Wyoming Is Kicking Off the Rocky Mountains Concert Comeback With Few Restrictions

Hamilton Byrd

As an alternative to the Denver market, AEG is now promoting shows at the 27,500-acre Terry Bison Ranch just north of the Colorado-Wyoming border where there's a more relaxed approach to the pandemic.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Taking the stage not far from trucks roaring down Interstate 25 in Cheyenne, Wyo., with the faint smell of manure in the air, Subtronics announced to a fist-pumping EDM crowd packed into a general-admission pit: "I'm going to cry! We're really back right now. Is this real?"

Despite the unusual location, at the 27,500-acre Terry Bison Ranch just north of the Colorado-Wyoming border, the windy Friday-night show drew 2,000 kids in neon and fishnets and mostly felt “normal” after nearly 14 months of COVID-19 isolation. AEG Presents' Denver office promoted the show here, in part because Gov. Mark Gordon (R), who tested positive for the virus in November, lifted the state’s mask mandate in March and eliminated restrictions on outdoor events. Colorado, by comparison, has a full page of outdoor-event rules, such as mandating six feet of distance between all attendees.

"We can be working with a different state's rules that might be a little more flexible," says Don Strasburg, co-president of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest, "and we're still within a foot of our own state."

As vaccinations increase -- Wyoming's population is 29% fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times, compared to 36% in Colorado -- concerts have been slowly coming back. About 110 miles south, in Morrison, Colo., Red Rocks Amphitheatre has put on shows at 25% capacity since April 23, while Texas and other states are doing limited-capacity indoor and outdoor shows with major names like Miranda Lambert and Thomas Rhett.

"I jumped at the chance," says Jesse "Subtronics" Kardon, who curated this past weekend's EDM events in Cheyenne. "They're doing COVID screenings at the door, temperature checks, 50% capacity, sanitizing everything constantly. The fact that I feel safe about a GA event in this day and age is surreal and exciting."

Although "Masks Strongly Encouraged" signs were posted at the entrance to the ranch, which has a full capacity of 5,000, few fans wore them, and not everyone had received vaccine shots. Michael Gay, a 23-year-old Cheyenne resident, is waiting for the distribution center where he works to set them up. "I personally feel safe," says Gay, who hopes the ranch events lead to more prominent local concerts. "It is weird to be able to go out in crowds. It's quite nice."

For all its minimal restrictions, Wyoming is not exactly a COVID refuge: The state has reported 58,623 cases and 710 deaths, compared to 523,758 and 6,489 in Colorado. "We're encouraging people to do some distancing and wear some face masks," says Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department. "I'm realistic and know that's not going to happen 100%.... If they're outside, there are no public-health orders."

The Terry Bison Ranch shows debuted last June, when local club promoter Ely Corliss brought in Robert Randolph and Yonder Mountain String Band for drive-in concerts, which evolved into a "pod" model of restricting groups of fans to their own space on the field. Friday’s EDM show, the first of two nights, was the first full-on, general-admission concert at the venue.

"We just made our changes as the world kept changing," he says, adding that he hopes AEG and other promoters continue to book Wyoming shows after the pandemic. Others in the concert business are open to the idea, but skeptical fans will venture so far from traditional touring routes.

"I don't think this'll be like playing Boston on a Tuesday or Minneapolis on a Thursday," says Lee Anderson, a Wasserman agent who represents Skrillex, Zedd and Disclosure. "But if the property is enjoyable, and it's somewhat doable to get to, we're always looking for new places."

Friday night's EDM event mostly carried on as if the pandemic had never happened, with Subtronics bouncing up and down as his beats synced to exploding plumes of fire and smoke and Calcium declaring before a bass drop: "Who's ready to get mega-punched straight in the face?" But several Friday headliners seemed moved by the novelty of an audience. Patrick Megeath, the Boulder DJ known as Dirt Monkey, held up his toddler son during his set and repeatedly praised the crowd's enthusiasm, proclaiming at the end of his set, "That was one of the best hours of my life."