Throughout the years I have noticed that many of my favorite recording artists have performed at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is located in Red Rocks Park (part of the Denver Mountain Parks system) near Morrison, Colorado, 15 miles west of Denver (in the left background of the above photo one can see downtown Denver). As I was planning a road trip through Colorado this summer, I was pleased to discover that my travels would be taking me right past the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. After many years of hearing about this venue, I was finally going to have the opportunity to see this unique outdoor amphitheatre that has hosted hundreds if not thousands of memorable performances by such entertainers as The Beatles, Ringo Starr, John Denver, Sonny & Cher, The Carpenters, Pat Boone, Seals & Crofts, Carole King, U2, Stevie Nicks, Jethro Tull, U2, the Moody Blues, Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, James Taylor, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, John Tesh, Dave Matthews Band, Steve Martin, Neil Young, and Rush (to only name a few). Geddy Lee (of the canadian rock band Rush) once said that Red Rocks Amphitheatre "...is an amazing location. One of the most beautiful concert venues in America...or anywhere. I would hazard a guess that it's one of the most beautiful anywhere." Rush played Red Rocks on their 30th anniversary tour, and is depicted in the tour program.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre contains a large, tilted, disc-shaped rock behind the stage, a huge vertical rock angled outwards from stage right, several large outcrops angled outwards from stage left, and a seating area for up to 9,450 people in between. The amphitheatre is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver, Colorado.
The history of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre began in the early 1900s when John Brisben Walker had a vision of artists performing on a stage nestled in the perfect acoustic surroundings of Red Rocks. Walker produced a number of concerts between 1906 and 1910 on a temporary platform, and from his vision, the history of Red Rocks as an entertainment venue began. Geologically, the rocks surrounding the Amphitheatre are representative of the Fountain Formation. Originally this place was known as the "Garden of the Angels" (1870s-1906), and then as "Garden of the Titans" during the Walker years (1906–1928). The park, however, had always been known by the folk name of "Red Rocks", which became its formal name when Denver acquired it in 1928. The amphitheatre's rocks are named "Creation Rock" on the north, "Ship Rock" on the south, and "Stage Rock" to the east. Red Rocks Amphitheatre was designed by Denver architect Burnham Hoyt.
In 1927, George Cranmer, Manager of Denver Parks, convinced the City of Denver to purchase the area of Red Rocks from Walker for the price of $54,133. Cranmer convinced Benjamin Franklin Stapleton, the Mayor of Denver, Colorado, to build on the foundation laid by Walker. By enlisting the help of the federally sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), labor and materials were provided for the venture. Construction of the amphitheatre began in 1936 and was completed in 1941.
Public, organizational and private performances have been held at Red Rocks for more than 100 years. The earliest documented performance at the amphitheatre was the Grand Opening of the Garden of the Titans, put on by famed editor John Brisben Walker on May 31, 1906. Featuring Pietro Satriano and his 25-piece brass band, it was the formal opening of the natural amphitheatre for use by the general public after Walker purchased it with the proceeds of his sale of Cosmopolitan Magazine.
The amphitheatre's largest-scale performance to date was the Feast of Lanterns on September 5, 1908. Commemorating the opening of the scenic road up nearby Mt. Falcon, it was patterned after the festival of Nagasaki, Japan, and featured four military bands and fireworks off Mt. Falcon, Mt. Morrison and two intermediate hills.
Renowned opera singer Mary Garden put Red Rocks on the world musical map with her performance on May 10, 1911. Having performed at many opera halls around the world, she pronounced Red Rocks the finest venue at which she had ever performed. The venue was formally dedicated on June 15, 1941. It has held regular concert seasons every year since 1947.
The visitor center at Red Rocks Amphitheatre has a very nice gallery you can walk through and marvel at the many great performers who have graced the stage there (see above photo and below photos). You can learn about many notable live recordings which have been taken here, such as local folk-rocker John Denver who recorded several world-televised concerts at Red Rocks during the 1970's and 1980's. U2's 1983 concert video, Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky, became a best-selling long-form concert video and the performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was played frequently on MTV. Stevie Nicks released a 60-minute long DVD of her 1986 concert at the amphitheatre, towards the end of her Rock a Little tour. In 1992 The Moody Blues performed live for the first time with a symphony orchestra for a PBS special "A Night at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra". The concert was also released on CD and DVD along with a companion DVD "The Other Side of Red Rocks" which documented the rehearsals and preparation for the concert and excerpts from the concert. Other Red Rocks material on CD and DVD includes Dave Matthews Band's albums Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95 and the CD/DVD Weekend on the Rocks, which is a compilation of the band's four night run in 2005. Also recorded are John Tesh's Live at Red Rocks and Worship at Red Rocks, the Incubus DVD Alive at Red Rocks, Blues Traveler's Live on the Rocks album, Steve Martin's comedy album A Wild and Crazy Guy, Boukman Eksperyans' album "Live At Red Rocks", Widespread Panic's DVD "The Earth Will Swallow You" (which features a 15 minute segment on Red Rocks), the live Neil Young album, Road Rock Vol. 1, and its accompanying DVD Red Rocks Live which were filmed and recorded at Red Rocks in 2000 during the "Silver and Gold" tour. I could go on, but as you can see, Red Rocks Amphitheatre has an extensive and impressive history.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre hours of operation are as follows:
Visitor Center & Amphitheatre
May - September: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
October - April: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed: Thanksgiving and Christmas
On concert dates, the Visitor Center and Amphitheatre generally close after lunch for sound checks and other technical work. From time to time, a concert set-up might require an earlier closure time. Occasionally there will be a show with an early afternoon start time, and that will require an early closure. Generally you can visit during morning hours without a problem.
If you wish to visit and want to check on closure times, the Amphitheatre office number is 720-865-2494. This number is staffed on the day of shows by the dispatcher at Red Rocks. The dispatcher will be able to give you accurate closure information for that day. On non-show days, please call the Visitor Center at 303-697-4939.
So, if you are ever in the Denver Colorado area, make time to see the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It is a fascinating and fun place to explore, not to mention walking around the entire amphitheatre is a great workout.
I will end this POD with two concert video clips recorded live at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the first being Stevie Nicks 1986 concert from her "Rock a Little Tour". Although this clip is almost an hour long, I would urge you to at least watch the first four to five minutes which not only contains beautiful aerial views of the Denver area and the Red Rocks Amphitheater, but also provides a good example of pre-concert excitement at the amphitheater.
The second clip is a special bonus...a six minute video from the Moody Blues 1992 concert "A Night at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra" which shows them singing "Question" (a personal favorite of mine). Enjoy