The WYO Theater hosts performances created by Sheridan, national and regional talent. From the time the theater, at that time called the Lotus, opened in 1923, it has been community groups with a passion for the performing arts that have kept the venue afloat. Back then, there was no cable television or other forms of cheap entertainment to compete for an audience.
However, by 1982, the WYO closed and its marquee was removed until a grassroots movement dubbed “Save the WYO” facilitated the reopening of the venue. As recently as the past year, WYO administrators announced the theater would undergo a renovation thanks to a grant from the Wyoming Business Council and continued financial support from community donors.
The ongoing construction project will add more space to the lobby area, include more backstage workspace and incorporate a “black box” theater that can double as a venue to host community gatherings. The new facility will be used by the growing theater program at Sheridan College and likely serve as one of the critical pillars of the creative arts economy of northeast Wyoming.
“This is an exciting time for the WYO,” said outgoing Executive Director Nick Johnson, who has overseen nine years of WYO productions. “These renovations are going to bring more people through the doors.”
Johnson said the vision is to have the WYO continue to offer a plethora of diverse shows to suit the eclectic tastes of Sheridan, but now, more than ever, the venue will moonlight as a classroom, gathering place and creative outlet.
“The WYO is all about getting people on stage who have never tried theater before,” Johnson said, emphasizing that the same community support that brought the WYO back from being an obsolete empty building is still the lifeblood that helps the WYO keep Main Street booming with life. While the WYO Theater is the historical authority for performing arts in Sheridan, a new venue steals the show during the summer months in terms of crowd-hosting capacity.
The Trails End Concert Park is an outdoor amphitheater still in its infancy, and yet has already hosted some of the biggest shows in Sheridan’s recent history. Over the course of a few years, Bob Green, co-owner and manager, has transformed North Main Street into a crossroads for national talent.
The concert park was officially opened in the summer of 2011 with what Green characterized as midlevel talent. Since then, he’s used previous shows as reference points to bring in bigger acts. Last year, Sheridan played host to the likes of Joan Jett, Alan Jackson and Montgomery Gentry. This summer, the venue is headlining Lady Antebellum, Brantley Gilbert and Big & Rich during a three-day festival called Big Horn Country USA.
“This is more than just the concert. It’s the festival, too,” Green said, indicating this year’s show lineup is three multi-day events, as opposed to last year’s eight individual concerts. Big Horn Country USA is orchestrated by the nation’s leading festival builder, Larry Barr, and will be followed later in the summer by two other mega events: one for rockers and another for the country crowd.
Green said after propping up the arena to host talent that comes with multiple semi trucks and tour busses in tow, Sheridan quickly became a natural stop for touring summertime artists. “Logistics-wise, it’s perfect,” Green said.
“We’ve created a perfect routing opportunity for this area, and that was all really done by mistake. There’s nothing — and I mean nothing — of an outdoor amphitheater between Minneapolis and the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington and the Red Rocks in Denver.” Green said last year, his lesson learned was that available lodging was a limitation to drawing in a maximum crowd of up to 8,000 people.
He said this year, the problem will be addressed via establishing a campground in the Wrench Ranch Subdivision. He said adding extra temporary living space will be key to selling out the stadium, as more than 65 percent of tickets sold are to out-of-town customers.
With the influx of visitors, Sheridan’s restaurants, hotels and service industry businesses kick into overdrive. While Sheridan has long been a touristy town with an economic boom in the summertime, the Trails End Concert Park adds an extra kick each concert weekend.
With the Trails End Concert Park still very new to the touring circuit, the venue has gone from zero to light speed in less than five years. Green said this is just the beginning.
“Next year will be even better,” he said.