A sound legacy

Chuck Morris on Colorado’s music history

David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly

For the 40 years AEG Live Rocky Mountains President and CEO Chuck Morris has worked the Colorado music scene, he has had a crucial hand in implementing nearly every fixture of that scene we now take for granted. Tulagi back in the day? Red Rocks? The Fillmore? Thank Morris — he had a role in all of it. Now, with the Mile High Music Festival entering its third year, boasting possibly the strongest lineup in its short history, Morris might be on the verge of adding another fixture to Colorado’s music scene. We talked to Morris a few weeks ago about the festival and the history of music in Colorado.

Boulder Weekly: How does the booking process for this work? How do you get this many bands to come to a festival in Denver?

Chuck Morris: Well, first of all, considering this is only our third year, we’ve had a great two years, and our reputation is already getting well-known. About 25, 30 percent of our tickets sales are from out of state. So we’re already getting a reputation as being up there with the echelon of festivals around the country.

And how do I get all these acts? Well, first of all we have great buyers, the best in the world, with Don Strasburg and Brent Fedrizzi. … And we have many years of relationships and experiences from the three of us, with bands and people and managers and agents. And I don’t even want to tell you this, but this September will be 40 years I’ve been in the business. I opened up Tulagi Nightclub in Boulder in 1970.

BW: It’s been a bad summer for concert sales.

How is the economy affecting ticket sales?

CM: I beg to differ. We’re having a very strong summer. With Red Rocks, we’re doing tremendous capacity as always; we’re doing pretty well. The Ogden and Bluebird, which we took over when we opened [AEG Live Rocky Mountain], are having banner years. We’re feeling pretty blessed. But we’re very careful about who we book and where we put them. And so, yeah, definitely, the economy’s hurting and all those things, but we’re still doing, knock on wood, pretty damn well.

It’s all about choices, and it’s all about the bands, and it’s all about the facilities. And you’ve gotta be careful. Yeah, definitely, you could feel something in terms of selling tickets, and … you go back 10 or 15 years, yeah. There were more ticket sales in general, but we feel very, very good about the year we’re having, and especially the summer we’re having.

BW: When you first started Tulagi, how the hell did you get all those famous acts to come to Boulder?

CM: A wing and a prayer. By hook and by crook…. After school at CU, I managed The Sink for a couple years and booked some local bands in the back room and convinced the owner of The Sink, Herb Kauvar — because I didn’t have any money — to go buy a bankrupt Tulagi and reopen it for national bands. I just faked it.

But you know, that first year at Tulagi, we had Bonnie Raitt, we had the Doobie Brothers, and we had ZZ Top, and we had a whole bunch of acts, and I just got lucky, I guess. Some people think I know what I’m doing, but I’m not quite sure. Of course, I thought I’d be doing this for about a year and then go back to get my graduate degree, but I’m going into my 40th year.

BW: Where would you rank the Denver/Boulder music scene nationally?

CM: Oh, I would say by far, up there, it’s as good as it gets, from a few of the radio stations, and God, in the last few years you’ve had bands break out worldwide like 3Oh!3 and The Fray and the Flobots, and I feel great about it.

When I first started my first clubs, Boulder was a Mecca in the ’70s. That’s one of the reasons I opened Tulagi with national bands.

And I feel the same way about it now, in terms of exploring new music and entertainment and facilities. I think it’s a real rebirth of this area, and I’m not necessarily saying rebirth, because it never went away, but certainly, there’s a lot of people looking into this area for new music, for a whole bunch of things. I feel real good about it.

BW: What other changes have you made to the festival this year?

CM: To have Jack Johnson and Dave [Matthews] headline, I don’t think it gets much better, at least for this part of the country. And Dave hasn’t been here since Mile High two years ago, and two years for him not being in the market, for his fans, is like a lifetime. Oh yeah, he tours so much, and his business stays right there. And not being in the Denver area for two years is really great because of the demand — it just perks up big time.

BW: You guys have quite a history with Dave, don’t you?

CM: We’ve had a history going back to … God, Don played them at the Fox [Theatre] when they were barely known, and I put them on [with] Big Head Todd/Los Lobos; Dave Matthews was the opening act at Red Rocks, and I’ll never forget that. We gave them barely enough money to fly from Charlottesville, the band and crew and manager, mostly because Don told me how great they were … and that was before he was even working here, for me.

[Dave Matthews Band] just had their independent records out there. I’ll never forget, sitting on the side of the stage, they were introduced and went up there. … [The crowd] was there to see Big Head Todd, Los Lobos was second and Dave Matthews Band was third, the opening act. And I saw 700, 800, 900 people singing along to every song from their independent record, which really says something about the future of an act.

BW: Especially back then.

CM: Back anytime. When you can put out your own little record and sell it in the back of your truck and barely get it in stores, and hundreds upon hundreds of kids know all the songs, that really says something. From that moment I knew they were going to have a long and great career, which the band has.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by author. Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com