There's no place like the domeApr 26, 2023 01:07PM ● By Rhonda Wray
Seniors reminiscing with the pop tunes of their teen years. Conga lines 200 people long. Various cultures together, grooving to live music. It all happens at Stargazers Theatre.
It was written in the stars that John and Cindy Hooton would operate a local music venue, with John’s knowledge and love of music and Cindy’s warm hospitality. They enjoyed concerts in Southern California, Arizona and Texas, prior to moving to the Springs in 1988, where “the music scene was almost nonexistent,” said John, 69.
They hoped to expand their new hometown’s music culture.
A DISTINCTIVE BUILDING
John first went to the dome-shaped building at 10 S. Parkside Drive for his son’s school play. Though it was run down and owned by the Colorado Opry at the time, he was intrigued.
Architect Vincent G. Raney designed the futurist rounded movie theater with the then-state-of-the-art curved screen in 1969, along with a dozen or so others. The rest of these theaters have been razed except one in Hollywood.
One day a “For Sale” sign caught their son Evan’s eye.
“He said, ‘Dad, your building is for sale,’” John remembered.
He and Cindy went there “just to look.” Eventually they purchased the Jetsons-meets-planetarium-looking building that had been part of Colorado Springs’ landscape for decades.
“I looked up at the stars on the ceiling and said, ‘We’re going to call it Stargazers,’” Cindy, 63, recalled, envisioning a future when audiences would also gaze at the stars performing on the stage.
STARGAZER’S CONCERTS ARE BETTER
After a costly and longer-than-planned renovation, Stargazers opened for business in February 2009. Since then, it’s hosted more than 2,160 events—concerts as well as fundraisers for causes from Wounded Warriors to Toys for Tots. That’s over 150 events per year for the 550-seat venue.
“There are music fans and then there are Stargazers fans. They support what we do,” John said.
The Hootons believe concerts shouldn’t be saved just for special occasions, which is why they keep ticket prices low with no fees for parking. Additionally, by staying in the Springs instead of driving to Denver for concerts, concertgoers save gas, time and money.
“We’re trying to enjoy the rest of our lives,” John said, of himself and other seniors.
Owing to the venue’s start as a cinema, every seat is a good seat, and you won’t have a tricky near-vertical climb to get to it.
Once there, you can enjoy a convenient and tasty pre-show dinner, with BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, chicken teriyaki rice bowls, nachos, Cindy’s homemade white chicken chili (seasonally) and monster cupcakes on the menu. The bar offers a lineup of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Stargazers’ concerts start earlier—often by 7 p.m.—and end in good time.
“You can be home and in your jammies by 11,” Cindy enthused.
LOCAL AND LIVE
Audiences love a nostalgic look back at popular music of their youth where, as Cindy said, “everyone knows the words.”
The Hootons frequently book tribute bands of the ’70s. They approached their first, a Led Zeppelin tribute, with some trepidation.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Cindy admitted. “But we weren’t even halfway through that show before the audience was dancing and singing, and strangers were talking to each other.”
Tribute band The Long Run plays hits by The Eagles.
“They’ve done a lot of work to become that sound, and it’s admirable,” John observed. “These guys have worked it!”
Not only are audience members quite often over 50, but several performers are too. Paul Kantner from Jefferson Starship enjoyed a five-decade career and was still rocking in his 70s when he performed at Stargazers.
With age, it’s “easier for musicians to form a community,” John reflected. “They are collaborative. They have an attitude of, ‘Let’s jam and have fun!’”
Woven among the local talent are recognizable names.
“In Stargazers’ early days we hosted Richie Havens, the guy that kicked off Woodstock,” John said of the 1969 rock festival’s opening act. “He played an acoustic set, then stayed until 1:30 a.m. signing autographs and taking photos. He was one of the kindest people.”
Other big names to grace Stargazers’ stage include Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Janis Ian, Karla Bonoff and John Leon Russell.
Stargazers’ concerts feature country, blues, rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass, Americana and mixed genres. John hears “pretty much” every concert, though he’s likely to be tending bar as he listens.
“I’m there 100 percent of the time, and Cindy is there about 95 percent of the time,” he said.
Stargazers comes equipped with two green rooms, where performers prep for their shows and enjoy Cindy’s delicious home-cooked dinners.
“We make sure they are welcomed, well-fed, well-paid and are able to achieve good sound,” John said. “Then they give their best to our audiences.”
Without great sound, a venue is nothing. The round room presents some challenges, but when the sound engineers get it right and “conquer the dome,” it’s glorious.
EARLY MUSICAL INFLUENCES
Young John connected with relatives through music, from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra. Winning tickets on the radio led to his first concert at 16, with his mom in tow.
“It was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass,” the Canada native recalled, “at a bar called New Penelope in Montreal,” which featured important names in 1960s rock, blues, folk and jazz.
“It was really loud,” John remembered. “To my great surprise, Mom’s smiling the whole time!”
California girl Cindy’s first concert featured Rod Stewart at Anaheim stadium.
“It was in 1976, maybe? My girlfriend and I ditched school to go,” said Cindy.
John marveled at how the “one person, one guitar” singer-songwriters of the mid-’60s to early ’70s rocked the world—and was inspired to join their ranks. He regularly participates in Stargazers’ songwriter showcases. Whether playing, singing, songwriting or hosting a concert, it’s all about the music.
Upcoming ConcertsSaturday, May 6
Rush Archives - A tribute to Rush
Wednesday, May 10
Duplessly & The Violins of the World
Friday, May 12
Starburn - ’60s and ’70s rock
Saturday, May 13
Joseph Hall, Rock ’n’ Remember Elvis
Friday, May 19
The Long Run - A tribute to The Eagles
Saturday, May 20
Last Men on Earth -Classic Rock Dance Party
Thursday, May 25
The Elders - Celtic Rock
Saturday, June 3
Still the Same - A tribute to Bob Seger
Tickets at StargazersTheatre.com