Levitt Pavilion Denver in Ruby Hill Park is preparing for its first full season in 2018 and is part of a local music scene that is blossoming with a wide range of music genres and outstanding venues. Levitt Pavilion Denver debuted on July 20, 2017, and is set to host 50 free concerts and 15 to 20 ticketed events this year in a beautiful outdoor setting.
Pollstar, a trade publication covering the worldwide concert industry, already has nominated Levitt Pavilion Denver as a "Best New Concert Venue," and Billboard has named it one of the freshest venues to check out in 2018.
It’s the centerpiece of Ruby Hill Park’s master plan and the result of a three-pronged public/private partnership between Denver Parks and Recreation, Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver and the Levitt Foundation. Through the Levitt Pavilion project, an open-air stage, state-of-the-art sound and lighting, performer dressing rooms and an outdoor concessions plaza, including space for food trucks, became a reality, along with lawn seating that utilizes the park’s natural topography. The architecturally distinct main structure was constructed from steel and concrete, and the facade is a steel frame with steel mesh that is projectable for lighting and sponsor logos.
Located at one of the highest points in Denver, Ruby Hill Park also features a mountain bike skills park, playground, picnic areas, community garden, pool, softball and football fields, and a winter rail yard for skiers and snowboarders.
In addition to Denver, the Levitt Foundation has six other permanent music venues located on public land (typically parks) in Los Angeles; Memphis, Tennessee; Arlington, Texas; Westport, Conn.; Bethlehem, Pa.; and Dayton, Ohio. The family of Levitt music venues also will soon include locations in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Houston, Texas, set to debut in 2019 and 2021.
The foundation provides seed funding to build or renovate outdoor music venues and multi-year operating support to partially fund local nonprofit partners that manage, program and fundraise an impressive range of concerts annually. Each of the Levitt locations are committed to embracing the culture, personality and talent of the cities they reside in. The Colorado-based bands featured at Levitt Pavilion are paid above local scale and play at 100 percent of the free concerts, while the rest shows host emerging national and international groups.
Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver
This 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization not only manages the pavilion and the programming there, it has increasing access to the arts with community engagement programs like the Colorado Music Collective, BandStart, and Colorado & Friends music showcase at the Folk Alliance International Conference. Levitt Pavilion Denver is funded through donations, sponsorships, grants and concessions and can be permitted by schools, arts organizations, outside promoters and other nonprofits.
VISIT DENVER talked to Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver CEO and Executive Director Chris Zacher to find out more about the story behind Levitt Pavilion Denver and what is planned for 2018. He has championed live music locally for many years, served as treasurer, vice president and president of City Park Jazz from 2006-2014, and started leading the effort to create Levitt Pavilion Denver at Ruby Hill Park in 2012.
VD: Why was Ruby Hill Park selected as the location for the Levitt Pavilion Denver?
CZ: The initial idea for building a stage for music was born out of a master plan for the park that Denver Parks and Recreation conducted in 2009. Sitting on 82 acres, the park is the third largest in Denver’s urban park system, and it was underutilized. When you look at the bowl from the stage, only then can you truly understand why this was the spot chosen. It’s the perfect spot for an amphitheater.
VD: How did the Levitt Foundation get involved in the project?
CZ: Gordon Robertson, director of parks planning and construction for Denver Parks and Recreation, had previously worked for the parks department in Arlington, Texas. When he came to Denver in 2008, the City of Arlington had just begun construction on Levitt Arlington. Gordon connected former City Councilman Chris Nevitt to the Levitt Foundation, and the rest is history.
VD: What was the response to the Levitt Pavilion when it debuted and held its first 35 concerts in 2017?
CZ: The response has been better than expected. Since our opening, we have received local, national and international recognition for the venue and our programming. Our mission is to increase access to the arts; we began executing on that last year, but the work is just beginning.
VD: What does the Levitt Pavilion mean for Denver as a community and for the local/Colorado music scene?
CZ: My hope is that the community views us for what we are. We offer free and open access to the arts all summer long. This is something that the community has only seen in bits and pieces. The feedback we have received from the Colorado music scene has been amazing, Levitt is a game changer for them. It’s our job to make sure that we deliver on our promises to them year after year.
VD: What are you most excited for in 2018? Please provide a few highlights.
CZ: I’m excited to see people on the lawn. We office out of the venue and coming in during the winter, when we’re not producing shows, makes me itch for summer to get started. We have a full slate of offerings this season on the free side including The Slackers, Ghost of Paul Revere, Stone Foxes, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Larkin Poe, John Fullbright, Unlikely Candidates, and Paul Thorn with the Blind Boys of Alabama. On the admission based side we have Fab Four, Abba, Alan Parsons Project, and War/Tower of Power, with more to be announced in the coming months. It’s going to be a great summer on our lawn.
VD: What can people expect when attending a free or ticketed concert at Levitt Pavilion Denver?
CZ: Our lawn is spacious, so we encourage people to bring their lawn chairs and blankets to spread out and relax. We have all the offerings that you would see at any other venue, plus some that are unique to us. I can’t think of many places where the city is this engaged in helping to create public offerings like Levitt. It’s truly a gift for all Denverites, and my hope is they all enjoy it.
VD: Providing 50-plus free concerts and 15 to 20 ticketed concerts per year is a big undertaking, how does Friends of Denver Levitt accomplish this mission?
CZ: We have a seasoned full-time staff dedicated to the business of promoting and producing shows. Our talent buyer, Chase Wessel, worked in a similar role for Levitt Los Angeles and the former Levitt Pasadena; he really understands our model. Denver musician, Andy Thomas, runs our community outreach. Joel Rekiel from BLDGBLKS Music Company is our marketing manager. It’s the staff that does the hard work behind the scenes. They are the biggest cog in the machine helping to drive awareness and accomplishing our mission.
VD: How will Levitt Pavilion’s programming and approach be different than other local outdoor music venues?
CZ: Our free series is built on music discovery. We view ourselves as a launching pad for emerging artists. At Levitt, patrons can expect to be introduced to genres and artists that they might not yet be familiar with. We take the health of our music community seriously with the belief that propping up local artists is what we all should be doing. There is a lot of dialog in our industry focusing on building music cities. Levitt is just one component that Denver needs to realize its place as a music city. If we do our part, it’s going to help keep Denver and Denver-based artists on the map. Talent discovery, talent retention, open access to the arts, and fair pay for artists is the formula that we work on.
VD: Are Levitt Pavilion concerts family friendly?
CZ: All of our concerts are family friendly. It’s a major component to the Levitt model and our mission.
Location: Ruby Hill Park at 1380 West Florida Ave., near 1-25 and Santa Fe, and just a few miles south of downtown Denver and across the street from Overland Golf Course.
Public/Pedal Transportation: Levitt Pavilion Denver is near the Broadway and Evans light rail stops and paved South Platte River Trail.
Capacity: The lawn seating is two-and-a-half times bigger than Red Rocks Amphitheatre and can hold up to 7,500. Currently, approximately 1,500 attend most concerts.
The Launch: The first concert was held on July 20, 2017, and featured three Colorado-based bands: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams, and Andy Thomas’ Dust Heart.
2018 Season: The schedule includes 50 free concerts and 15 to 20 ticketed events.
Concert Start Times*: Thursday through Saturday, doors open 5 p.m., music begins at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Sundays, doors open 3-4 p.m., music begins at 4-5 p.m. and ends at 8-9 p.m. *These are usual start times but are subject to change. Make sure to check Levitt Pavilion Denver's website to verify.
TV Broadcast: The City and County of Denver and Levitt Pavilion Denver partner to feature musical performances on Denver 8, the municipal TV channel, and associated online sites. Many shows are broadcast as live events and additional concerts are recorded for scheduled programming known as “Live at Levitt.”
Photo credits: Hippo Campus (top), Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Cody Johnson & Randy Rogers Band with Parker McCollum, and Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra with Fiesta Colorado Dance Company. Photos by Joel Rekiel.