Last month, during a trip to Denver, I went to see my first concert at Red Rocks, an open air venue 10 miles outside the city famed for the towering rock structure that surrounds the amphitheater. We were there because my husband wanted to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, an Australian psychedelic rock group; I was not expecting to see any art.
Then, in between the day-time show and the evening set, I spotted a colorful canvas propped up on an easel set up next to a small tree at stage left. Intrigued—and with approximately five hours before King Gizzard’s next set—I went over to to take a look.
The colorful painting had captured the afternoon performance in loose, fluid brushstrokes, and was signed by the members of the band. There was a second, blank canvas off to the side, a couple palettes thick with globs of acrylic paint, and chatting with other concert goers a few feet away, a man covered with telltale brushstrokes on his trousers.
This, I soon learned, was Keith “Scramble” Campbell, a local resident who has been Red Rocks’ self-proclaimed artist-in-residence since 2000, live painting as many as 40 shows a year.
“I buy a ticket just like you, and the staff let me bring in my paints and stuff,” Campbell told Artnet News.
Security also will inform the musical acts that they are being immortalized on canvas, and many of them are excited to meet the artist and see his work. That’s how he had met the King Gizzard musicians the year before, and gotten to know the band—hence the signatures.
“I like to show them what they just inspired,” Campbell added. “They just got off the stage and they’re like, ‘Oh wow, it’s a dance on canvas.’”
Sometimes the band will even buy the original painting, which Campbell typically sells for $3,000 to $8,000.
The artist got his start studying computer graphics at Tampa Technical Institute for Commercial Art in the 1980s—learning what he described as “more vocational design stuff.”
He was inspired to start painting live music by Leroy Neiman, who made a name for himself—and a living—capturing sporting events. “Instead of being in the art world, I’m in the music world,” Campbell said. “I used to go all over the place.”
Now, he mainly sticks to Red Rocks, painting rain or shine. Last month, for instance, Campbell endured an intense downpour during a Billy Strings concert, producing an evocative canvas despite the hostile elements, with paint literally dripping across the bottom.
“The whole [area] was full of water up to my ankles,” he recalled. “But I learned a long time ago, you don’t battle with Mother Nature—you have to collaborate.”
When planning his concert attendance, Campbell tends to gravitate toward the more “old school acts.” Among the highlights of his 23 years on job have been painting “B.B. King, Fats Domino, Herbie Hancock—all the old jazz players,” he said. “I have been doing this music stuff for 30 years, so I’ve done a thousand different acts.”
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