NOCO Treasure: Rialto Theater Charms Loveland

Leo Kottke; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Tim Van Schmidt

 

The Rialto Theater in Loveland is a NOCO treasure.

Why’s that? It’s a theater that takes you away from the rest of the world with an old-time charm. 

That’s what a theater is supposed to do — take you away from the bustle of the rest of the world — but it’s that charm that makes the Rialto special.

The theater is old. It opened in 1920 — with more than twice as many seats as today — and served as a movie house bridging the transition from silent films to talkies. In the late 1970s, the Rialto closed as a theater and was converted into a shopping mall, then eventually shuttered.

That is until interest in the building prompted a renovation effort that was supported by an army of volunteers who helped uncover and restore long-hidden features of the theater.

The Rialto reopened as a gem of an entertainment center for Loveland, featuring concerts, performances of all types as well as movies.

A friend of mine says he remembers going to see Elvis Presley’s movie “Jailhouse Rock” at the original Rialto — that would have to be in 1957.

I remember the Rialto mostly as a comfortable and intimate concert venue. And I’ve seen some good stuff there.

Most recently I made the trip to the Rialto to see Jim Messina, of Poco and Loggins and Messina fame. He and his full band totally rocked the Rialto with “Angry Eyes.”

Jim Messina; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

I saw poet Billy Collins — he was New York State Poet Laureate at the time, fresh off his gig as US Laureate — enthrall a packed Rialto with his finely crafted language and warm humor.

I’ve seen some great guitarists at the Rialto, including Ottmar Liebert and Leo Kottke. A special treat was spending an evening with singer-songwriter Claudia Schmidt, whose upbeat energy underscores an amazing voice.

Denny Laine and Tim Van Schmidt at the Rialto Theater; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

The Rialto has attracted a lot of classic rock acts over the years, including Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Michael Brewer of Brewer and Shipley, Woodstock alumni Richie Havens and Denny Laine, Paul McCartney’s bandmate in Wings.

I’ve seen Leon Russell many times but he seemed to really enjoy this little theater in Loveland and took the time to tell some stories along with delivering that great boogie-woogie piano work of his.

Best of all at the Rialto for me, though, was getting to see Eric Burdon, the vocalist for The Animals. When he was a young man, Burdon sounded like an older, more wizened person, churning out hits such as the defiant “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

Eric Burdon; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

At the Rialto, Burdon, literally an “older, more wizened person,” still sounded gruff, gritty and tough, delivering a dynamic performance.

But more, I have actually performed on the Rialto stage — twice. 

My poetry and sound art group, TVS and two fingers, shared the Rialto stage with unique guitarist and master independent artist Steven Wiseman.

Another interesting evening on stage at the Rialto was opening a show for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen, trading songs in a round-robin set with Pamela Robinson and Russ Hopkins.

Before the set, we met with McEuen in the dressing room and did a little rehearsal, then joined him on the stage for the end of the show. I got to play bodhran to “Mr. Bonjangles.” That was pretty exciting.

I can’t help but love this theater. Upcoming dates include Berthoud Dance: We Are Grateful on June 19-20, MacKinnon Royal Dance Institute: RISE on June 26, and North America Bodybuilding Federation: Loveland Naturals on July 24.

The Rialto also sponsors the Loveland Summer Concert Series at the Foote Lagoon, July 29-August 19. I’ll be excited to see what’s on the Rialto’s post-pandemic schedule for the fall. Already on the books: Dan Cummins: Symphony of Insanity Tour on November 21. Check their site at rialtotheatercenter.org.


Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Check out his channel on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

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