Last summer, Chuck Morris, the venerable concert promoter, raconteur, and all-around character, left longtime employer Live Nation and took his quirky brand to the buttoned-down AEG. The goal: to expand the entertainment juggernaut's reach to the Rocky Mountain region, an area dominated by Live Nation since the 1980s. One year later, AEG is thriving, but the real beneficiaries are Front Range music fans.
Long known for their enthusiasm and eclecticism, local fans have been getting more of, well, everything thanks to the rivalry. AEG has created two new multi-day events that feature bands from all over the musical map: July's Mile High Music Festival is hosting more than 40 bands, culminating with Dave Matthews and Tom Petty; and September's Monolith Music Festival at Red Rocks is a showcase for up-and-coming local, national, and international rock and indie acts.
Live Nation has countered by booking numerous mini-festivals along with supergroups such as the Police, Van Halen, and Coldplay—and by bringing Madonna to town for her first-ever Colorado appearance. Red Rocks, one of the few venues shared by the two promoters, has hosted a record number of shows the past two summers, and the companies have begun upgrading theaters such as the Gothic and Fillmore (Live Nation) and the Ogden and Bluebird (AEG). "We're really proud of how we've grown the number of shows and turned around the smaller clubs," Morris says.
One of the fears of the competition was that it would raise ticket prices as the two companies sought to one-up each other, but costs so far—apart from the always enraging service charges—have remained constant. "We make [booking] decisions based on what we think people are willing to pay without being too crazy about overpaying bands," Morris says. Live Nation has taken a slightly different tack: Peter Ore and Eric Pirritt, both vice presidents of booking, say that though ticket prices will rise over time, fans can expect to see more bands playing clustered gigs and full-on festivals. "It's hard to spend $100 on a ticket to see one band," Pirritt says. "Bands these days are making a concerted effort to give people more bang for their buck."
The reputation and reach of Morris—a 40-year veteran of the Colorado music scene—is a big reason AEG has risen so quickly. (The Anschutz financial muscle doesn't hurt, either.) "We had great expectations, but everything has really come to fruition," Morris says. "We really believe in the concept [of having Monolith at Red Rocks], and the Mile High festival is just smoking." In addition to nurturing its established theaters, rumor has it that AEG is sniffing around to buy or build another, much bigger venue.
Another AEG venue could provide a direct challenge to the popular and Live Nation-controlled Fillmore, which Morris helped to renovate in 1999. But it'll only give more options to bands and their fans. Now, if only these promoters could KO Ticketmaster.