Denver In Flux

Chuck Morris, who has been rumored for the last month to be jumping the Live Nation ship for newly opened AEG Live Denver, has informed his staff as well as artists, agents and managers that he is indeed making the move.

“I’m under contract to Live Nation until the end of the year,” Morris told Pollstar. “I have a terrific relationship with them. They treat me like a king, and have for eight years.

“They made my dreams with the Fillmore and City Lights come true, going back to the BGP years. I don’t have a single complaint and have nothing but respect for Michael Rapino and Charlie Walker,” Morris said.

While Morris himself refused to comment further on his future, and LN and AEG aren’t talking, other sources confirmed that it’s a done deal.

Morris remains under contract with Live Nation until December 31st and reportedly will leave with a six-month non-compete agreement before he can re-emerge with AEG Live Denver, where longtime colleagues Don Strasberg and Brent Fedrizzi opened shop in August.

The news comes as little surprise to those who know Morris well. The team of Morris, Strasburg and Fedrizzi had been together in different incarnations, including with Chuck Morris Presents as well as at BGP, SFX Entertainment and most recently Live Nation.

But perhaps less well-known is Morris’ nearly 20-year friendship with AEG founder and Denver resident Philip Anschutz, thanks to the latter’s interest in a band Morris manages.

The billionaire entrepreneur, in addition to his vast business interests, owns one of the world’s largest collections of Western art. In 1989, he invited The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a personal favorite managed by Morris, to accompany the collection to a Moscow museum and play an acoustic set at the exhibit’s opening.

Anschutz and Morris arranged for the band to play three additional dates in the Soviet Union. Anschutz remains a fan of the band, and his friendship with Morris has reportedly deepened in the years since the Moscow exhibit.

Morris has the kind of deep, established relationships in the concert industry that will instantly make AEG Live Denver a formidable competitor to Live Nation in what’s historically been a highly competitive market.

Having been in the market for nearly four decades, Morris has long-established relationships with some of the most important artists and agents in the business.

Whether personal loyalty translates into business for AEG Live will likely depend, however, on the venues. While Red Rocks Amphitheatre and several other regional buildings are non-exclusive, Morris will lose access to some he currently enjoys.

Live Nation is in the process of acquiring House of Blues Entertainment and with it, Coors Amphitheatre. Morris will also leave behind the Fillmore Auditorium, a venue he resurrected into one of the finest theatres in the region.

AEG’s Strasberg said he doesn’t consider venue access a problem.

“Most of the facilities in the region are open facilities and we plan on using all appropriate venues in the region to promote shows,” Strasburg recently told Pollstar. “Obviously, if the opportunity presents itself we’re willing to build when it’s appropriate to.”

With Live Nation’s announcement of its pending acquisition of HoB, many observers thought the days of promoter battles were numbered. But with the impending departure of Morris to rejoin his former colleagues at AEG Live, all bets are off.

“When I was at Live Nation with the potential House of Blues situation at hand, it was really the first time I had ever seen the possibility of a lessening of competition,” Strasburg said. “It’s nothing new to me because I’ve always existed in a very competitive environment.”

The situation is being watched closely in Denver – even by those no longer in the fray. Former Nobody In Particular Presents promoter Jesse Morreale told Pollstar he recently had a conversation with the former chief of Feyline, who also briefly ran the House of Blues Denver outpost.

“It’s funny, because I just talked to Barry Fey and he and I said the same thing,” Morreale said. “It’s like every seven to 10 years there’s got to be a little scene shakeup with the same guys. Before it was me, Barry, Brent and Chuck, and now it’s pretty much the same guys all over again.”

– Deborah Speer