Ryan Adams and Kurt Vile rocked Red Rocks Amphitheatre last week. Ryan Adams mixed it up between new and old material. Kurt Vile, who opened, showed just why he’s currently getting so much acclaim. But Red Rocks Amphitheatre – in its typical fashion – stole the show. That’s not a knock on Adams or Vile because they certainly put on an awesome concert. Red Rocks is just one of those places, more of a character, that shines above everything else.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a rock formation near the Town of Morrison. It’s located just 10 miles west of Denver and offers seating for up to 9,525 people. Immediately behind the stage is a large disc-shaped rock known as “Stage Rock.” To the north and south are “Creation Rock” and “Ship Rock.” All are towering red sandstone features from the Fountain Formation. The lights of Denver shine bright behind the stage. And if you’re lucky like we were last week, the full moon sometimes illuminates it all. In the words of Kurt Vile, “I gotta say it’s pretty pimpin!”
John Brisben Walker pioneered the vision for Red Rocks. He initially produced concerts on a temporary platform in front of Stage Rock between 1906 and 1910. Over time, additions and restorations have led to, in my opinion, Red Rocks becoming the best outdoor music venue in America. I still need to catch a show at the Gorge, however.
Some of the most notable improvements made to Red Rocks came after Walker sold the venue to the City of Denver in 1927. George Cranmer, the head of Denver Parks, and Benjamin Stapleton, Denver’s mayor, recruited the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. FDR’s stroke of brilliance responding to the Great Depression benefited Colorado immensely. Government investment put people to work and created public works of art, like Red Rocks, which we still enjoy today.
While some of Walker’s pursuits exceeded all expectations, others never fully reached their potential. Just to the south of Red Rocks is Mount Falcon. Walker built a mansion atop the mountain that he proclaimed would be the White House of the Rockies. He envisioned it being a presidential retreat. Construction delays and funding issues hampered his vision but a lightning strike dealt the final blow. The mansion burnt to the ground, and that dream of Walker’s turned to ashes.
Sorry for the digression on Walker, but it’s a fascinating part of Colorado and Denver’s history. Now back to your regularly scheduled invitation to hear more about Red Rocks…
Vile’s Wakin on a Pretty Day and Pretty Pimpin got the dance spirit going early. Ryan Adams played Cold Roses, New York, New York, and Wonderwall, which were highlights for me. And the full moon, lights of Denver, and sandstone monoliths of Red Rocks were the last stars left standing that evening.