Denver Westword Blog By Jon Solomon
While Ruby Hill Park is a popular sledding spot during the winter months, starting June 2016 the park (near South Platte River Drive and West Florida Avenue) will be home to fifty free concerts a year. Work will begin on the 7,500-person Levitt Pavilion next spring.
"Our entire mission is to build a community through music and by providing free access to music," says Chris Zacher, executive director of Levitt Pavilion Denver.
With six Levitt music venues around the country in cities like Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Memphis (each of which are housed in refurbished '50s-era band shells), the Denver venue will be the seventh Levitt location in nation, and Houston is slated to open in 2017. Zacher says the goal is to have thirty Levitt outdoor music venues open in the next twenty years, and all other future venues will be brand new, built from the ground up.
"The goal is to have enough of these so we can route bands nationally," Zacher says. "We only deal with emerging artists. We're not playing in the same pit with AEG or Live Nation. That's not our purpose. We're a not-for-profit model."
According to the organization's website, "Levitt Pavilions is a national nonprofit that exists to strengthen the social fabric of America." It's the only national network of outdoor music venues presenting the largest free concert series in America. Each Levitt venue is managed and programmed by a local Friends of Levitt Pavilion nonprofit organization with support from the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation.
Zacher says the organization generally goes in cites with a population of more than 1 million that under-utilized park spaces or public spaces in the urban core. "They come to the city and put together a public-private partnership to build these concert venues to increase access to the arts," he adds.
Zacher says they've partnered with City of Denver, who are paying $2 million, and Levitt Pavilion Denver will be raising an addition $2 million for the project. One event to raise funds for the project is the Sounds of Levitt Benefit Gala at Ruby Hill Park on Tuesday, July 1 with a cocktail reception, dinner and music by Ark Life and Alpha Schoolmarm Orchestra. While tickets are $150, Zacher says every dollar will go back into the facility and making sure it gets built on time. Playing for Change, a band whose members are from various parts of the world and who are trying to increase access to the arts through the communities that they visit, will play a free show at the park on Wednesday, July 2. Both events start at 5 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m.
The City of Denver will maintain and own the building while Levitt Pavilion Denver will program the music. Zacher says there are plans for four or five concert series a year, everything from rock and blues and Latin music to world music while making it as family friendly as possible. Half of the fifty free shows a year will be Colorado-based musicians. Zacher, who has programmed City Park Jazz since 2006, says they probably won't do many jazz shows or have concerts on Sundays during City Park Jazz's season, as to not poach their customer base.
In addition to the free shows, Zacher says Levitt Pavilion Denver will do up to five admission-based shows a year with acts you'd more like see at Botanic Gardens rather than Red Rocks. When the amphitheater does open in 2016 it will be open grass seating. Instead of the for-profit model with tiered seating and VIP areas, Zacher says Levitt Pavilion Denver's "model is about bringing the community together, making it really diverse and providing an outlet for everybody being able to come. We believe that culture shouldn't be based on the ability to pay."
Zacher says the venue will be the first and only free cultural facility in all of Denver. "One of the things we don't have here in Denver right now is we don't have any outdoor concert venues in the city and county of Denver," he adds. "We've got one in Morrison [Red Rocks] and one in Greenwood Village [Fiddler's Green], but as a community we don't have any. We've got lots of these 2000 and 3000 seat indoor places but we're an outdoor environment. It's the one thing we've really failed ourselves on. So this is a great opportunity not just for the community to be able to have free music but for local and national musicians to be able to come in and play outdoor in Colorado."
While the Levitt Pavilion Denver will feature a number of local bands, Zacher says the venue will use local food trucks, breweries and distilleries.
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