Posted: January 01, 2009
Executive Edge: Chuck Morris
Veteran concert promoter finds harmony with Anschutz EntertainmentLynn Bronikowski
Chuck Morris, president and CEO of AEG Live, Rocky Mountain Region. (Photo by Todd Nakashima)
Twenty years ago Chuck Morris was in the thick of chaos in Moscow with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – arranging a concert for the opening of the Anschutz Western Art Collection at the Tretyakov Gallery.
“It was a year before the Russian revolution – the whole country was falling apart and you could barely get a phone line in,” recalls Morris, who not only reveled in the pandemonium but sought even greater challenges to showcase Western music in a country hungry for all things American.
“My grandparents were Russian immigrants; came over here on a boat with nothing; barely spoke English and spent their lives working so their kids could go to college,” Morris said. “I learned my work ethic from them and felt really connected to Russia when I was there.”
Within days, Morris received a call from Phil Anschutz, who not only wanted the Dirt Band to open his exhibit of Western art, but to perform the next night in the Moscow Opera House and a third night at a free concert in Gorky Park.
“It was an incredible nine days,” Morris said of the undertaking that would seal a lifelong friendship with Anschutz. Two years ago Morris was named president and CEO of AEG Live, Rocky Mountain Region, a subsidiary of the Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group.
“I always wanted to work for Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke (AEG president and CEO) before I retired,” said Morris, who turns 64 in March and says he has no plans to retire. “I liked their ideas of doing things like festivals and world tours. They were the ones who came up with the Celine Dion theater in Las Vegas, for example. And I liked their fresh ideas. I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life. When the day comes that I don’t enjoy my work when I walk through the door, that’s the day I will retire.”
Morris left Clear Channel-owned Live Nation, a concert promoter, where he was Rocky Mountain regional vice president, to join AEG Live. He immediately went to work on the inaugural Mile High Music Festival, which last summer drew 90,000 fans to hear Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Tom Petty and 40-plus acts at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“I felt that such a festival was one of the last remaining things in music that Denver didn’t have,” Morris said. “We have Red Rocks, which is world-renowned, classic venues like The Fillmore, and I thought bringing together 40 or 50 bands for a whole day in a festival atmosphere was something I wanted to bring to Denver.”
He also bought a building in the Santa Fe Arts District to house AEG Live and a voice doctor next door.
“Mayor (John) Hickenlooper told me this neighborhood is exploding and that he wanted to make it the SoHo of Denver, so I came down and fell in love with the neighborhood,” said Morris, who oversaw the building’s renovation down to having a metal artist custom-design the music-themed security bars on the windows.
He admits times are tough for the entertainment industry but boasts that AC/DC and Metallica sold out at the Pepsi Center, and Neil Diamond and Celine Dion are headed for a sellout.
“Record companies are down; radio revenue is down, but live entertainment has the best shot at holding its own,” Morris said. “People want to get out and you just can’t substitute live performances, so we’re doing the best we can do and keeping our fingers crossed. Besides, during the Great Depression – that’s how Vaudeville got started.”
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.