Apr. 16—I remember my first Friday in Cheyenne like it was yesterday. A huge stage was being set up in the street across from our newsroom for The Sugarhill Gang concert, and all the reporters scurried to the roof of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle building for a better look.
When I finished work, I walked over to West Edge Collective and ordered my dinner from one of the various food trucks sitting in the parking lot. I sat on a curb, sipping a Sprite and feeling good about my decision to move across the country to a city that believes in the uniting power of live entertainment.
There was a certain buzz in the air that day — a childlike anticipation that most of us haven't felt much of since. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the excitement of enjoying live acts right here in our city, but this summer is going to be different.
If you go
What: The Lincoln
Where: 1615 Central Ave.
What: The Chinook at Terry Bison Ranch
Where: 51 I-25 Frontage Road
What: Fridays on the Plaza
Where: Cheyenne Depot Plaza, 1 Depot Square Capitol & West 15th Street
This summer, if all goes to plan, is Cheyenne's chance to become a live music destination.
Cheyenne's highly anticipated music-specific venue, The Lincoln, opened Aug. 14 with a performance by Ten Sleep native Jalan Crossland. The event, more than two years in the making, was a turning point for Cheyenne's music scene. But the opening was limited in its capacity due to the pandemic, which took away from the fanfare it called for.
This spring and summer will be different for The Lincoln. The venue's new Music Discovery Series highlights regional talent (with a few touring groups in the mix) and, at $10 a ticket, aims to be accessible to audiences of all backgrounds.
"We are also setting aside and offering a handful of free tickets to area teens 15-18 plus a guest," said venue manager David Soules, who's looking forward to getting as many people through the door as safely as possible.
The key word there is safely, which is why the venue is still requiring masks be worn whenever a guest gets out of their seat. Soules said socially distanced seating and frequent sanitization will continue to be the norm for the next couple months, but his team will keep an eye on COVID-19 case numbers.
"Safety of our audience, staff, crew and artists are of the utmost importance," he said. "(But) we hope to reevaluate and loosen restrictions later this summer as the vaccine becomes available to anyone who wants one."
The theater's concert lineup currently includes 13 events between now and August and features the following artists: The Runaway Grooms on April 23, In the Whale on May 7, Magic Beans & Schema Things on May 15, Steely Dead on May 22, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers on May 28, Trace Bundy on June 12, The Burroughs on June 19, Christian Lopez on June 21, Wood Belly on June 25, Cruz Contreras on July 2, Fox Royale on July 22, Dead Floyd on Aug. 7 and Float Like a Buffalo on Aug. 14.
Cheyenne's only drive-in movie theater/event venue is now hosting AEG Presents-Rocky Mountains events, and manager Hamilton Byrd couldn't be more thrilled.
"I've been promoting concerts in Cheyenne for over 10 years, and now the second-largest promotion company in the world is renting my venue," Byrd said. "I'm in partnership with AEG. I feel great."
Byrd's partner/investor, Ely Corliss, brought AEG talent buyer Scott Morrill into the fold last summer, and everything just fell into place.
"I brought him in to help book some shows ... and Scott consulted and got the rest of the AEG team interested," Corliss said. "Really, I can't explain what a blessing it is to have them involved because it's a totally different league."
On May 7, The Chinook will host its first AEG Presents event: Subtronics: Cheyenne Monster Energy Outbreak Tour 2021, with two more to follow (CHARLESTHEFIRST and CloZee: Odyzey presents VOYAGE!). The concerts are all two-day events, and the latter two are full festivals that will feature several EDM artists.
Corliss, who lives in Greeley, Colorado, said he fell in love with Cheyenne last summer as a great location to bring his family during the pandemic. He thinks plenty of others are similarly yearning for wide open spaces where they can enjoy the outdoors while also being entertained, and he said The Chinook is the perfect place to do that.
This interest is reflected in ticket sales so far, Byrd added, because a big chunk of purchases are coming from outside Cheyenne and even Wyoming. The pair believe they're ideally situated to fit a need in the market right now, partially because of Wyoming's response to the pandemic.
All the events will comply with the state's public health orders, but as of right now, it's possible that no orders will be in place by May 7 — and the only remaining restriction for events, which says indoor events of more than 500 people can only be held at 50% of venue capacity, ends April 30 and doesn't apply to The Chinook as an outdoor venue.
Masks won't be mandated at the venue — though staff will wear them, Corliss said — and concerts are no longer drive-in style. The three events currently on this summer's schedule will be regular concert experiences in which event-goers with general admission tickets will drive into the ranch and park in a new lot north of The Chinook, then they'll walk into the concert area, where they'll have plenty of standing room space. For these "mini EDM festivals," the screen will be part of the immersive experience, rather than the audience's only visual connection to the performer.
"We are in the middle of a pandemic still, or at the tail end of one, but the bottom line is there are more and more vaccines going out, and more and more healthy people," Corliss said. "I've never been a proponent of quarantining the healthy. I think we can all get out and enjoy the summer, so let's do that and as safely as we possibly can."
But drive-in events are still alive and well at The Chinook for weekly movie nights, Corliss added. The venue will continue to offer a wide array of movies throughout the summer (starting as early as this month with its double feature of "Friday" and "Pineapple Express" at 7 p.m. April 20 for $25)
As for what else to expect, Corliss said a summer full of entertainment.
"I can guarantee you that everything from hip-hop to bluegrass to electronic music will be represented this season," he said. "It's just gonna be awesome."
Fridays on the Plaza
Jason Sanchez, the deputy director of the Community Recreation and Events Department for the city of Cheyenne, was heartbroken to have to cancel Fridays on the Plaza last year due to COVID-19.
But this summer, the show must go on.
"It's a great time to get back together outside and enjoy summer as a community again," Sanchez said. "Fridays on the Plaza is a longstanding event in the community, and people really look forward to getting together with friends and neighbors every summer, and we have some of the best summer weather anywhere."
The department is currently scheduled to announce this summer's concert lineup May 7, but depending on the weather the next few weeks, he said his team might try to do it a little earlier — perhaps even as an in-person unveiling in Cheyenne Depot Plaza.
Like the other event organizers, Sanchez said the concert series will follow all the health guidelines in place, but that being outdoors, his events definitely are in a better position health-wise.
"One of the benefits of being outdoors is we all get to have some fresh air, and we'll try to keep it as socially distanced as possible," he said. "Being outside gives it a safer appeal."
Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's features editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.