Mishawaka – 100 Years of Music Evolution

By Rebecca LaPole

In Colorado, we are typically blessed by gorgeous weather and even on a day that’s less than ideal, for outdoorsy people like us, a little rain, wind, or even snow doesn’t stop us from enjoying live music outside.

Dani Grant, owner of the Mishawaka Amphitheatre, and also Chipper’s Lanes and Spokesbuzz, understands the pressures of operating out in the elements, and has weathered the fires and floods that almost took the beloved Mish out of commission.

Now, celebrating 100 years of existence, Grant is putting on special events and deals each month and continuing the tradition of the music.

When Walter S. Thompson purchased the land that the Mish was built upon in 1916, could he have imagined the likes of Joan Baez, Jimmy Cliff, and Leon Russel gracing the stage backed by the raging Poudre River? Grant explained some of the history from the beginning of the Mish, “The road ended here, and the convicts would camp up here and by hand build the road to go up past here. [Thompson] named it after his favorite town in Indiana, and it’s a princesses name – it actually means ‘little princess.’” Thompson operated his “resort” as a community meeting place and dance hall with a house band that included a settler by the name of Lindenmeier, who now has a lake and neighborhood named after him in southeastern Fort Collins.
What inspired Grant to purchase the Mish was Spokesbuzz, her incubator and support system for up-and-coming artists. The Mish seemed like a perfect place for those talented acts to start with opening gigs. Unfortunately, “There are only a select few nationals that allow locals to open. Also, the Mish was becoming tired and dilapidated, and that had to stop. This needed to be part of the community, and host youth events. It couldn’t just be a marijuana festival, those are great, but the symphony has to play, there needs to be choir fundraisers, electronica, it can’t just be catering to a small minority of party people. Thompson from the beginning was creating a music community. If we didn’t do it right, it was gonna go.”

The Mish now is absolutely a destination venue for acts and attendees, and Grant’s vision for a more broadened, diverse genre landscape has proven to be positive over the past six years in spite of the fact that the season of 2012 was mostly lost. “If I didn’t have my husband, a financial guru, we wouldn’t have made it work. We struggled to get here. The following season after the High Park Fire was tough. It takes people a full year to overcome their fear and come back here. But the fire cleansed the reputation of this place, and we were working hard; we established a good relationship with the fire department, Larimer County officials, and the community residents started to believe we would uphold our part of the bargain to make it better. When people saw how close it was to this place being history, literally, that’s when everyone came together. They thought, ‘We can’t lose this place that we all love,’ and there would be no way the government organizations would allow it to be rebuilt again.”

After the fire, Grant remembers one of her favorite things, “We did Grateful Fest for the firefighters and The Motet and Head for the Hills played, and we had 20 firefighters on stage and 1000 people clapping and thanking them for saving the Mish. When they stood on the stage and all those people were audibly cheering for them, it meant even more than just seeing the signs people had made for them that were hanging in the canyon. Another favorite thing of mine,” Grant continued, “is hearing the rams butt heads; it echoes around the canyon. They are so cute, mating, chasing each other; my kids love coming up here and seeing the wildlife.”

I’ve been at countless Mishawaka shows, from Booty on the River (a Scene Magazine presented local hip-hop show), to Ziggy Marley, to Atmosphere, to Robert Randolph and the Family Band. There has never been a disappointment in my 14 years of attending shows there. I feel grateful that I’ve seen some bigger names at the less than 1000-person venue and been able to be within five feet of some of my favorite artists. This year will be no different, with Grant dropping some big names for upcoming shows including Jonny Lang, Band of Horses, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Xavier Rudd, and a few more that are a secret.
David Weingarden of Z2Entertainment and a current booking agent at the Mish talked about the bigger names at this smaller venue and some of the booking challenges he faces; “Colorado, and in particular the Front Range, is one of the busiest live music regions in the country, including high profile venues and festivals like Red Rocks, the new Vertex Festival and Telluride Bluegrass. While these venues and festivals are larger than the Mishawaka they pull an incredible amount of artists out the market for most of the summer. Technically, I would say that if a band has a very large footprint they may not have the room they require. If they are unable to scale back it may be technically difficult to perform there.”

That definitely hasn’t stopped big groups like MarchFourth Marching Band and George Clinton/Parliament-Funkadelic from playing there. Weingarden added, “It’s a very festive atmosphere at the Mishawaka and the options are endless. Anything that keeps people dancing normally does the trick!” There have also been acts that sell out much bigger venues like Red Rocks who still love to come to the Mish, because let’s face it, who doesn’t? The Mish has also seen some names that started out there when they were small and have grown into huge acts. Grant said, “When String Cheese [Incident] played here, they were like Head for the Hills.”

Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) has consistently added the Mish to their tour lineup. Rob Barraco, vocalist and keyboardist for DSO said, “We’re really hoping that the weather cooperates, and there are no wild fires. A couple years ago our show got canceled due to wild fire. I love playing and hearing the river behind us, it’s a unique experience. The river itself is melodious, and lends itself to the music. Who doesn’t like playing under the stars next to the river in that unique venue?”

Barraco recalled an awesome story from his history playing gigs at the Mish; “The first time I was there the river was running really high and there was a rope that lead from the back of the stage to the island. Everyone said it was too dangerous to try and being the strong headed idiot that I am, I decided to try it anyway and got swept into the river! The trajectory in which I landed got me right on the shore on the other side of the stage, and it wasn’t the warmest day either. So I had to do sound check soaking wet.”
The island has it’s own history, and I was lucky enough to spend a night or two camping there before it was closed to the public. It’s located in the Poudre River right behind the Mishawaka stage. There used to be a rope from the bottom of the hill that you could hold onto as you crossed the river to get to the island. It was a fun place to go and always felt pretty exclusive. I also remember rafting down the river with a group, our boat turning sideways and tossing half of us into the river right by the island. The scramble to get back into the boat was terrifying and after we successfully saved each other, we took a break on the shore, probably right where Barraco landed after his adventure. That river is no joke. But I had to ask Grant if the island will ever be open for camping again. She informed me that it is restricted to 25 people for private events only. She said, “Artists use it often, friends and family, and staff. It’s only available to folks in those categories that ask permission.”

Grant and her staff have worked hard to make the Mish sustainable and explained the parking and shuttle situation, “We have diverted hundreds of thousands of miles driven here with the shuttles. There is shuttle standby (for last minute rides) at the Transit Center, it costs a little more, there are no guarantees, and you have to plan for it. If you have a ticket, our Facebook page is used a lot for carpools for those with parking spots. We really encourage people to use the shuttle, but people can park up or down the road from us and walk. The Columbine Lodge, they have a cottage industry built around this place, and they provide a shuttle as well. Everybody gets home from the Mish, no matter how you got up here, the shuttle can always take you home, at least to Downtown Fort Collins. Uber even comes up here, and will pick you up if you arrange with your driver ahead of time.”

New developments and special events for the 100 year anniversary will be happening each month. In July there will be a CSU Lagoon concert and fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity with Euforquestra, the opening night with Head for the Hills will also feature the release of the Mish Ale from Odell, there have already been overnights and movies and there will be much more to come during the season. Grant constantly looks to improve the Mish; “Every year we do new things, not just repairing stuff, and this year, we’re adding a bunch of lights to light up the canyon.”

Everything Grant has done has made an impression on the artists that bring their act up the Poudre Canyon. “I love the management at the Mish, they treat and feed us really well. There’s not much for eating options up there, and they’re always really kind and accommodating; the vegetarians in the band get taken care of too. The drive up there is beautiful and we always have a really great crowd,” Barraco said. He also “guaranteed that we’ll play a really rocking show.”

The canyon is full of stuff to do right around the Mishawaka including camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and rafting. When the thirst and hunger inevitably hits, the Mish serves Odell beer on tap and has full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus full of delicious fare including waffles, burgers, sandwiches, steak, and much more. Right now through September they have a special offer of a hearty dinner including a steak, an appetizer and a draft beer all for $18, since the original property homestead application fee was a mere $18.

Bringing the community back to the Mish was Grant’s calling and with so many different options for live music, delicious food and all ages events, she has responded loud and clear with brilliance. Long live the Mish!

Announced Shows:

  • Head for the Hills “Pickin on the Poudre” w/Special Guests – opening night, May 14 @6 PM
  • Slow Magic with Special Guests – May 20 @6 PM
  • Bonerama with Special Guests – May 28 @6 PM
  • MATOMA with Special Guests – June 3 @6 PM
  • The California Honeydrops with Mama Lenny and the Remedy – June 4 @6 PM
  • Trevor Hall with Special Guests – June 11 @6 PM
  • Dead Floyd with Special Guests – June 17 @6 PM
  • The GROWLERS with Special Guests – June 25 @6 PM
  • An Evening with Dark Star Orchestra – June 30 @5:30 PM
  • Xavier Rudd with Special Guests – July 3 @6 PM
  • Euforquestra AT THE CSU LAGOON SERIES – July 6 @6 PM
  • Wookiefoot with Analog Son and Punch Drunk Munky Funk – July 9 @6 PM
  • Rusted Root & Toad the Wet Sprocket – July 15 @6 PM
  • Protoje with Raging Fyah and Special Guests – July 22 @6 PM
  • Jonny Lang with Special Guests – July 23 @6 PM
  • Face with Special Guests – July 24 @4 PM
    Ryan Bingham with the Americans – July 31 @5 PM
  • Band of Horses with Special Guests – August 11 @6 PM
  • RAMP & Lineage Music – August 21 @12 PM
  • Keller Williams with Trout Steak Revivial – Grass It and Funk It (2 Nights) – September 9 @6 PM
  • Keller Williams with Andy Frasco and the U.N. – Grass It and Funk It (2 Nights) – September 10 @6 PM
  • Sound Remedy with Special Guests – September 17 @6 PM
  • MarchFourth! – September 24 @6 PM