Back in the 1970s, Denver was still regarded as a Rocky Mountain “cowtown,” a blip on the national music radar screen that didn’t reap the consideration of most Americans. Ebbets Field, the town’s premiere concert venue of the decade, helped change all that.
Located downtown on the ground floor of the 40-story Brooks Tower building near 15th and Curtis streets, Ebbets Field could only stuff 238 patrons into its bleacher-style seating space. Ick-orange-and-brown shag carpeting covered the floor, the walls and the ceiling. It was previously Marvelous Marvs, with even cheesier red velvet wall covered interior. You know the kind of place that had signed pictures at the front entrance of everyone who played there… and that was a very impressive list. The Righteous Bluegrass Band started out getting booked at Marvs by Chuck Morris who managed the club. Morris knew the boys from their inception, booking them back in his Boulder beginnings into the miniscule Alley ID and then Tulagi’s, a vast club he hand carried to national attention. The band played many times at Marv’s and Ebbet’s, almost as a house opener for a zillion headliners.
Ebbets became a stopping point for a long list of name entertainers who would become giants in music, including Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel and Dan Fogelberg. Every genre—rock, blues, folk, country, jazz, folk and comedy—found a home at Ebbets Field during its four-year run. Practically any evening was a concert engagement.
The room was a perfect formula for the band and they killed it in there. Not only as a band but were asked to be the backup for some performers showing up without one, like Helen Reddy, their least favorite backup band gig. Helen had several big radio hits including I Am Women, Delta Dawn and Angie Baby. Not the most lithe stage performer, the Aussie songstress did EXACTLY the same thing, same moves, same asides every show for a week. They backed Tanya Tucker who was like 15, a flavorful performer. Backing Doug Kershaw there and at festivals was a grand test in patience, you never knew anything about what was next.
But the most exciting moments was watching this one young comedian cut his teeth there, trying out the most fantastical brand of nonsense ever seen. He played banjo too so there was some great backstage jamming with the band. I think to the person in that small room they would say they never laughed harder, struggled more for life-thriving breaths than watching Steve Martin at Ebbets. He had no recordings out yet, but you watched him methodically dial in the guy who’d become one of the biggest recording and stage comedic acts in history. From arrow thru the head to taking the entire audience out of the club and pied pipering them past bars and restaurants in bouts of hilarity before hailing a taxi, yelling out the window as it drove off that he’d be right back. The crowd slowly dispersed when…yes…he never came back. Quite the closer!
One time after the RBB played their food additive rebellion song “Preservative Pie” a weird guy stood up yelling what a great f@cking song it was — eventually Alice Cooper sat down. The following two nights Alice sold out the Denver Coliseum and made sure the band were his guests one night, mentioning them in his press conference and they got invited to his birthday party after with someone popping out of a giant birthday cake according to Eric.
Music lovers on the Front Range and beyond loved the whole Ebbets Field vibe. That was it — a distinct vibe, like no other! Bands arrived in Denver and checked into the aging pre-refurbed Oxford Hotel. (Tom Waits was often seeing smoking on the front stoop, just cause it was his kind of place.) Artists came out between-show interviews in the lushly decrepit dressing room. The stage was located where the bar was, making it the lowest focal point of the room—so as the spotlights went up, all that an act saw was a jury of bodiless bobbing heads. ListenUp, the local audio/video retailer, professionally recorded hundreds of shows for either simulcast on free-form radio stations, such as KFML-FM and KBPI-FM, or re-broadcast. Oh, and the bathroom was oddly visible just to the right of the stage, so Steve Martin would sometimes play tricks on people who went in there during his show. Imagine that.
Bob Ferbrache hung out at Ebbets after school and eventually got employed as a gofer. “I sold sandwiches there—it was just ‘whatever’ to hang out and see free shows,” he explains. “The Mahavishnu Orchestra was only a five-piece band, but John McLaughlin was literally standing in a two-foot square engulfed in keyboards and drums and what have you. There was always broken glass around—and when Lynyrd Skynyrd played there, Ronnie Van Zant was in his bare feet.”
To showcase the Ebbets Field legacy, Ferbrache has released a sampler of his photography to the Colorado Music Experience. This photo gallery reflects the variety of musical styles that graced the tiny Ebbets stage.