The End of the Rainbow

Christopher Jenner

The End of the Rainbow

I miss the Rainbow Music Hall. On the boring eves of my teenage years in Evergreen, Colorado—when you cruised down to the 7-11 to see who was hanging out, who was seeing if you were hanging out, till one said, “Let’s do something!” and the other said, “What should we do?” and the first said, “I don’t know!”—an ordinary building in a suburbanized corner of Denver became a beacon of rockin’ musical fun. It gave us an alternative to Red Rocks, McNichols Arena, the Auditorium Theater, and the Paramount Theater. We can’t choose the times in our lives when the saying “all good things must come to an end” will come true, and so it was that when I heard about the Rainbow’s closing in 1988—that it had become a Walgreens!—I’m sure I gasped as convincingly as an early twenties got-more-important-things-to-do guy could, not realizing, fully, what we had lost.

I can’t be the only one who found himself in the first few rows, almost able to touch the stage, wondering how I could be so lucky. Four shows I went to, never farther than twenty rows back. Fourteen dollars or less per show to ram into other bodies in a sweaty slam pit for the Blasters; to dance in a cannabis haze to the reggae of Steel Pulse; to gaze at the guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle feats of virtuosos Doc Watson, David Bromberg and John McEuen; and to hear Arlo Guthrie’s twenty plus minute rendition of “Alice’s Restaurant,” in which Arlo implored the audience to rise against the injustices of the world by singing a bar of the song, then chided us for singing so sheepishly: “That was horrible…if you want to end war and stuff, you gotta sing loud!”

We all experience a rainbow’s majesty from our own perspective. If I gaze at the light passing through water drops in the air, I observe a beauty unique from that which you observe, though you stand only a few feet away. I would dare to say that everybody’s Rainbow Music Hall experience was singular, notable, remarkable. Some concertgoers loved the metal of Stryper or Judas Priest. Others rollicked to the eighties sounds of The Fixx, The Cure, or Def Leppard. Many enjoyed the comedic genius of Andy Kaufman, Cheech & Chong, George Carlin, or Robin Williams. But we all felt like we were in on a secret—a special, once in a lifetime treat.

Dammit! Are they really going to tear it down? I’m back home from San Francisco, spring vacation, 2009, and Dad says they’re going to construct a “new and improved” Walgreens in its place.

I have to check it out. Sitting in bed, I’m rereading the bookmarked article from the March ‘08 Rocky. Black and white photos taken in the darkened music hall load onto my computer screen. The first is a side shot of Bob Dylan at a 1980 performance; another evidences the lobby’s loudly patterned carpet; and a third displays the simultaneous march of history and blight of progress: the Rainbow Music Hall words are scribed proudly atop the original sign, yet Walgreens—in ugly cursive letters—loiters just below, and the marquee reads:

Folgers coffee - two for $5

Flu shots available


Below the article, comment posters riff on each other’s memories of the Rainbow’s greatness, especially the two-dollar tickets to see up-and-coming acts. Imagine seeing U2 two feet from the stage for two bucks! U2, a band who, on their first outing, the crowd adored, who apologized for repeating songs in their encore, promising to play new stuff the next time they came to town. With memories of so many bands in so many genres, individual posters don’t favor any one genre exclusively. They mix it up, just like my friends and I did in our choice of shows. People who worked for Barry Fey write their stories of arranging acts, collecting money for tickets, hanging with musicians, and breaking up fights in the lobby.

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