Given Colorado Springs' size, as well as its occasionally inhospitable weather conditions, we have a surprisingly long and varied history here when it comes to attracting national acts and finding good-sized venues to put them in.
Some are gone but not entirely forgotten: James Brown, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles played at Fannie Mae Duncan's Cotton Club, a singular venue whose memory is still commemorated with an annual gala. Kelker Junction, which has been described as an "airplane hangar-type club," played host to the Who. And Reed's Ranch — a rodeo barn that smelled of horses, cattle and patchouli — had its own moment in the sun with future classic-rock stalwarts like the Steve Miller Band, Zephyr and the Grateful Dead. (The Dead's moment in the sun actually didn't take place until 4 in the morning.)
Other local venues combine an intriguing past with an ongoing presence in our music community.
The Colorado Springs City Auditorium (cityauditorium.org), which dates back to 1923, boasts ornate design, a vintage pipe organ, and some much-storied bookings. Among them was a young James Hendrix playing guitar for Little Richard, who subsequently moved over and let Jimi take over. These days, the venue is light on music, though you'll find the intermittent national act like Jared Leto's Thirty Seconds to Mars, a handful of reggae and punk shows, and an occasional local artist's album release party.
Similarly, The Broadmoor (broadmoor.com) hit a pop-culture apex when Colorado College held its '67 homecoming dance there, featuring a Los Angeles band called the Doors. The group had been booked three months in advance of the show for $3,000, never anticipating the massive success it would have with "Light My Fire" between then and their contractually obligated serenading of the homecoming queen.
The Broadmoor continues to book private parties with serious big-name entertainment (Elton John, anyone?), and is also home to Earl Klugh's Weekend of Jazz, now in its eighth year, which has become an annual pilgrimage drawing smooth jazz fans from across the country.
For those who prefer more frequent musical offerings in the comfort of a 40-year-old geodesic dome — and really, who doesn't? — there's Stargazers Theatre and Event Center (stargazerstheatre.com), which was designed by the same architect as Hollywood's Cinerama Dome. In past decades, it's been home to punk-rock shows, light operas and church services. In its current incarnation, the venue has brought in acts ranging from contemporary pop-rock artists like OK Go! to acclaimed folk groups like Solas to venerable rock bands like Savoy Brown.
When Elton John is in town and isn't playing for rich folk at The Broadmoor, he'll be at the Colorado Springs World Arena (worldarena.com). (Well, he was a couple years ago, at least.) More reliably, we can count on the venue for plenty of Christian-rock tours — including the occasional crossover act like Jars of Clay — as well as purveyors of bombast like Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller, plus a whole lot of contemporary country tours.
And yes, there's more: You might find LeAnn Rimes, B.B. King and a very conspicuous B-52 bomber at the Air Force Academy's Arnold Hall (usafaservices.com/academy-concerts/academy-concerts). And you'll definitely find the summer World Music Series at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall (coloradocollege.edu), a venue that's brought in bands like Phish, Low, and Apples in Stereo. Armstrong also serves as home to bigger shows by the folk-obsessed Black Rose Acoustic Society (blackroseacoustic.org), a nonprofit that hosts folk, bluegrass and other acoustically inclined musicians at a variety of venues around town.
The Pikes Peak Center (pikespeakcenter.com), meanwhile, is a top-flight concert hall, both aesthetically and acoustically, that in recent years has presented artists like Wilco, ZZ Top and, yes, the Moody Blues. The center is also home to local musician showcases in its more intimate Studio Bee.
If all that isn't enough, and it's a mid-July weekend and you happen to be hanging around next to the downtown train tracks, keep an eye out for Blues Under the Bridge (bluesunderthebridge.com), which brings some of this country's most talented blues artists to town each summer.
Likewise, if it happens to be Memorial Day weekend, you'll find much-needed "compassion, tolerance and love" at the La Foret Conference and Retreat Center (laforet.org). More importantly, for our purposes, you'll also find the MeadowGrass Music Festival (meadowgrassmusicfestival.org), a three-day event featuring in-demand indie rock, folk and bluegrass artists. There's also a meadow with grass and trees, if you like that kind of thing.Click here for a map of Colorado Springs!