For the past 20 years, the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College has been bringing eclectic lineups to Durango – everything from the annual Nutcracker shows at Christmas to offering local dance studios an epic place to showcase their annual recitals.
The Concert Hall has been headed by director Charles Leslie for the past nine years. Leslie, who before moving to Durango was associate director of the University of Texas Performing Arts Center in Austin, talked to us about how far shows are booked in advance, what have been his favorite shows at the Concert Hall and what we may not know about the big building on the hill.
Q: What are some of the challenges of running the Concert Hall?
A: We’re in a small market. Being in a smaller town means that you just don’t have the population base to draw on when you’re trying to sell tickets to a show – that’s probably the biggest challenge. Another challenge is because we’re not in between major markets, we don’t really have a lot of choices when it comes to artists. The artists aren’t on the way between, say, Salt Lake City and Denver, or Albuquerque and Colorado Springs, or something like that. So, it’s harder to get artists to come to Durango because we’re not on the way to anything. One of the great things is we do have an airport, and that helps a lot, actually. … That’s why we got Garrison Keillor and David Sedaris, for one thing, and have been able to get other artists through the years.
Q: How far out do you schedule performers?
A: As much as a year to two years. Typically, it’s no less than a year. And the minute I say that, I’ll give you an exception to that rule: if something comes along that is an opportunity for an artist to come that we’ve been trying to get for a long time – Dweezil Zappa was a great example. We had him in August, and I think we confirmed that in April. It was a pretty quick turnaround, but I happened to have an open date that worked and there weren’t conflict locally … But typically, it’s a year to two years out.
Q: You’ve been here a while: Do you have a favorite performance?
A: You know, it’s usually the last one I saw. (Laughs) Garrison Keillor the other night was really magical, and it was just amazing to hear him and have him here. We just had Black Violin back at the end of September, and that was an amazing night because I think every person who had any interest in string playing was here. … It truly is the last couple that I’ve seen.
Q: Why is the Concert Hall important?
A: One of the things is the Concert Hall brings to Fort Lewis College an ability to bring cultures in from all around the world that wouldn’t necessarily be here otherwise. … The other thing is that the Concert Hall – not a lot of colleges in towns of the size we live in have an organization like this. Whoever 20 years ago, 25 years ago when this organization and this building were being conceived, I think there was a lot of foresight to really think about what can a cultural institution like the Concert Hall bring to this region. In the Four Corners, we’re really kind of it in terms of a venue like this and a cultural organization like this. And so what’s really exciting to me about why it’s important is that we have an organization that is nurtured by the college and the community and it appears that there’s a demand for the cultural things we’re bringing in to the region.
Q: Is there something we don’t know about the Concert Hall?
A: Between September and May, we do around 150 events a year. Not only are we bringing in artists from around the world, we also are providing a performance venue for Fort Lewis College Music Department, for the local symphonies – San Juan Symphony, Choral Society, dance studios like Ballet Durango, Dance in the Rockies and Durango Dance and Bella Dance. We’ve been doing that for 20 years. And we’ve provided what I consider a highly professional experience for local artists and local performance groups. ... I think that’s the cool thing about what we do is that – yes, we are very national and international, but there’s also a really strong community element to what we do.