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Behind the Scenes at Red Rocks

The backstage at Red Rocks is full of lore -- and graffiti.

Every concert requires a great deal of work from roadies, security guards and vendors.

This bear in the Red Rocks Visitor Center is not the one that tried to sneak into a concert.

Tad Bowman is Red Rocks' venue director for the city.

A lot of work goes into every single show at the legendary Denver-owned venue. Here's a peek backstage at the business and operational logistics at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
As the 2016 concert series at Red Rocks Amphitheatre begins to wind down, planning for next year's live music schedule is already underway. 

In fact, that dream concert taking place in 2019 might already be booked.

"We've got dates held three years out," says Brian Kitts, marketing director for Denver Arts & Venues.

"A lot of people don't realize that Red Rocks is owned and operated by the City of Denver and has been for 75 years," says Kitts, noting the amphitheatre's three-quarters-of-a-century anniversary this year.

While the overall park, with its hiking trails, is overseen by Denver Parks and Recreation, the concert amphitheater within the park is under the purview of Denver Arts & Venues -- a self-supporting city agency that receives zero tax dollars to operate. In fact, the agency generates money for the city. In 2015, Denver raised $23.5 million through various events at Red Rocks, according to a Denver Post article.

Kitts says, "Arts & Venues is what's called a special revenue fund: It's all the money that is generated by Red Rocks, the Convention Center and the Performing Arts Complex. All [the revenue is] put back into venue maintenance, and city programs that are free to the public like the Five Points Jazz Festival and visual arts programs. So the benefit to the city of Red Rocks is twofold: You get that concert venue with a worldwide reputation, but then it also has very practical, financial benefits, as well."

Working with concert promoters such as AEG Live and Live Nation, Denver Arts & Venues oversees the scheduling of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, giving the okay for the specific dates requested by promoters, and working out contractual details. Rental fees start around $15,000, but other charges such as staffing and security need to be paid. The city also makes money off of a tax added to the sale of concert tickets as well as from the sale of food, beverage and merchandise at the amphitheater.

Photo courtesy Visit Denver.

Bears, storms & Neil Young

The primary logistics center for Red Rocks is located within an office at the Denver Coliseum. When he's not overseeing the management of Red Rocks directly on site during concerts, that's where Tad Bowman, venue director for Red Rocks and the Denver Coliseum, works. Bowman started as an intern with the city in 1987, and his duties have included functions at Red Rocks since 1998. Bowman calculates that he's been "up there for about 900 shows -- seen bits and pieces of some (more from some and less from others)."

Tad Bowman is Red Rocks' venue director for the city. When he's onsite at Red Rocks, Bowman says his primary job is to "provide a safe environment for patrons," as well as to "accommodate the needs of the promoter, the production team and the performers." Bowman acknowledges, however, that he has very limited personal interactions with the performers themselves.

There are unique situations that present themselves, due to Red Rocks being an outdoor venue located in the foothills. Keep in mind, rattlesnakes still traverse park trails just like hikers do. Bowman adds, "There was a bear a few years ago that sort of tried to get into the show. He didn't have a ticket so we didn't let him in." Another time, the venue had to do some cleanup on the east stairs after discovering the back end of a deer carcass -- although whether it was left there by a two- or four-legged predator remains unclear. Sometimes, inclement weather necessitates letting patrons return to their cars, since there is limited shelter at the venue inside the Red Rocks Visitor Center.

Bowman also works on capital projects, annually requesting funds to improve the venue. He highlights a memorable example: "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were playing up there several years ago, and the promoter rep came and said, 'Hey Tad, Neil Young wants to talk to you.' I'm sitting there, 'Why does Neil Young want to talk to me?'"

Young proceeded to explain to Bowman that the Xcel power transformers, which were then housed under the stage, interfered with his and other musicians' old-school, vacuum-tube guitar amplifiers. Young suggested that the venue move the transformers elsewhere.

Bowman says, "I put in a request, and I said, 'Hey, Neil Young says we need do something about these transformers.' Well, just by saying Neil Young said we needed it, we ended up getting the budget approval. We moved the transformers to the outside by the backstage lot."

During the concert season at Red Rocks, there's practically 24-hour security. On the days of a show, some of the first non-security people to arrive are the caterers, hired by the promoter or band. Oftentimes, they're there at 6 or 7 a.m., preparing breakfast for the road crew, who typically begin the load-in of equipment around 8 or 9 a.m.

Roadies vs. musicians

Although Red Rocks is beloved by many musical artists, it's not always the favorite venue for road crews. The amphitheatre's configuration doesn't allow bands' semi-trailers loaded with equipment to drive up directly to the stage. The trucks have to park down the road by the Trading Post, where the crew unloads the equipment onto a dock. The equipment is then transferred to smaller trucks and driven up to the backstage area.

"So the roadies don't really like it, but the bands seem to -- which is nice," says Bowman.

Bowman elaborates on Red Rocks' reputation among musical artists: "It just seems like the performers so sincerely enjoy being at Red Rocks -- which is just so cool. When they're up onstage, they always talk about how beautiful Red Rocks is -- one of the greatest venues in the world, if not the greatest venue in the world. . . . I don't see them going to the Pepsi Center or other arenas and saying, 'Hey, Pepsi Center!' It's, 'Hey, Denver!' But at Red Rocks it really is, 'Hey, Red Rocks! Let me hear it out there!'

Kitts concurs: "That's when you realize that the venue really does mean something more than, you know, kind of your standard stadium that can be put up and torn down in 30 years. Red Rocks is forever -- and there are a lot of people who appreciate that."

Check out writer Gregory Daurer's song and essay on what Red Rocks means to him personally here.

Read more articles by Gregory Daurer.

Gregory Daurer is a Denver-based freelance writer and singer-songwriter, whose credits include 5280, WestwordSalon, Draft and High Times. He's also authored the novel A Western Capitol Hill.
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