Denver Coliseum
Denver, CO

The first Western Livestock Show was held on the outskirts of Denver Colorado and began on January 26, 1906 and lasted for 6 days.  "Stockmen from around the West gathered to show their animals, buy and sell breeding stock and encourage a meatpacking center to rival those in Kansas City and Chicago. The event was very successful and plans were underway to repeat the next year.  From this beginning, the National Western Stock Show, Rodeo and Horse Show was born."1

National Amphitheater - 1909
Photo courtesy National Western Stock Show

"For the 1908 show they built a wooden stadium topped with the canvas roof of the huge tent that had housed the show in its first two years, but this was to be only a temporary solution. That summer ground was broken for the construction of a large, permanent stadium and it was ready for the opening of the fourth stock show on January 18, 1909. The National Amphitheater, now known as the Stadium Arena, was built with the latest technology of the times and has faithfully served the National Western ever since."1

Denver stock yards Burlington Route, with Nat. Amphitheater in foreground - 1935
Photo courtesy Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library

Space became a problem almost since the beginning as the show grew in size and popularity. By the later 1940s the Stadium Arena was still the only venue for ticketed performances. Box seats always sold out long before opening day and thousands were turned away. The desperate need for new facilities was a perennial topic at meetings of the National Western’s board of directors, and in the mid-1940s livestock exhibitors began contributing a portion of their sale proceeds to a building fund.1

Construction of the Coliseum in 1951

Photo courtesy National Western Stock Show

Quigg Newton was elected the new mayor in 1947 and he believed Denver taxpayers should have a multi-purpose facility that could be used year-round, not just during the January show. A committee of National Western leaders, show exhibitors, meat packers and Union Stock Yards officials was formed to raise $750,000. The Colorado & Southern Railroad donated the land on which the Coliseum would sit while the Union Pacific Railroad gave land for a vast parking lot and finally in September of 1949, ground was broke.  The Coliseum encompassed almost three acres centered on a 30,000 square-foot arena surrounded by seating for up to 11,000 spectators. The arched roof required 5,400 tons of concrete and the plywood for the forms would have built a small town. It was completed in 1951 and the city quickly put it to use for ice skating shows and sports events.  Stock Show folks had hoped for a name incorporating “National Western” or Stock Show but the city council named it the Denver Coliseum.1

Opening ceremonies January 10, 1952
Photo courtesy National Western Stock Show

Opening night for the National Western in the new facility was on January 10, 1952 complete with two huge floral horseshoes, one made of 1,000 Hawaiian orchids and another made with 7,000 Colorado carnations to greet arriving guests. Four brass bands enlivened the festivities, dignitaries entered in horse-drawn surreys and pop music groups and TV and movie personalities performed. Following a dedication address by Mayor Newtonwas a 14-float parade.

Vintage postcard of the Denver Coliseum at 4600 Humboldt St. Denver, CO

At the time, it was the largest of Denver's recreation buildings and had a seating capacity of 7933 seats.  On special occasions it has been known to accommodate nearly 12,000.  In addition to a skating rink, the Arena is equipped for basketball and any indoor sport.

Four years later, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ would make their only appearance in Denver together at the Coliseum for two shows on April 8, 1956.  Having made their first appearance on the Milton Berle show from the deck of the USS. Hancock in San Diego, it followed dates at the San Diego Arena and, according to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen in Elvis Day by Day, was the start of a tour booked by A.V. Bamford of North Hollywood , CA.

Ads for the show in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
courtesy Denver Public Library

AV "Bam" Bamford was a colorful country music producer originally from Cuba. During the mid-1930s, he owned and operated a string of radio stations, mostly in the southern United States. As a promoter of these stations, he often befriended performers who would perform live on the radio or at remote locations such as state fairs. Over the years he was asked to manage a number of musicians, including Hank Williams.2

This tour would be the last tour Elvis and the boys would make with contemporaries from the Hayride and others that they had shared stages with since almost the beginning.  This show also featured Faron Young, Jimmy and Johnny and Wanda Jackson .

Wanda Jackson - c.1956
Photo courtesy web

The reviews in both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain news were, like many of the time, not all that favorable though they noted Elvis' overwhelming popularity with his audience.  As is probably not all that surprising for Colorado at the time, the writer for the Post must have been clearly a Country fan with little chance of being won over by anything else.

Elvis Presley's Distinctive Artistry Steals Opry Show
By Ben Calloway
Denver Post Staff Writer

By all shriek meter standards, it was Elvis Presley by a landslide in Denver Coliseum Sunday.
This new sensation of the entertainment world drew roaring response from the 12,000 who viewed two performances of the Presley Grand Ole Opry show Sunday and even Faron Young had to take a back seat this time to the wild, fast-rising star.
Presley is a "weird one" who brings out the animal in his female audience and mixed reactions, including near-nausea among the males. He stole the show and not even Sunday's rain-snow storm could dampen the "Spirit of '56."
Presley's minimum of swinging and maximum of wild wiggling created a near riot among the assembled addicts as a "Bopry" windup following "Opry"-type stars Jimmy and Johnny, Wanda Jackson and Young.
This "Spirit of '56" has taken the record dealers and enthusiasts of the nation by storm, but its likely that Young, No. 1 boy in country music, will weather the "big blow" and still be on top after the "Spirit" fades away.
Distinctive Artistry
Presley's distinctive artistry on such smash hits as "Heartbreak Hotel," "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" and "I Was the One," prompted less hysteria than such as "I Got a Woman Way Over Town" and "Don't Step on My Blue Suede Shoes," in which he leaped, stomped and shook, making the assemblage go berserk.
Faron was handicapped when his 'Country Deputies' band didn't arrived from Florida in time for Sunday's shows. Backed up by KLAK Ranchhands, however, he rang the bell with "If You Ain't Lovin," "Girls Like You," "You're Still Mine," "It's a Great Life," "Going Steady," "Live Fast," "All Right," "I've Got Five Dollars" and other songs.
Faron is a handsome, happy young artist loved by the gals and liked by the guys and his popularity is built on a solid foundation.
Jimmy and Johnny opened the program. Aside from "Somebody Else Will" and "Sweet Singing Daddy" hits and clever imitations, their joke efforts were of silo caliber.
High boots would have marred the effect of 18-year-old Wanda Jackson, curvaceous Ozark Jubilee cutie. Her bouncy offerings including "You Can't Have My Love," "That Makes Him Mad," Maybelline" and the newer "Wasted," added a welcome strictly feminine touch to the program.
Much ballyhoo surrounded Presley's first Denver showing with constant appeals from his drumbeater for fan club formation and Hollywood lobbying. Feminine souvenir seekers were thwarted in their efforts when sizeable police escorts "protected" both Presley and Young as they escaped their exuberant pursuers unharmed.

© Denver Post - April 10, 1956 courtesy Denver Public Library

Faron Young
Photo courtesy Talent On Display

At age 19, Faron Young had first performed on the Louisiana Hayride in October 1951 and had signed with Capitol Records in January 1952. Within six months he was singing on the Grand Ole Opry though his first hit, Goin’ Steady, wasn't released until November, two weeks after being inducted in the Army. After his discharge, Faron had put together the band fronted by the Wilburn Brothers, and started touring in November 1954. From a name-the-band contest they acquired “The Young Sheriff and his Country Deputies.” Over the next four decades, the Deputy roster included such names as Gordon Terry, Darrell McCall, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, Lloyd Green, Ben Keith, and Vassar Clements. Faron later changed his title to The Singing Sheriff. 3

George Kealiher, Jr., Faron, Wanda and Elvis backstage in Denver- Apr. 8, 1956
Photo © George Kealiher Jr., courtesy of the C(olorado)MHOF

As mentioned in the Post, Faron's band the Country Deputies didn't arrive in time to perform and he was backed by the KLAK Ranch hands. KLAK was a radio station on 1580 AM started by Morey Davolt on January 8, 1955 which featured "country-and-Western" music exclusively, except for an hour on Sundays, when it played Hawaiian melodies (because Morey liked it). Employees wore cowboy hats, cowboy boots, fringed jackets and bolo ties. The station had titles like "Ranch Hands" for the DJs, "Blacksmith" for the radio engineer and "Range Riders" for the sales staff. Morey was "Boss Man." 4

Elvis at the Denver Coliseum - Apr. 8, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/the fool

The review of Elvis' show in Denver by the Rocky Mountain News went as follows:

Performer 'Sings' and Gyrates ... and Gets Paid for It, Too!
Rage Over Elvis Presley Is a Bit Sickening
By Frances Melrose
Rocky Mountain News Writer

THERES a new rage of the age--Elvis Presley. As far I'm concerned I hope this rage passes into oblivion as quickly as it has sprung up.
Elvis is 21 years old and looks like a pouty, naughty, youthful Marlon Brando. He sings, after his own peculiar fashion, and drags around a guitar, which seems to be excess baggage more than anything else.
Elvis made his Denver debut at the Denver Coliseum Sunday in two shows that added up to 16 thousand admissions. Two-thirds of the night crowd were under 20, I'd guess.
It's a toss-up which was worse, Elvis or his fans . I'd say the edge goes to Elvis.
According to an informant who attended the afternoon show and hated every minute of it, a near mob-scene was enacted when Elvis headed for the stage set up in the middle of the Coliseum
At least 50 fans, mostly feminine, streaked across the wide-open spaces of floor surrounding the stage, screeching and waving papers while another performer, Faron Young, still was before the mike.
Listed as 'Singer’
The management headed this off for the night show by having seven policemen escort Elvis out of the wings and point him toward the stage.
Elvis is listed as a "singer." I couldn't. be sure, because the squealing of the crowd drowned out most of the noise he was making.
I can guarantee that it wasn't his singing that sent them.
A performance by Elvis Presley goes something like this:
Elvis strides on stage, takes a wide legged stance, grabs up a guitar, gives it a couple of whangs, opens his mouth and starts gyrating.
Elvis' stage maneuvers are nothing short of phenomenal. Performed by a girl in the burlycue, they'd be known as bumps and grinds. He shivers and shakes, he quivers and quakes. The faster E. Presley moves, the more agitated the crowd grows.
Frenzied Squealing
When he sings a slower tune with some melody and practically no shaking, the crowd doesn't react. When he starts to shake, the crowd bursts into a frenzy of squeals.
I wouldn't hazard a guess on how this phenomenon got start. But now that its here, it's getting the full press-agent treatment. During Sunday night's intermission, a man I presumed to be Elvis Presley's personal drum-beater took the stage to announce repeatedly:
"If you want to see Elvis Presley in the movies, write Paramount Pictures."
As far as I can learn from Paramount's local office, there is no deal cooking on Presley. With enough pressure from fans, though, there might be. Anything can happen nowadays.
Brisk Photo sale
Also during intermission and before and after the show, a crew laden with glossy photos of Presley paraded the aisles selling the pictures to eager customers. Sales for Presley pictures were almost as brisk as the popcorn concession.
And still another sign of the times: during the entire 2-hour show, fans carrying cameras tripped from their seats to the stage and back to their seats, after snapping shots of the performers. One little girl, apparently dressed in her best, spent the full show-time prancing from seat to platform and back again, ostensibly to take pictures.
Record sales for Presley are more than booming. His latest release, "Heartbreak Hotel," has sold nearly a million copies in the six weeks it has been out.
RCA-Victor, quick to realize that this was startling new phenomenon, some months back bought Presley's contract from the Sun Record co. for $40,000.
Out of all this, Elvis Presley is eaking out and existence. He got $4000 for his one day stint in Denver.

© Rocky Mountain News - April 11, 1956 courtesy Denver Public Library

Elvis signs with Paramount - April 1956
Photo © EPE. Inc, courtesy Rex Martin

From Denver, the tour would move on to dates across Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma the next couple of weeks before Elvis and the boys went to Las Vegas and on to heading their own show which acts weren't remotely considered rivals. As history has told, the reviewer's predictions from the post were a tad off.  Negotiations with Paramount had begun with an offer from Hall Wallis days before the Denver show  and would complete when Elvis signed by the end of the month.

Faron Young and Elvis at the Ryman Auditorium - Dec. 1957
Photo courtesy The Music's Over

In the 1950s, Faron starred in four easily forgettable movies: Hidden Guns, Daniel Boone–Trailblazer, Raiders of Old California, and Country Music Holiday. He appeared as himself in cameo roles and performances in later country music movies and was a frequent guest on television shows throughout his career.  Faron stayed with Capitol for ten years and then Shelby Singleton, who would later buy Sun records, signed him to Mercury Records in 1962.  His hits continued into the 1960s and 1970s, while he established himself as a Nashville businessman. By the 1980s, he had become an elder statesman of the country music industry and was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.3

Bob Dylan and "The Band" at the Coliseum Feb. 6, 1974
Photo courtesy

In the 70s, with the TCB band, Elvis would perform there two more times, on September 17, 1970 and April 30, 1973.  The Coliseum would later host other performers, including Bob Dylan.

The Coliseum Interior
Photo courtesy Curtis Sobolik and the City and County of Denver

In 1998, the Coliseum was host to WCW's Spring Stampede and home to the Colorado Wildcats of the Professional Indoor Football League.5 The Coliseum celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2002 and recently completed an interior make-over to the concourse areas plus the construction of a new box office.6

The Denver Coliseum - 2009
Photo courtesy Ron Garrison and the City and County of Denver

The Denver Coliseum - 2009
Photo courtesy Ron Garrison and the City and County of Denver

The Coliseum is still home to the National Western Stock Show and has since been host to a multitude of other events including: rodeos, motor shows, concerts, pow wows, public ice skating, dances, Disney on Ice, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, exhibits and trade shows.

Aerial view of the Coliseum and National Amphitheater - 2009
Photo © Microsoft EarthData

Aerial view of the Coliseum and National Amphitheater - 2009
Photo © Microsoft EarthData

Photos © Microsoft EarthData

Wanda Jackson continues to perform and earlier this year was inducted into to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Bill black and D.J. Fontana.

page added October 12, 2009

Special Thanks to Curtis Sobolik, Production Manager and Ron Garrison ,Guest Services Manager for Red Rocks & Denver Coliseum, City and County of Denver and to Janice Prater of the Western History / Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library for their assistance with this page.

1 excerpts from The History of the National Western Stock Show
2 excerpts from NAMM's Oral History on A.V. Bamford
3 excerpts from and according to Diane Diekman, author of  "The Faron Young Story - Live Fast Love Hard"
4 excerpts from 'Country Cookin' by Harrison Fletcher for Denver Westword News, May 14, 1998
5 according to wikipedia
6 according to Denver Coliseum website


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