It's no secret that the concert industry has been in a state of flux.
In less economically uncertain times, concert promoters and major labels were able to count on reliable revenues from larger acts. Those proceeds could then, at least theoretically, be plowed back into the promotion of less bankable artists. With industry support, some of those developing acts could find their own way to stardom. Others might at least build a sustainable career.
Not so anymore. Today's concert industry has taken its cues from the overall economy's widening gap between haves and have-nots. At the top, a handful of Katy Perrys and Justin Biebers; at the bottom, the musicians who are playing down the street for tips and gas money.
So as 2012 rolls on, it's somewhat surprising that Colorado Springs venues are maintaining a fair amount of diversity. We have an arena, a performing arts center, and a handful of concert halls and theaters. There's also no shortage of venues for the guys in the vans; you'll find most of those (like the Black Sheep, Triple Nickel Tavern and Zodiac) organized by neighborhood in the "Nighttime hangouts" sections deeper into this issue.
Auds and ends
The top rung of the ladder is occupied by the Colorado Springs World Arena (worldarena.com). More than 8,000 fans can crowd into the venue, which is sufficient to bring in some seriously well-known headliners. For the most part, though, the booking policy is fairly conservative, dominated by pomp-rock mainstays like Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller, as well as contemporary country acts and — this being Colorado Springs — the obligatory Rock & Worship Road Tour.
Elton John raised eyebrows by playing the arena a few years ago, but mostly we're talking about Disney on Ice extravaganzas and college hockey games. Regional acts rarely make it to the arena, although Pueblo's Haunted Windchimes did perform several numbers during a 2011 live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion.
World Arena folk also manage the Pikes Peak Center (pikespeakcenter.com). The comparatively diminutive venue is still big enough (2,000 seats) for artists like Wilco and Chris Isaak. It arguably has the best acoustics in town, whether for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic or the Experience Hendrix Tour. It also houses a more intimate space that's home to the monthly Showcase at Studio Bee, a free concert series that presents local musicians from a variety of genres.
Like its big-sister arena, the Pikes Peak Center doesn't book all that much music. You're more likely to find one-time cutting-edge productions like Stomp and the Blue Man Group, along with comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Weird Al Yankovic.
For a considerably more solid music schedule, head a few miles east to Stargazers Theatre & Event Center (stargazerstheatre.com), a historic venue reminiscent of Hollywood's famed Cinerama Dome. Both bear a striking resemblance to a mammoth golf ball half-buried in a parking lot, which is, of course, a wonderful thing.
Once home to punk-rock shows and church services, reportedly not at the same time, Stargazers has a crowded concert schedule that ranges from currently popular acts like OK Go! and Jake Shimabukuro to venerable entertainers like Janis Ian and Savoy Brown.
Another local venue with a serious pedigree is the Colorado Springs City Auditorium (cityauditorium.org), which dates to 1923. The historic building's concert legacy has run the gamut, from Little Richard with Jimi Hendrix to Sublime with Rome. John Philip Sousa performed there, Jehovah's Witnesses have prayed there, and Michelle Obama has spoken there. A Wurlitzer pipe organ moved in a few years after the building opened, and is still there today. Smaller gatherings, including local musicians' album release celebrations, are held in the adjacent Lon Chaney Theatre.
Up north, meanwhile, is the Air Force Academy, which houses the excellent Arnold Hall (usafa.af.mil). While outreach to non-military spectators isn't necessarily a high priority, the venue has brought in a sizable share of the community to hear atists like LeAnn Rimes and B.B. King. It's also a good place to see tribute acts with high production values, such as the recent "Night of Queen."
Not to be confused with Arnold Hall is Colorado College's Armstrong Hall (coloradocollege.edu), which has brought in more alternative acts ranging from jam band heroes Phish and to slow-core innovators Low. The venue recently presented a celebration of the late great John-Alex Mason which featured a who's-who of local musicians as well as nationally known artists like Alvin Youngblood Hart and Otis Taylor.
Armstrong has also played host to events sponsored by the Black Rose Acoustic Society (blackroseacoustic.org). A nonprofit devoted to traditional folk and bluegrass music, Black Rose also presents occasional shows, including an early 2012 concert by Tom Rush, at the cozy and rustic Black Forest Community Center (12530 Black Forest Road).
For those who enjoy outdoor concerts, the Springs offers tons of summer events in a variety of locations. The World Music Series (coloradocollege.edu) brings in incredibly talented international musicians such as Colombia's Bomba Estéreo, who have since gone on to generate considerable buzz in the mainstream music industry. Events take place on the quad outside Colorado College's Armstrong Hall, unless weather forces them indoors.
Also unique to Colorado Springs is the scenic, summertime Blues Under the Bridge Festival (bluesunderthebridge.com), whose headliners have included blues legends like Bettye LaVette, Koko Taylor and the Holmes Brothers. Memorial Day weekend is given over to the MeadowGrass Music Festival (meadowgrassmusicfestival.org), a three-day event with Americana inclinations and artists ranging from Son Volt to Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band.
Later in the year, look for some surprisingly interesting artists at the Colorado State Fair (coloradostatefair.com) down in Pueblo. Smokey Robinson and the Beach Boys have appeared in recent years, and acts announced for 2012 include Merle Haggard and the Steve Miller Band.
Last, but the opposite of least, is the Indy Music Awards Festival (csindy.com). The inaugural event in September 2011, featured 15 acts on three stages in and around the Stargazers event center. This year's event promises to be even bigger.