DU Alumni

Alumnus Ha Hau is the brains behind Red Rocks’ Global Dance Festival

Ha Hau presents his 10th annual Global Dance Festival this weekend at Red Rocks. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

No less a musical authority than Rolling Stone magazine, in a recent cover story, declared electronic dance music (EDM) the next big thing, citing the growing popularity of DJ/producers like deadmau5, Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia.

None of it was news to Denver-based concert promoter Ha Hau, whose Global Dance Festival has been bringing EDM to capacity crowds at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo., for the past nine years.

Hau (BSBA ’02) has seen the event grow from a money-loser its first two years to an eagerly awaited annual dance party that expanded to two days in 2010 and to three days in 2011. The 2012 fest — the 10th annual — runs July 20–22 at Red Rocks and features such big-name performers as Steve Angello, of Swedish House Mafia, and up-and-coming Australian duo Knife Party. The Sunday lineup is devoted exclusively to the popular subgenre of EDM known as dubstep. Hau says more than 20,000 people are expected to attend over the festival’s three days.

But it was not always easy. The first Global Dance Festival happened practically by accident when Hau helped book German DJ Paul van Dyk for a festival then known as Rave on the Rocks. When the city of Denver — which owns Red Rocks — decided that city-owned venues could not host any shows with the word “rave” in the title, Rave on the Rocks was canceled. Stuck with a $50,000 contract that never got transferred, Hau and a partner decided to change the name and go on with the show.

“We had three weeks to promote the show under a new name; nobody knew what was going on, and we took a beating and lost a ton of money,” Hau says. “And Paul van Dyk had food poisoning for a week straight and he didn’t even show up. It was a horrible experience.”

Still, Hau and his partners soldiered on with Global Dance Festival the following year — and they did even worse. The third year they nabbed superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold, and the tide began to turn.

“It was finally like, ‘Wow, cool. It’s working. People are getting it,’” he says. “‘The Global Dance Festival? Oh, that was Rave on the Rocks.’ It took some time.”

“And this is back when we would do marketing via fliers,” he adds. “We didn’t have Facebook; we didn’t have MySpace. Most people heard about these events from physical fliers. That was probably 80 percent of our marketing back then. The only way you would hear about it is if you got a flier on your car, and that was it. Now I can do a posting on social media and everybody knows about the show.”

That’s not all that’s changed for Hau, a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant who came to America with his family by boat as a young boy. One of eight children, he lived much of his young life in a rough area on Denver’s Federal Boulevard. His mother bought him tennis lessons at a private club to keep him out of trouble. He was ranked No. 1 as a freshman at George Washington High School, where he went through the International Baccalaureate program before coming to DU to study business.

He got into the concert trade in college, borrowing his parents’ karaoke sound system (“they think they’re the greatest singers on the planet,” he says) to play graduation parties. That led to booking hip-hop nights at local clubs, followed by shows featuring the electronic artists he saw at other concerts. Today, in addition to Global Dance, Hau promotes electronic-music nights at Denver nightclubs like Beta and the Church and puts together bigger shows at an array of venues, including the Denver Coliseum, the Fillmore Auditorium and the Colorado Convention Center.

In October, Hau launched globaldancemusic.com, a website that offers hundreds of free songs by some of the world’s best-known electronic music makers. His office in Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood is filled with the thumping sound of dance tracks in the making, thanks to a group of DJs and friends he recently invited to share the space with him. The Global Dance Music site originally was envisioned as a way to get them exposure and the bookings that follow. He offers the songs for free; the money, he explains, is in touring.

But his biggest focus is still the Global Dance Festival, the event that took electronic music concerts to new heights.

“These events started at warehouses and underground venues, then they went to arenas and stuff. That’s typical,” says Hau, 34. “But when you go outside to Red Rocks, that’s a whole new experience. You’re outside in nature under the sky and the stars, you’ve got a beautiful view of the city, and the sound system is incredible. All the biggest DJs in the world, their dream is to play Red Rocks. For me, as a promoter, to sell out Red Rocks is a huge achievement.”

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