‘World-class experience’ or ‘community venue’?: Town Council members have mixed goals for the Dillon Amphitheater

My Morning Jacket plays at the Dillon Amphitheater on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.
Jenise Jensen/Town of Dillon

Over the years, the Dillon Amphitheater has grown from a small local venue into one that attracts high-profile artists and bands that also play shows at renowned locations like the nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater.

How the venue will continue to develop into the future is in large part up to the Dillon Town Council, but opinions on the future of the amphitheater are mixed, according to a recent survey of the town council members.

While some council members said they hope to create a community experience at the amphitheater, others wrote that they want the venue to draw bigger artists and generate more revenues with paid parking and VIP options.

Dillon Recreation Department staff last month asked the council members to respond to the seven-question survey in order to get better direction about the vision for future programming and facility improvements. 

In response to a question about council members’ goals for the amphitheater, one member wrote, “Upholding our promise to keep the amphitheater a community venue.” 

Meanwhile, another council member wrote that the amphitheater should provide “a world-class experience,” and several other council members said they would like to see the venue draw bigger acts and generate additional revenue.

A couple members wrote that they would like to see more shows at the amphitheater throughout the summer. Still one member wrote they would like “to have fewer paid shows. The amphitheater is for the community to enjoy, not for revenue.”

Concertgoers await Greensky Bluegrass at the Dillon Amphitheater on Sept. 14, 2022. The band played at the same venue the next night.
Jenise Jensen/Town of Dillon

The survey responses were anonymous, though some council members discussed their opinions more publicly at a council meeting work session on Tuesday, June 6. Recreation Director Jessie Klehfoth said at that meeting that town staff are looking for consensus from the council in order to have a clear direction forward on amphitheater improvements.

“The biggest thing I took away from it is that there are a lot of different opinions within the council,” Klehfoth said of the survey. “And so as a staff, it’s really hard for us to understand exactly what direction we should go when there are so many different opinions.”

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Last year, the town made about $43,750 per paid show at the Dillon Amphitheater, or about $750,000 total, Klehfoth said, setting the stage for the council’s discussion. Revenues per paid show ranged from $27,000 to $60,000, depending on the type of show and who the performer was, she said.

Except for last year, the amphitheater has run a deficit every year since 2019, Klehfoth said. Free shows last year cost the town money, ranging from $1,500 to $44,000 per show, she said.

Interestingly, Klehfoth said, the income per guest was significantly lower for shows where people were sitting in lawn chairs than at shows where people were up and dancing. On average, over the course of the year, the venue sold 1.5 beers per attendee, she said.

People bought tickets from all across the country and the world, Klehfoth said, and age demographics at the shows were pretty evenly split, with near equal ticket purchases by those under 17, between 25 and 34, between 35 and 44 and over 45.

Most of the shows at the Dillon Amphitheater last year sold a lot of tickets, Klehfoth said, with several selling more than 90% of available tickets — generally considered to be “sold out.” The four worst attended shows still sold more than 65% of available tickets.

“We did a really good job of programming the amphitheater last year to maximize the potential of the types of shows,” she said.

The stage at the Dillon Amphitheater lights up as rock-and-roll band My Morning Jacket performs for a crowd on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. The band played for a crowd at the same venue the night before, too.
Jenise Jensen/Town of Dillon

As far as VIP programs go, the amphitheater has already been doing VIP programs with some of its paid shows because the bands ask for these programs, Klehfoth said. Sometimes this means early entry for VIPs, which can act like reserved seating, special VIP sections, or merchandise and downloads of the artist’s music with the ticket, she said.

However, the revenue for VIP ticket sales goes to the bands, Klehfoth said, and the town can actually end up losing money on these programs because it can require the amphitheater to open earlier or may require more staff.

Council member Dana Christiansen said that the amphitheater has an about 15-week season each summer but last year averaged only about 2.5 shows per week.

“That’s a pretty short season,” Christiansen said. “In the comments on the survey, I saw a lot of comments that said we should do more shows in our limited season.”

Klehfoth said that she believes the recreation department has aimed for between 35 and 38 shows per season because that is what past town councils have instructed, but if this council wants more shows, the department can do that. This season, the amphitheater is aiming for three paid and one free show a week, she added.

Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said that while she might be in favor of a few additional shows some weeks, some residents in the area are already annoyed by constant music in their community.

“I think we could do more or do more occasionally some weeks,” Skowyra said. “We do start hearing from all those condos on the lakeshore they’re pounded with music all the time whether they want to go to the concert or not. Everyone at the lakeshore hears it. I hear it in my backyard.”

Council member Brad Bailey meanwhile asked about increasing the capacity of the amphitheater, noting that could increase the caliber of artists the venue attracts as well as generate more revenue.

The Dillon Amphitheater has a capacity of about 3,600 at present, Klehfoth said, but the venue lands many of the same artists as Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is almost three times as big. The venue has even attracted some bands like Pretty Lights due to its small size. Capacity at the Dillon Amphitheater right now is dictated by fire code and safety plans, restroom capacity, concessions and parking, she said.

Bailey contended that that the fire code has been applied wrong, capping the capacity limit lower than it should be.

The council at the meeting added a discussion about prioritizing amphitheater goals to an upcoming work session agenda.

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