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Places You Need to Visit: Mishawaka Amphitheatre 19 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Travel.
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Something cool is always happening at the Mish. Not because “something” is necessarily cool, but because the Mish is so awesome it just kinda rubs off. It’s the rare venue that improves any show, but this is it. Tucked away a dozen miles up the Poudre (that’s “pooder,” remember) River Canyon outside Fort Collins, the Mishawaka Amphitheatre offers an appropriate bookend to the state’s other outdoor amphitheater, Red Rocks. Where the latter is a professionally-managed venue staging shows with big-time production values and $9 beers, the former is kind of a backwoods dump, a knotty pine stage backing up to a bar that seems a flood away from entombment under the Poudre. That’s been good enough for Bela Fleck, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie, though.

And it’s good enough for me, you and anyone who enjoys music.

It’s the sort of place you’d imagine as the result of a Joni Mitchell song. And it may have been. Back in 1991, preservationist and music enthusiast Robin Jones bought the site  to save it from becoming a parking lot. Why anyone would need a parking lot on that particular bend in the Poudre, I’m not sure, but that’s the story. In his 20 years of ownership, Robin brought in star performers, turning the Mish into the backwoods hangout it is today. As for the physicals space, I doubt much has changed in those two decades. Maybe the beer on tap.

If that were the end of the Mish’s story, it’d be okay, but it’s slightly more fantastic than that—in just the way you’d expect. Robin no longer owns the place, mostly because his enthusiasm for music accompanied an enthusiasm for the drug trade. A burglarly led the Larimer County Sheriff’s office to a cabin on the property last fall, and in apprehending the suspect, the deputies also discovered 280 pounds of pot Jones had been cultivating there. No one was really that surprised. The feds followed, filing a civil suit against Jones seeking the forfeiture of the $22,000 he’d made selling the drug. When asked why Jones’s amphitheater hadn’t also been included in the suit, a spokesman from the US Attorney’s office said simply: there wasn’t enough equity in the property. I guess the Feds don’t like bluegrass.

Dani Grant, owner of the local Chipper’s bowling alleys, bought the property from Jones later that year, vowing to revitalize the place, if indeed it needs revitalization. I’m not sure it does. But at any rate, you can’t fault the owner of a couple bowling alleys for wanting to do something nice.

So that’s where we stand today, with the Mish humming along in spite of its history and repeated attempts at self-destruction. We visited for Trampled by Turtles, but found a treat in Muskeeter Gripweed whose lead singer Jason Downing could probably make a pretty penny with his harmonica playing alone. Folks were hula-hooping in the Poudre. We had a good time.

You will too.

Other things you need to know:

Don’t pay for the shuttle. Drive up the canyon, get a campground early, then park for free and walk to the theater.

Beer is cheap. This is essentially a dive bar with an expensive cover.

If the show’s sold out, you might still be able to get in by buying a roll of orange carnival tickets and presenting them at the gate. It’s what they’re handing out at will call anyone—not a fancy operation.


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