed skyward. At the time, I was furious and shocked, but with the passage of years I recognize those shows as being some of the best I ever saw. Whatever schtick Dylan is on (God, Sinatra, Blues or his own brand of brilliance) is just fine with me.
Any night at The Rainbow was a great night in my book. It was all ages, and as I recall, this took the emphasis off booze inside the venue. I do remember waiting in line all day (most, if not all, shows were general admission) and getting plenty lit up in line–it was a real party out there. The lack of loud bar ambience now seems like a stroke of incredible luck. There weren’t hecklers, fights or stupid call outs for “Free Bird,” because everyone was there for the music. What I wouldn’t do to return to that place for one night. . .
I’m not exactly sure why The Rainbow closed, but it was a huge loss to the Denver music scene. In my opinion, there has never been another venue that matched both the booking with the sound, intimacy and ambience of that room. You knew you were lucky when you sat in one of those folding chairs in front of a legend like Miles or Bob, or took in a new act like U2. It was one of the major stepping stones of turning Denver from a small to a major music market– truly, one of the most important venues in Colorado history!
Photo caption: A friend and customer of Twist And Shout gave me this battered and rusted piece of metal that said “Hall” on it—part of the marquee. As The Rainbow was being torn down, he and a buddy jumped over the construction fence and grabbed this one memento of the Denver landmark.
Photo caption: An ad from the opening night (Jerry Jeff Walker) handbill showing the first months of bookings.
Photo caption: Handbill for Jerry Garcia’s band “Reconstruction” which has a nice photo of The Rainbow shot from the west.
– Paul Epstein, Co-Chair, Colorado Music Hall of Fame; founder/former owner of Twist & Shout; music historian and archivist
“I moved to Colorado in 1968 and started going to concerts almost immediately. I eagerly grabbed posters, flyers, ticket stubs, advertisements, concert recordings, pretty much any proof I could find that the event happened. In 1988, I started a record store called Twist & Shout, and my collecting of memorabilia went into even higher gear. Over the next 34 years, I had rare access to memorabilia of all types and sizes. Now that I’ve retired, the time seems right to start sharing these things, and the stories that go with them. So, every other Tuesday, I will ask you to Let Me Take You Down (to the basement) to check out some of the good stuff!” – Paul Epstein