Red Rocks: The Music Lover's 'Happiest Place on Earth'
Anyone who's been to Red Rocks amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado or played at the venue understands just how incredible it is—from the natural acoustics to the striking visuals and comforting intimacy of such a large place, the rock formation seems like it was formed for that purpose alone—sharing and enjoying music.
The City of Denver owns the famous 250 million-year-old formation, and began holding concerts there in 1906, although the park and amphitheater did not open as an official music venue until June of 1941. Today, the venue is home to over 150 shows per year. Fossils and historic clues embedded in the rock itself date back to the early Mesozoic era, which encompassed the 180 million-year period of the dinosaurs, and the formation's rustic red color is formed by an iron oxide reaction—but we swear it's simply Mother Nature blushing at the beauty of her work!
Despite the Amphitheater's recent reputation for attracting electronic artists, it's a classic rock-and-roll venue with notable performances and recordings to note. From the Grateful Dead's July 8th, 1978 show, preserved forever by the power of vinyl and digital copies, to Pearl Jam's singular 1995 show, the late 20th century was a prime time to catch instant classics under the stars.
But Red Rocks Amphitheater's history was not always so celebrated, and it's future not always so bright. That celebrated rock-and-roll era on the Rocks took an unfortunate turn in 1971, when a Jethro Tull show drew an unruly crowd. Concert-goers climbed the rocks and damaged the venue's entrance, while police assigned to the show resorted to tear gas and violence to tame the crowd, all while the band kept playing. It took five years to bring rock music back to the Rocks after that night. It took a lawsuit from concert promoter and booking manager Barry Fey against the city to win back rock shows at Red Rocks, but they never left again after Fey's victory. Then, the venue dealt with direct competition from Fiddler's Green Amphitheater in south Denver, which opened in the late 1980's. Bookings were cut in half at Red Rocks that year, and marketing efforts went into pulling concert-goers back out of the city to Morrison's natural, acoustically impeccable rock faces.
And over time, more steps to the preserve the integrity of America's best natural concert venue have taken place. Red Rocks became a National Historic Landmark in the summer of 2015. According to the famed venue's website, wildlife and plant species from both the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains can be found in the park by anyone willing to look hard enough. Martin Van Buren, a former Jefferson County judge, called the park 'Garden of the Angels', according to reports. It sits 1,200 feet in elevation above the city of Denver, on the mountainside. From the last and highest row, one can see the stage as if it were 10 feet away and take in the eastern horizon just by lifting their gaze, making it the perfect place to take in a Colorado sunrise and Denver's city lights on a clear summer night.
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