The Lincoln is seen Thursday, July 30, 2020, in downtown Cheyenne. The newly renovated theater will have its grand opening Aug. 14 with a concert by Jalan Crossland. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

It’s time to enjoy some live music again, Cheyenne.

Jon and Renee Jelinek bought The Lincoln, formerly The Lincoln $aver Theater, shortly after it closed in May 2018. The couple’s vision for the space was always to create a state-of-the-art music venue that could attract not only regional, but national acts, and after the type of setbacks that come with refurbishing a nearly 100-year-old theater, their dream has finally become a reality.

On Aug. 14, The Lincoln will open with the first of two concerts by bluegrass/Americana musician Jalan Crossland.

“It’s literally been two years in the making,” Jon Jelinek said by phone while preparing for the building’s final inspection. “For the last basically 10 months, we’ve been working our fingers to the bone getting things ready to go for this, so it’s just really exciting.”

In August 2019, the pair started a crowdfunding campaign to renovate the space, and the GoFundMe page raised $60,461 – surpassing its goal by nearly $500. Much of that money was put toward tearing down the two walls put up in the 1990s when the space was converted to a movie theater with two screens (one in the balcony and one on the stage).

Other changes included updating what Jelinek called the “creepy” former bathrooms, a little asbestos abatement in the basement, and taking out all the seats from the main floor to terrace the ground and create a standing-room only section.

The goal of the project was always to maintain the historical integrity of the theater, Jelinek said, and the couple feels that they’ve done just that. But perhaps the crowning jewel of The Lincoln is its light and sound system.

In a 2019 interview, Jelinek told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that their sound engineer predicted the theater will be the best-sounding room in the greater Front Range, and in a March interview, venue manager David Soules said that was one of the aspects of the project that attracted him when deciding to leave his job at the Cheyenne Civic Center for The Lincoln.

News of the high- caliber production quality of the space has also spread to local promoters.

“High praise to David Soules – I’m really excited about the great lighting and sound system they’ve got,” said Hamilton Byrd of Blue Pig Presents. “I can’t wait to book some shows there. … (But) cool stuff only happens if people come out and support it. We’ve certainly never had anything close to this big, and I’m really hopeful Cheyenne will come out and buy tickets and help The Lincoln build a market around what the venue can provide.”

Fridays in the Asher organizer Mike Morris agrees, adding that this grand opening is a complete dream for musicians and concert organizers such as him, who have been most affected by the lack of adequate stages in town.

“I always worked with local and up-and-coming acts who are worthy of playing venues like this,” he said. “But furthermore, this is a game-changer for hosting acts that outkicked the confines of some of the DIY venues we had. It’s no knock on those venues – they are forever special and part of the lineal legacy – but this is truly a crowning gem.”

As for who would have the honor of playing the stage first, Jelinek said it was an easy decision. He and his wife decided early on that it should be their longtime friend Crossland, largely because he’s from Ten Sleep, and the couple wants to support Wyoming acts as much as possible.

Two other concerts have also been announced on The Lincoln Facebook page since the grand opening announcement post: “old-school country” artist Jason Eady on Aug. 16 and alternative/indie group Wildermess on Sept. 11.

“We’re in a constant state of booking shows,” Jelinek said. “We’re really trying to provide entertainment of all genres so there truly is something for everyone.”

But providing that entertainment during a pandemic also comes with its own challenges. His team spent quite a while painstakingly putting an opening plan in place, Jelinek said, which included taking a tape measure and several bodies to determine how far apart everything needs to be spaced. He’s confident that if the rules are followed, music fans can feel comfortable enjoying shows in the theater.

Some of the health precautions put in place include limiting all shows to 250 people for the time being, and requiring everyone who enters the building to wear a mask.

“We understand that’s an inconvenience, but we want to make sure everyone is safe,” Jelinek said. “Every entertainer we’ve booked so far has asked us what our COVID-19 plan is, but obviously the end goal is to get through COVID-19 and get to our capacity of 1,290 people. At that point, we’ll be able to book those national touring acts.”

Bill Lindstrom, executive director of Arts Cheyenne, said he’s particularly excited for that day when residents can flock to the building without any worry.

“We’re looking forward to what it will be when things can come back to some sense of normal,” he said. “When people can pack it and celebrate performances.”

Regardless, he thinks the venue is an invaluable addition to the downtown cultural scene.

“The idea of The Lincoln adding its environment to the downtown arts offerings is a stunning development. We’ve always needed a performance facility of this size, and to have it in the downtown area is a benefit because it connects to a number of other cultural activities like restaurants,” he said, adding that there’s great potential for future partnerships with Arts Cheyenne.

Former Downtown Development Authority president and longtime supporter of the project Hans Seitz raised the same point as Lindstrom, but added that he doesn’t think many people realize how much musical talent comes through Cheyenne because of the city’s location at the intersection of two major interstates. A concert venue like this is the perfect way to entice those kinds of acts to stop and play a show, rather than just pass through, he believes.

Seitz added that having a space like this is also great for another portion of the local community: young people.

“I think the reimagining of The Lincoln as a music venue is a two-for-one win for Cheyenne: it takes our music scene to another level and activates an important building in downtown,” he said. “I am also really excited for what this means to the younger people in town – especially high school-aged teens. Now, musical acts they enjoy and follow will be able to be seen live right in their community. There will be a lot of genres represented. My hope is they will be proud of their community and the growing music scene here.”

As The Lincoln prepares to formally open its doors, Jelinek is hopeful that the space can bring people together after a long period of isolation. What better way to do that, he argues, than through music?

“We’ve always had this endgame in sight, and now we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Jelinek said. “And this time, I don’t think it’s a train.”

Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at nkottmann@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.

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