Brian F. Johnson
Over the last several years when the house lights have dimmed at area venues, a small headlamp has come on: affixed to the hat of Keith “Scramble” Campbell. As the notes fly from the P.A., paint and brush strokes fly across his canvases and the result is some of the most unique portraits of live music ever created.
With the eye of a live photographer and the creative freedom that only a painter can capture, Campbell has churned out hundreds of paintings a year in a style that gives nods to his artistic heroes, Salvador Dali and Keith Herring, but simultaneously remains entirely Scramble.
His artwork hangs in the homes of some of the artists he’s painted (most notably Bob Weir and the members of String Cheese Incident). His art has gained enough attention that the green room at Boulder’s Fox Theatre is completely dedicated to his work and this summer will mark Campbell’s fourth art opening and show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre’s Visitor Center.
Originally from Florida, the ‘plein air’ style painter relocated permanently to Colorado in 2004 and has since made Red Rocks and the other famed theaters of the area his studio.
Marquee: What was the first concert you ever painted?
Scramble: Refried Confusion, an Orlando jam band at the Chicken Ranch in Orlando, Fla.
Marquee: What was the first album you ever purchased?
Campbell: K.I.S.S. Alive in 1975. I was 13 at the time [he’s now 42]. I had all of the blacklight posters and stuff and I actually did a bunch of charcoal drawing of all of the K.I.S.S. members when they did their solo albums. I guess I was part of the demise of K.I.S.S.; when 13-year-olds started going to see them, that was kind of the end.
Marquee: How did you get into painting live performances?
Campbell: Well, I started going to concerts and I was pre-drawing the bands. I saw The Ramones, Iggy Pop, INXS and the B-52s and people like that. So I’d do these drawings ahead of time and take them to the shows and get the bands to sign
them. I was doing this kind of surreal artwork at the time and trying to get into all of these art shows and I got rejected from every single one. Then in the early ’90s (when the rave scene was really big in Florida) I started doing paintings inside nightclubs. In 1991 I answered an ad by Perry Ferrell, who was showing 12 artists per stop on the 1991 Lollapalooza tour and that’s when I showed my surreal painting and I got a good reception from the crowd. So I decided to skip the art world and go into the music scene.
Marquee: When did the light bulb go off that you wanted to do this full time?
Campbell: The light bulb really went off when I bought a ticket to Jazz Fest and went to see Phish. They had been on hiatus, so I really wanted to paint them. And I got up to the gate with all of my shit and I thought, “Wow, if I can get away with this here I can do this anywhere.” You know, I don’t have any special passes for what I do.
Marquee: Who have you painted the most?
Campbell: Well, just last week I did my twelfth year in a row of Jazz Fest. I’ve done 139 pieces there inside the fairgrounds. That doesn’t count the late-night shows. And I’ve painted String Cheese Incident over 140 times.
Marquee: You used to tour around the country every summer, but you’re pretty stationary these days. Why?
Campbell: Because Red Rocks is right here. It’s bar none the best music venue in the country that I’ve ever been to — no question. I toured every summer since 1996, but these last three summers I haven’t. Why tour, when you have the best right here? When someone steps up to the plate to play on that stage they’re going to give the best show that they have and night after night when you go there you don’t get a bad one — well, sometimes the weather, but I’ve painted in the rain and it’s turned out OK.
Marquee: What are you doing at Red Rocks this year?
Campbell: Well, I just painted Red Rocks’ opening night of Bjork. But on May 31, to start the summer, I’m doing an opening at the Stone Street Gallery at the historic Cliff House Lodge. It’s a gallery inside the lobby of this bed and breakfast that has cottages around it. Michael Weintrob, the photographer, will be bringing in some photos too, just to start off the Red Rocks season. Then, from Aug. 9 to the 18th, at the Red Rocks Visitor Center, I’ll be doing a one-man show, called “Scrambling the Rocks.” The opening coincides with the last run of S.C.I. shows there, so it’s nice to kind of celebrate them on their last shows.