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Chris Daniels Ready For Bigger, Better Colorado Music Hall Of Fame -- If He Can Find Room

You may know Chris Daniels best as the energetic frontman for blues band Chris Daniels & The Kings, but lately it’s other people’s music that’s been on his mind.

Daniels is the new executive director of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

Crammed along the walls of the Trading Post at the base of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, visitors can find tributes to some of the state’s most celebrated musical artists. Colorado artists have been inducted each year since it began in 2011 -- beginning with John Denver, naturally.

“Our first big induction was the guy you got to do,” Daniels said.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Outside the Red Rocks Trading Post is a sculpture dedicated to John Denver.

The exhibit features several of Denver’s stage and tour outfits, gold records, photos, handwritten lyrics and a J-200 Gibson guitar made just for him.

But the history of Colorado music goes back a lot farther. At the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, it begins in 1917 with singer Elizabeth Spencer.

“Elizabeth Spencer was an Edison Records artist,” Daniels said. “They used to put her on stage with the Edison ‘Talking Machine’ -- as it was called -- so that she could sing alongside the record player to make it - the comparison, supposedly, is look how good it sounds.”

Each year, the Hall of Fame celebrates artists from specific eras or musical genres. Spencer, the step-daughter of the first governor of the territory of Colorado, was part of the 2016 class of inductees, along with bandleader Glenn Miller.

Down the hallway is a tribute to the sounds of the 1960s. Behind the glass is a gold paisley suit worn by Bob Demmon, guitarist for the surf-rock group The Astronauts. There’s also a replica of the signature Fender Stratocaster from Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids. The original was stolen just before the exhibit was unveiled. The band is best known for their time on the big screen, performing in “American Graffiti” and contributing three songs to the movie’s soundtrack.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids' original Fender Stratocaster was stolen in 2012 just before the exhibit was unveiled.

Around the corner is an exhibit honoring Colorado’s folk scene with greats Judy Collins, The Serendipity Singers -- and Daniels.

“The reason I’m - I have to assume the reason I’m here -- is because right at the end of that period, 1970, I worked with a band called Magic Music,” he said. “We were Colorado’s first acoustic jam band.”

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Colorado Music Hall of Fame's new executive director Chris Daniels is also one of its inductees.

It’s a far cry from the blues sound he’s known for today, but Daniels said it’s that variety that makes Colorado’s music so great.

“One of the things that I really love about the Colorado Music Hall of Fame is that -- we’re just getting started,” he said. “We have a tradition of lots of different kinds of music -- from Hot Rize to 3OH!3 to Pretty Lights. I’d love to see a show celebrating the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Pretty Lights and have them do a show together. Wouldn’t that be wild?”

Daniels said he wants to highlight all of it -- from Colorado’s cowboy music history to its Latin scene, including the venues that helped shape them, like the beloved El Chapultepec, Denver’s oldest jazz and blues club.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame is housed within the Red Rocks Trading Post at the base of the amphitheater.

There’s just one problem.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Daniels said. “And, as you can see, we’re running out of space.”

On the last open wall in the Trading Post are temporary poster boards -- placeholders for the Class of 2017 exhibit honoring Denver’s jazz masters. Once completed, the space will highlight artists including vocalist Dianne Reeves; bassist Charles Burrell, the first African American to be hired by a major symphony; as well as Earth, Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey, Larry Dunn and Andrew Woolfolk.

At only about 20 feet long, the wall is a tight fit for so much talent.

“These icons need more space,” Daniels said.

That’s why the Colorado Music Hall of Fame needs a new location, he said. Daniels is currently looking into several possible options, including building a new space at Red Rocks -- maybe next to the Trading Post -- or moving to Denver.

But just because they’re looking for a new place to set up shop, doesn’t mean they won’t still call Red Rocks home.

“We’re always going to be here in some form, but my dream would be is if this could be rotating exhibits,” he said.

It’s a challenge, but one that’s not new to Daniels. He served as the executive director of Denver’s Swallow Hill Music Association from 1995 to 2000, helping move the nearly 60-year-old music non-profit when it outgrew its location.

“I got them into the building on Yale Street,” he said of the building that now features his name, Daniels Hall.

To make it happen, Daniels plans to back away from some of his teaching duties at the University of Colorado Denver.

“I really have this belief that, this is one of those cherished things that Colorado has done,” he said. “In the Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s mission, it has all of the things that I would love to do for my fellow musicians and the people here in Colorado, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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