You might think that the breeding ground for music industry giants would be the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville or maybe Joe’s Pub in the Big Apple. But for Cort Lawrence, it was a strip-mall pizzeria in Centennial.

“During high school, I spent a lot of time being a part of a small, little broadcast show that was filmed at Big Bill’s New York Pizza,” Lawrence says of the Colorado institution where he got his start. The Highlands Ranch native would interview local sports stars, former Miss Colorados, and other Mile High City celebs as part of his high school TV club. One such connection landed him on a tour bus with rock band Third Eye Blind at age 19.

Lawrence wasn’t playing bass or singing backup; instead, he was setting up lights, designing visuals, and planning pyrotechnics. Over the course of a decade, he worked his way up the ranks from grunt work to creative direction, ultimately launching his own production company, Raw Cereal, in 2022. Alongside his co-founder, Anders Rahm, Lawrence has spent the last several years bringing to life the visions of big-name artists including Machine Gun Kelly, Megan Thee Stallion, Avril Lavigne, and Lainey Wilson.

Now 31, Lawrence is climbing up to the next rung: working as the show director for Morgan Wallen’s One Night at a Time tour. When the country superstar’s concert rolls into Empower Field at Mile High Stadium on Thursday, it will be Lawrence’s first hometown stadium show. We caught up with the creative ahead of this milestone to get the lowdown on his Denver roots, the inspiration behind the tour’s design, and what it’s really like to work with the biggest name in contemporary country music.

Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

5280: For the uninitiated, can you explain what it means to be a show director for a musician’s tour?
Cort Lawrence: I see myself as an architect. That’s a term that was brought up maybe 30 years ago by someone I looked up to. He called himself a “show architect.” I agree with that. He was coming up with the drawings, the renderings, the creative intent, and all these ideas, and then he would take that and disperse it to all these teams and say, “This is what we’re going to build.”

You went straight from high school to a tour bus. What tour did you join?
They needed somebody to come out on tour with Third Eye Blind at the time. That was my first tour. I was a lighting tech, but at that point in time, I didn’t know anything about the music industry or how it works. I was purely just a roadie: helping set up the stage, helping set out some lights, touring with them from stop to stop, and learning the ropes. I think that was the best classroom environment I could have ever been in.

So are you a self-taught graphic and show designer?
Yeah, no formal education besides YouTube and just learning from myself. That’s the thing about design and creativity; there are no right or wrong answers, which is great, and that’s why it’s such an open environment.

Cort Lawrence (second from left) watches his vision come to life on Morgan Wallen’s tour. Photo courtesy of Raw Cereal

Talk to me about the vision behind Morgan Wallen’s One Night at a Time Tour. What can fans expect to see?
This design took eight to 10 months of planning. We came up with this giant screen that wraps around the stage. One of the reasons for that, though, is because Morgan wanted to have more audience. It helps the audience imagine the music, and it gives them a place to look, much like a movie.

Then behind that screen, we have a lot of lights and pyrotechnics, and we even have a smaller version of his mamaw’s house. So his mamaw’s house was recreated, and it lowers in for a few songs, and it gives that side of the audience a unique moment. Then on another side of the stage, we have some baseball bleachers that represent Morgan’s pastime: He was a baseball player in high school. And then we have a stadium light that comes down and finishes that scene. So we created all these different scenes to give the audience more of a TV performance and these more intimate moments to provide more connection for Morgan and the audience.

What has it been like to work with Morgan Wallen?
We worked with him previously, and we’ve worked with his team a lot. That’s the one thing about the Nashville community—it’s so small, friendly and very family-oriented, which is amazing. We see Morgan as part of our family, and he sees us as part of his family out there. He’s very kind and courteous, and he’s a busy man. But we always appreciate working with him because we get to come up with something unique, and he gets to do his thing and really connect with his audience.

How are you feeling ahead of your very first hometown stadium show?
It’s funny, every time I would come home it would be either at the Bluebird Theater or the Ogden Theatre, and then the Fillmore Auditorium, and then Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, and then Red Rocks, and then Ball Arena. So I’ve worked all these from the ground up. And now, I finally get to say that I came to the biggest venue in Colorado, which is Mile High Stadium. That is huge.

Is there anything about your show design for Morgan Wallen that you think will particularly shine at Mile High Stadium?
The audience is pretty close to the field, which is awesome. Some stadiums have the audience set back from where the actual field is, but Mile High has people surrounding all sides. So I think the crowd layout is going to be the biggest benefit. We utilize the light-up wristbands. That’s one of the big pieces to the show because it involves the audience, but Morgan gets to see it as well. He gets to see it moving to the music, creating shapes and color throughout the crowd. The crowd is a huge element.

Do you have a favorite tour you’ve worked on?
I toured with the Red Hot Chili Peppers for quite a while. That’s where I met my wife—in London. She was visiting the Chili Peppers at a London show, and our love carried on from there. The Chili Peppers are a family-oriented camp, and those friends and family even attended our wedding. It’s a blast to see how your career grows and brings in new people and new life.

You’ve worked with huge names like Megan Thee Stallion, Machine Gun Kelly, Lainey Wilson, and now Wallen. Have you had a moment yet in your career where you felt like you’ve “made it”?
I’m getting there. I think this has been really exciting, but we’re going to keep on pushing, because there are so many things still to create on our side. We’re so lucky to work with all of those big names, and no matter what size they’re at, I think our goal is to continue creating new things and pushing the boundaries. We just haven’t pushed the boundaries far enough yet. But once we have the ability to create something really new and shocking for this world, I think that’s where we’ll make it.

Morgan Wallen’s One Night at a Time tour comes to Empower Field at Mile High on Thursday, June 27, and Friday, June 28. Tickets start at $115 and can be purchased online.

Jessica Giles
Jessica Giles
Jessica is a senior associate editor on 5280's digital team.