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Reflections on the Waldo Canyon Fire, part 1

2012 December 13
by Nathan Newbrough

As 2012 draws to a close, we wanted to remember our community’s year. This is the first part of a look back at the Waldo Canyon Fire, a singular tragedy and an unforgettable moment in the life of our region. Through sheer bravery and simple acts of kindness, we saw a community rising together. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic was privileged to play a part in the relief effort.

Years from now, when you’re talking to your children, you’re going to talk about the Waldo Canyon Fire. When you talk to them about that history, you’re going to talk about the hurt and the loss. But more importantly, you’re going to talk to them about the love and the commitment and about a community who rose up and stood together, and didn’t let anything tear them apart.“ —Jerri Marr, Forest Supervisor, Pike and San Isabel National Forests

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic exists to serve our community through great music. Brilliant concerts are a big part of that, but the story continues beyond the walls of the Pikes Peak Center. We’ve been proud to present summer concerts for many Independence Day celebrations throughout the region. This past summer, we presented our first Summer Symphony in years. And who knows what might be down the road for 2013 …

That’s all “normal.” But the summer of 2012 took us by surprise.


A Community RisesWhen the wildfire struck in June, we watched with everyone else, wishing we could do something to help. Our community has known adversity before, but the Waldo Canyon Fire was unlike anything else. We saw entire neighborhoods displaced, families in harm’s way, and shelters overflowing. Life stopped. But we also saw acts of bravery, generosity, and kindness that brought us together. The fire destroyed much, but for many it also restored faith in what community truly means.

Before it all, the Philharmonic team was deep in preparations for the big Independence Day celebration at the Air Force Academy. Then the Academy cancelled their plans due to threat of fire. But performing on the Fourth of July had been a Philharmonic tradition for decades. We called our leadership team together and asked, “what part can we play?”

On June 27, one day after the worst night of the fire, the Philharmonic had helped initiate a unique four-way partnership with the Colorado Springs World Arena, Focus on the Family, and the Colorado Springs Independent. Those first meetings were exciting. Self-interests and agendas were put aside, and each partner was utterly centered on the goal of presenting a large-scale, free performance to raise money for wildfire relief.

The logistics of such a thing were substantial. Even for “normal” events, when a venue as large as World Arena is used, the complexity is huge. For A Community Rises, the groups only had 7 days to plan, market, distribute, and perform the concert. There were more than 100 performers in 5 different musical groups, over twenty media promotion and distribution partners, and 8,000 seats to fill.

The free concert, A Community Rises, featured the Philharmonic, along with well-known soloists and national acts, including Isaac Slade from The Fray, The Flying W Wranglers, Michael Martin Murphey, and Flash Cadillac. All 8,000 of the free tickets were distributed to an eager public less than 24 hours after the event was announced.

It became much more than a performance—it would be a full-fledged telethon, thanks to broadcast partners led by the team at Rocky Mountain PBS. In the end, A Community Rises was seen by more than 150,000 people throughout the region on nearly every local commercial television and radio station, as well as some others around the country.

As the lights went down and the concert began, the atmosphere in World Arena became a visceral release from the tensions of the previous week. Captive emotions were finally unleashed and the feeling was unforgettable.

For any who doubt the power of great performances, we challenge you with this: A Community Rises was so much more than a fundraiser. So much more than distracting entertainment. It gave our community—all of us—a singular moment to gather and heal together. Our divisions melted away in those moments and we were a family, supporting one another to cope with a crisis none could have imagined.

The Philharmonic exists to serve through music. We believe in the power of the arts to bring a community together, to put aside differences and view one another with positivity and generosity. A Community Rises did not quench the fire, but it did provide relief.

Tomorrow, in part 2, we’ll count up the dollars raised by A Community Rises, and share stories of those helped by the Wildfire Relief Fund.

4 Responses Post a comment
  1. Carol Dunn permalink
    December 13, 2012

    I was at that concert and it was an awe inspiring event. The work that went into putting it on in such a short time was nothing short of amazing. There was an overwhelming sense of community in the World Arena that night, probably more so than for any other event held there. A community really did come together. The “western spirit” was evidenced by all who attended.

  2. Jan Hausman permalink
    December 13, 2012

    I can’t say it any better than the previous comments by Carol Dunn. My husband & I, several grand children and children attended-we were so moved by the “community” spirit, the hope, the care shown by our city and community. Proud to be a member of this wonderful city. Such a great job by everyone involved.

  3. Janet Conover permalink
    December 13, 2012

    Nathan, you put into words what the entire community felt. Colorado Springs really is a wonderful place to live.

  4. Ann Thomas permalink
    December 14, 2012

    Nathan and the entire Philharmonic orchestra,
    Your leadership in helping to alleviate the heartache after the devestating fire was a heartwarming and admirable gift to the city and residents who siffered losses.
    Thank you .

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