No, I’m not talking about Disneyland.
2008 was the first time I went to Red Rocks, the natural amphitheater in Morrison. It was two years after my family and I moved to Colorado and my brother Jon took me to see The Black Keys and My Morning Jacket.
The Black Keys were my favorite band at the time (this was before they got super popular and changed their music to be more mainstream) and I was beyond excited to finally see them live. Jon and his college friends passed time by tailgating in the parking lot rather than sit on the amphitheater’s benches.
Aimlessly I double checked my ticket stub and realized the concert has been going on almost the entire time we’ve been tailgating. The music we were hearing weren’t pre-show tunes but The Black Keys playing in person.
I ran up the steep incline as quickly as possible. “I Got Mine,” their newest hit, was playing as I waited in security. By the time we reached our spot in the general admission they performed their penultimate song.
Then My Morning Jacket went on stage as I twitched in fury. Having only listened to about two of their songs, I knew nothing of their discography. I couldn’t tell a hit single from a B-side.
But the anger quickly dissipated as I realized I was at the greatest venue in the world.
So I couldn’t sing along with everyone else. So what? The music flowed through me, through everyone. Roughly ten thousand of us were all in the same place listening to the same music with the same astounding view. It may not be as intimate as other venues, but it beats any stadium, arena or concert hall by miles.
Two years after that first concert I’d then see the legendary Sting perform his classics arranged by the London Symphony Orchestra. Aside from seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra, it was the first time I saw classic rock and the symphony combined. It wouldn’t be the last.
The next summer I went on a classic rock binge and saw Jethro Tull and Kansas. A few weeks later I would see Styx and Yes perform. It was the first time Jethro Tull played at Red Rocks since the infamous riot in 1971. The amphitheater banned rock music for four years. There was no tear gas this time; the smoke in the air was of a different nature.
Denver-based band DeVotchKa started a Red Rocks tradition of performing there every summer with the Colorado Symphony in 2012. I managed to catch them play the following year with Paper Bird, who is also from Denver, and Amanda Palmer.
What makes the collaboration unique is that the symphony doesn’t just perform with DeVotchka but with as many of the opening acts as possible.
Having the best string performers in Colorado back Palmer on piano as she belts out her sorrowful songs was simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting.
It was the third time I saw Paper Bird, the second time I saw DeVotchKa, the first time I saw Amanda Palmer and to this day it remains the best concert I’ve ever been to.
Red Rocks is more than a place to catch whatever troubadours roll into to town. There’s yoga, Easter mass and films to see. In 2014, it was the stage for NPR’s news/comedy show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Host Peter Sagal along with panelists Paula Poundstone, Tom Bodett and Brian Babylon grilled guest Mikaela Shiffrin on what it’s like to be a gold medalist skier. The live version is twice as long and four times as funny as the final product that airs on the radio.
I returned once more to see DeVotchKa perform their gypsy folk rock with the Colorado Symphony, Kishi Bashi and Ariel Pink last summer. Kishi Bashi normally plays as a one-man-band using technology to loop his melodies but with symphony that wasn’t necessary. They amplified his sound creating an experience that can’t be captured on CD.
Later on in the evening, a full moon rose above the rocks. DeVotchKa lead singer Nick Urata pointed out the beautiful sight to everyone to see as a familiar bass line began. A cover of “Stand By Me” poured out of the speakers that eclipses all other covers. The symphony had the actual arrangement Ben E. King used, meaning the same sheets of music were on the stage. I get goose bumps just thinking about that night.
Sunday night, for my mom’s 60th birthday, we saw The National. Having wanted to see them live for years, it was everything I wanted and more. The band ended the night by leading the sold-out amphitheater in an acoustic sing-along of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” And yeah, it was magical.
This column was originally published in the August 3, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.