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Live Music: Sounds Good to Colorado Economies

Morrison’s legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre sold 505,312 tickets in 2007. That number soared to 1.3 million in 2021 and could top 1.5 million in 2022, according to Denver Arts & Venues.

Over the last five years, out-of-staters bought 42 percent of tickets to Red Rocks shows. Those people book hotel rooms, eat meals, and otherwise leave plenty of money behind in the Centennial State.

Beyond Morrison, the state plays host to more than 100 festivals with live music in a given year, with big paydays for places like Telluride and Aspen.

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“The tourism impact [of live music] is huge,” says Margaret Hunt, executive director of state arts agency Colorado Creative Industries (CCI). Young people “are more interested in experiences than products. That’s why we’ve seen such huge growth. And post-COVID, people want to gather together in a community and have shared experiences. It’s more important now than it’s ever been.”

Michael Seman, Ph.D., an assistant professor for arts management at Colorado State University, has studied the economic impact of live music for 15 years. He’s also in a rock band, Shiny Around the Edges.

Seman started researching the economic impact of music scenes in postgrad work more than a decade ago. “It was just not a subject discussed very often—the idea of music scenes being economic drivers,” he says. “My Ph.D. was looking at the Denton, Texas, music scene, comparing it to Michael Porter, the economist from Harvard, his cluster theory. I illustrate that music scenes operate just like an economic cluster, like Silicon Valley or Napa Valley.”

Seman authored a report, “Colorado’s Music Industry,” while at CU Denver, finding that live music events represent about $500 million and 5,000 jobs—not including about 8,000 musicians, managers and agents in the state as of 2016. He says the numbers were likely diminished by COVID-19, but they remain relevant as a baseline in 2022.

“Colorado and Denver are really good at hosting music festivals and shows,” Seman says. “It’s one of the few places in the United States where people will come from all over the world to see a show.”

And that requires a skilled workforce, he adds. “We have these great resources. We have people who know how to run lights, we have people who know how to run sound, we have people who know how to host a festival.

“It’s a solid industrial sector within the state and certainly in Denver,” Seman says. State and city leaders “take it very seriously, and they treat it as an industry.”

He calls the nonprofit Music District in Fort Collins a template for the industry’s future in the state. “I’m very much focused on looking at music and music scenes through the lens of economic development. If you do look at it that way, find ways to incubate music,” he says.

“How would you work with your tech community? You would say, ‘You need spaces for incubation.’ As a city, find a way to approach your all-ages, DIY music venues where so many of your artists are going to be incubated and developed, and find a way to make it sustainable.”


Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]