Red Rocks 'N' Roll
People get a little wacky about Red Rocks, the legendary amphitheatre located just outside of Morrison, Colorado, about 15 miles west of Denver. Locals tend to say of it things like, “THIS is why I live here.” And then they pontificate about the massive, ancient scarlet stones that jut, juggernaut-like, into the air, cradling the stage and the just-under 10,000 capacity seating area. They chatter about the 868 acres of unspoiled beauty surrounding it, the way that after the sun sets the lights of civilization twinkling in the valley below echo the stars shining from the sky above. And the acoustics…don’t get anyone started on the perfect, the naturally perfect – since it’s created by those two 300-foot sandstone monoliths that line either side of the venue – Red Rocks sound. That’s a whole other eye-glaze-inducing conversation.
Residents of the Rocky Mountain State tend to talk of Red Rocks like it’s a great church, a cathedral built to honor music and nature and good times. And maybe it is. Though I suspect it’s less a religion than a cult, because after just one show I was hooked. Red Rocks really is, unlike so much in life that is over-dissected and endlessly hyped, just that special. But while seeing just about any show there is going to be a more memorable experience than seeing the same show anywhere else, there are ways to maximize enjoyment. I don’t consider myself a Red Rocks pro by any means, but the people, like my brother, who escorted me there most certainly are. And how to avoid blacking out and wandering half-naked, slathered in day-glo body paint, around the parking lot while jabbering at random strangers is not all they taught me:
- Pray For Rain Okay, nobody wants to stand around in an outdoor venue getting dumped on, but summer in Colorado is HOT, and that sun blazes. Cloud cover is a blessing; fast-moving storms can cool it off nicely, leaving in their wake not only the perfect temperature for dancing and making merry, but things like, oh, double-freakin’-RAINBOWS. My very first show at Red Rocks, the second in a three-night Widespread Panic stand, was forecast to feature temperatures in the high 90s. I anticipated melting faster than an ice cream cone clenched in a three-year old’s fist, but as we prepared to disembark from the Party Bus (more on this spectacular and indispensable mode of transport later) the sky darkened and a chilly rain descended. And then, after a bit, it stopped and the air was cool and there was a perfect breeze and a double-freakin’-RAINBOW greeting us as we entered the venue. And I wasn’t even hallucinating.
- Get On Top There’s a reason that everyone wants to park in Red Rocks’ upper lots. It’s not that the scene is any better, that gorgeous people sheathed in skin-tight purple mylar walk around up there, handing out all kinds of mind-altering treats while singing Kumbaya or whatever (at least not any more than in the lower lots), it’s because YOU DON’T HAVE TO WALK UP A MILLION SON-OF-A-BITCHIN’ STEPS TO GET INSIDE THE VENUE. For fit residents of the upper reaches of Colorado, those stairs might pose no unmeetable challenge, but for anyone unused to high-altitude, low-oxygen air, by the second set or so you start to feel – and, sadly, look – like a goldfish outta the bowl.
- Either You’re On The Bus Or You’re Off The Bus (And Believe Me, You Wanna Be On That Bus) Fun, thy name is The Ultimate Party Bus. Why make a friend suffer altered-state fools sober as your designated driver when you can pay an absolute stranger to do it? For about 35 bucks per (for 17 people) one can rent a veritable Roman orgy on wheels, a cruising rewind to the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah, an epic throwdown that is literally a moveable feast to rival even the most decadent days of Studio 54. Ok, I exaggerate.
But only me and 16 other people (and one very dazed bus driver) know by how much. I have, in the course of my over four decades, been privy to some truly monstrous shindigs, the kind of events for which blackmail was invented, but until I hopped aboard the Ultimate Party Bus as it careened from Red Rocks toward a Denver afters rave, every window open, warm air whipping through the mass of sweat-soaked bodies in the aisles and on the seats and hanging off the ceiling, everyone bumping and grinding and grooving to Burning Down The House …well, goddamn now I know what a party is.
Of course, I learned plenty of other helpful hints about Red Rocks, like if you sit high up in the seats during shows held around July Fourth, you can watch as fireworks are shot off from the communities in the valley below. I learned that you can – and should – tailgate before the event, but cops chase you out right quick after it. I learned that when offered chocolates with mushrooms in them, they don’t mean portabella. Or shiitake. (Ok, I knew that.) And perhaps most importantly, I learned that the parking lot guys have to pay 15 bucks to replace those light-saber looking things they direct traffic with, so offer them at least an even 20.
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