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Red Rocks Rocks!

Peter, Paul and Mary perform in the early 1980s in a Rocky Mountain News file photo.

Grateful Dead entranced fans at Red Rocks in 1985 in a Rocky Mountain News file photo.




Confluence Denver writer Gregory Daurer (a.k.a. Gregory Ego) explains the origins of his song, "Red Rocks Rocks!"
Similar to the unpleasant dreams I've occasionally had -- where I'm in a classroom and panicky about taking a test that I haven't studied for -- I once dreamed I was onstage playing guitar at Red Rocks. Only I couldn't hear my instrument, not a decibel, in the monitors onstage. What a rock 'n' roll nightmare!

Speaking of school: In addition to the Summer of Stars concert series, Film on the Rocks, and Easter Sunrise Service, the amphitheatre also occasionally plays host to high school graduations. Having successfully completed my senior year at Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, I received my high school diploma onstage at Red Rocks in 1982. It's the only time I've ever been applauded while onstage at the venue -- and by own mother and grandmother.



I first heard about Red Rocks before I ever moved to Colorado in 1979. I recall Bruce Springsteen being interviewed by legendary New York deejay Vin Scelsa of radio station WNEW-FM. Asked by Scelsa about his growing popularity across the country, Springsteen mentioned that he even had fans in Colorado and that he'd played (in '78) at Red Rocks. In my recollection, Scelsa sounded unclear as to what Red Rocks was, a tough biker bar or something? Scelsa asked, "Isn't that where all the hoods hang out?" The Boss laughed: "Nah, it's a place with a bunch of big red rocks!" 

I was in for quite a shock to my system when I finally got to see Springsteen there, myself, in '81. I spent the early part of the day frying in the sun, but, come showtime, there was a cold, driving rain. Springsteen, indefatigable, kept on playing throughout the downpour (this was before there was a cover over the stage). Feeling soggy and miserable before the show even ended, I left in the midst of that brown-eyed Jersey Devil covering "Devil with a Blue Dress On." 

Indeed, Red Rocks' altitude can challenge a flatlander's equilibrium. No less than Johnny Rotten has needed to partake of hits from an oxygen tank, during the Sex Pistols' "Filthy Lucre" reunion tour in 1996. Talk about -- to quote a Sex Pistols' song title -- "Problems."

Not too long ago, a friend told me about the "hatchet lady," a naked ghost said to chase away visitors at Red Rocks. I made that legendary specter a part of my song (in conjunction with a notable snippet of lyrics that I once heard Beck sing in concert there). Who doesn't love a good ghost story? Red Rocks has its own resident spook.

Many concertgoers have a litany of acts that have captivated them at Red Rocks, their own personal collection of concert ticket stubs (if you're old enough to even remember those, that is) sparking musical memories. For me, the names are diverse and iconic. Willie Nelson. The Sugarcubes (featuring Bjork) -- as well as Bjork solo. PiL. Mike Watt. Jimmy Cliff. The Grateful Dead. (I remember my college roomate chiding me as I cocooned my seated twirling molecules within a blanket above rows of people dancing behind, beside, and in front of me: "You're hiding from Jerry!") Primus. Bob Dylan backed by Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. (Dylan gave a nod to the Depression-era workers who constructed the venue's seating.) Folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary (hence the "Puff the Magic Dragon" reference in my song). Solo Neil Young. The Clash in '82 while the band was still in peak form (and then dismally in '84 after guitarist Mick Jones had been booted from the band).

Then, there are the shows that I missed: Even though I saw U2 three times at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver, I happened to be out of town when the Irish act played their lone show at Red Rocks. Bloody hell! I missed the Under a Blood Red Sky performance.

My song "Red Rocks Rocks!" mixes together all of this and more: hypnagogic imagery, concert memories and historical peculiarities. 

Appropriately enough, the opening guitar riff even sounds somewhat like U2's "I Will Follow" -- which the band played at Red Rocks. Which is funny to me, because I wasn't intending the riff to sound like "I Will Follow," and what I play on guitar doesn't match how The Edge plays that U2 song. However, due to the guitar effects or amps employed, my guitar bends ultimately came out sounding more rounded and angular -- rather than dirty, jagged and Johnny Thunders-like -- than I'd initially envisioned.

I don't get to Red Rocks as often as I did when I was a wee concert-going lad. But I've always gotten a kick out of taking visitors there. Once, I recall driving towards the park with out-of-town guests as The Who's "I Can See for Miles" fittingly played on the radio.

From whence our beloved earth heaved up its ocean floor into a natural cathedral millions of years ago, leading to the onetime presence of now-extinct dinosaurs roaming its storied grounds -- and onward to the more recent, 20th century days of "Dinosaur Rock" -- Red Rocks proves that one can see, geologically, for miles and miles and miles into the past, as well as the present (and, hey, quite possibly, the future!), from its hallowed amphitheatre seating.

The single "Red Rocks Rocks!" is available at the Bandcamp page for Gregory Ego.

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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