Colorado Concert Venues Media

The History and Legendary Performances of Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, one of the most iconic concert venues in the world, with its stunning vistas and naturally honed acoustics, has hosted thousands of professional and local musical performances dating back to 1906. Since then, the beauty and scenic awe of Red Rocks has attracted musicians and concertgoers from all over the globe.

     The first Red Rocks concerts between 1906 and 1910 were played on a temporary platform that served as a stage, and were produced by famed editor John Brisben Walker. Honors for the earliest documented performance at the natural amphitheatre went to Pietro Satriano and his 25-piece brass band. The show, dubbed as the Grand Opening of the Garden of the Titans, marked the venue’s formal opening for use by the general public on May 31, 1906.

     A May 10, 1911 performance by celebrated opera singer Mary Garden put Red Rocks on the world musical map. Having performed at many opera halls around the world, she declared Red Rocks the finest venue at which she had ever performed.

     The magnificent sandstone, conglomerate, and arkose rocks that make up Red Rocks Amphitheatre (situated within the 728 acres of Red Rocks Park) took over 200 million years to form. From the time of its settlement in the 1870s until 1906, it took the name “Garden of the Angels.” Walker then renamed it “Garden of the Titans.” The park, however, had always been known by the folk name “Red Rocks,” which became its formal name when the City of Denver acquired it in 1928.

     Once construction of the amphitheatre (as we know it today) was completed, the venue was formally dedicated on June 15, 1941. It has held regular concert seasons every year since 1947.

      Beatles fans flocked to Morrison, Colorado on August 26, 1964 as the Fab Four took the stage for the earliest notable rock and roll concert at Red Rocks. But apparently not enough of them did, because it was the only show on their U.S. tour that wasn’t played to a packed house. When Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr returned to Red Rocks with his All-Starr Band on June 28, 2000, he asked if anyone in the crowd had been at the Beatles concert 36 years earlier. That same concert was re-enacted exactly 40 years later to the day when Beatles tribute band “1964” was flown in from the East Coast to perform at Red Rocks on August 26, 2004.

     That Beatles show, of course, paved the way for hundreds of rock acts to follow. The venue’s unique setting has made it a favorite stop for all touring musicians. In fact, Red Rocks’ reputation has a way of forcing artists to perform at their peak. And more so than most venues, the music, mood, and weather combine to evoke the feeling that something legendary is happening.

     One of those legendary experiences came on September 1, 1968, the only Red Rocks concert played by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Opening acts Vanilla Fudge, Soft Machine, and Eire Apparent amped up the 9,000-strong crowd for the guitar legend. This show holds the distinction of being the only modern Red Rocks concert without any known recordings or photographs.

     But not every performance went down in the history books in a good way. An incident during a Jethro Tull show on June 10, 1971 led to a five-year ban of rock concerts at Red Rocks.

Approximately 1,000 people without tickets arrived at the sold-out show. Denver police directed those fans to an area behind the theatre, where they could hear the music but not see the band. That plan of action was going fine; until some of the ticketless folks attempted to enter the amphitheatre by charging at, and breaking through, the police line. They then began chucking rocks at the police, who responded by discharging tear gas at the gate-crashers. The wind carried the tear gas over the hill, into the paying crowd, and onto the stage. Following the “Riot at Red Rocks,” Denver Mayor William H. McNichols, Jr. banned rock and roll concerts from the amphitheatre for the next five years. The ban was finally lifted through legal action taken by Denver concert promoter Barry Fey, who tried to book the band America in 1975. After being denied a permit by the city, Fey took the city to court, and the court ruled that the city had acted “arbitrarily and capricious” in banning rock concerts at Red Rocks. So, in the summer of 1976, rock bands were once again welcomed at the venue – including Jethro Tull, who returned to the Red Rocks stage on June 7, 1988.

     During the rock ban period of 1971 to 1976, shows at Red Rocks were limited to lighter acts with a more mellow fan base, such as the Carpenters, Sonny & CherPat BooneSeals & CroftsCarole King, and famed local folk-rocker John Denver. During the 1970s and ‘80s, Denver recorded several world-televised concerts at Red Rocks. Among the 17 concerts Denver played there from 1972 to 1989, his 1974 concerts marked the first time any performer had played four consecutive nights at Red Rocks. Denver loved the venue so much that he reportedly jogged anonymously up and down the 69-row arena several times before each show.

 FACT: In 2007, the Colorado legislature named John Denver’s

“Rocky Mountain High” as Colorado’s second official state

song, paired with 1915’s “Where the Columbines Grow” by

A.J. Fynn.

       Both John Denver and Red Rocks Amphitheatre (as a venue) were inaugural Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductees in 2011. The Hall of Fame is located inside Red Rocks Trading Post, which is situated within Red Rocks Park. The Trading Post features a separate John Denver room inside, and a 15-foot bronze John Denver ‘Spirit’ statue outside. The Trading Post, as well as the Red Rocks Visitor Center, Amphitheatre, and all of Red Rocks Park are open free for the public to enjoy!

     Throughout its illustrious history, Red Rocks has been the breathtaking backdrop for thousands of music acts and millions of music fans, all equally eager to be awestruck at what Father Time and Mother Nature can accomplish. Every Red Rocks performance, since that first show in 1906 on a temporary makeshift stage, is listed on bronze plaques which cover many of the walls at the Visitor Center. Check out all your favorite artists that have graced the Red Rocks Amphitheatre stage!

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