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Ninety years ago tomorrow, the Paramount Theatre opened its doors with a showing of the silent film Let’s Go Native. Designed by iconic Denver architect Temple Buell (who we can also thank for the invention of the shopping mall), the Paramount stands as one of the last remaining examples of the stately movie palaces of the early 20th Century. The specific architecture of these cinema chateaus vary, but they all share an affinity for opulence, grandeur, and enormity.
Think of the Paramount, now one of Denver’s premier performance spots, hosting Frank Sinatra, the Moscow Ballet, and Bruce Springsteen over the decades: Its nearly 1,900 seats, the “Zig Zag Art Deco” interior design, silk murals from artist Vincent Munro, the original Wurlitzer twin-console pipe organ. And with movie palaces continuing to disappear, we count ourselves lucky to be able to visit a monument to Gatsby-ian splendor in Denver—you know, when we’re allowed to attend indoor concerts again. In the meantime, we asked four 5280 staffers to reflect on their favorite experiences at the 90-year-old Paramount.
Denise Mickelsen, food editor
October 6, 2019, was, to date, the highlight of my career, as I had the profound pleasure of interviewing Salt Fat Acid Heat author and television personality Samin Nosrat at the Paramount. She was calm and convivial; I was giddy and over-excited to be talking with one of my—and the world’s—culinary heroes on that historic stage. But it’s incredibly easy to talk to Nosrat, who is as charming and sincere as she is brilliant, and the time we spent together that evening flew. The icing on the cake: A thoughtful Paramount employee gave me a bottle of bourbon after the show as a thank you for moderating the conversation. It was a classy touch on a night I’ll never forget.
Jay Bouchard, digital associate editor
One of my favorite country rockers, Steve Earle, came to Denver last summer to play a Thursday night show at the Paramount. I’d never seen him, and I figured tickets would go quick. Plus, I’d just started dating a girl and wanted to impress her, so I bought what I hoped were decent seats. As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary. When we arrived, maybe 350 people were there for the opener. But it’d be packed once the Steve Earle took the stage, right? Nope. The crowd was sparse enough when he stepped up to the mic with a guitar in hand and a bandana wrapped around his long gray hair that I actually felt bad for the guy. I also felt like a dope because I talked him up to my date. Steve Earle didn’t seem to care about the crowd size, though. He launched into his set and actually got a few aging women to dance in the aisle when he played “Copperhead Road.” He played a bunch of old Guy Clark tunes in honor of his late song-writing hero, and you know what? It was a pretty intimate performance.
I’ve been thinking about Steve Earle lately. Just this week his son, songwriter Justin Townes Earle, died at age 38. Steve Earle’s been sober for more than two decades and now has to bury a son who also battled addiction. If he ever does come back to the Paramount, I’ll go see him again—if only so I can fill a seat and tip my cap to the long-bearded rocker who somehow still manages to get himself on stage.
Jessica LaRusso, managing editor
When I joined the queue outside the Paramount on March 27, 2014, it wasn’t filled with men wearing sport coats with LBD-clad dates on their arms or Boomers stuffed into concert tees they bought decades ago, when younger, slimmer versions of themselves saw the band about to play. Instead, the block was flooded with women in blue dresses and long platinum wigs, stuffed dragons perched on their shoulders, and what would normally be an alarming number of dudes carrying swords. I wasn’t dressed up, but these were still my people, and we were there to see the Game of Thrones season four premiere 11 days before the rest of the world. From bars serving Fire and Blood Red Ale to a costume contest before the screening, the event was delightfully campy, with that Comic-Con vibe that gives adults permission to behave like giddy (if slightly buzzed) kids again. So, when it was my turn to get my picture taken on the Iron Throne replica HBO had set up, I didn’t worry about whether it was cool for a 27-year-old to want to sit on a giant metal chair from a fantasy TV series. On that night, the Paramount might as well have been Westeros—and for 15 seconds, it was mine.
Spencer Campbell, senior editor
I am not a concert person. I don’t like the standing around and all the people jostling and my feet hurt and yes I am old. I’m also not a “music guy.” It’s not that I don’t like music, but my go-to Spotify channel is “Pumped Pop” and when I do discover great music it’s typically about six to seven years after every else (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—so good, right?). Plus, when I have gone to concerts, the performers (I’m looking at you, The Weeknd) seem to be enjoying the experience only slightly less than I am. So when my wife said we were celebrating my birthday by seeing Old Crow Medicine Show at the Paramount in 2017, I was like, “Neat.” The group’s version of “Wagon Wheel” is one of my favorite songs—yes, I am just that basic—but I couldn’t have named a single one of their other tunes. Plus, they wouldn’t even be playing their music, but instead covering Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan—who I guess was some sort of beat poet from the ‘60s? I had been to the Paramount before, years earlier, but had forgotten how beautiful it is. We had amazing tickets, directly in front of the stage, and before the concert began I stared at all the design flourishes: chandeliers, an Art Deco sunburst on the ceiling, the gold trim! It made me feel like something special could happen here. And it did. I don’t recall the specifics of the performance—other than then-Governor John Hickenlooper making a banjo cameo—but what sticks with me is how much fun the band seemed to be having. Surely they played some slow jams, but all I recall is a crashing wall of energy emanating from the stage. Maybe Old Crow is like that every night. But I like to think they rose to the occasion (my birthday) and the venue (the Paramount). Whatever the truth is, when they finally left the stage, it was the first time I was actually sorry to see a show end.