Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a rock structure in Red Rocks Park near Morrison, Colorado (west of Denver), where concerts are given in the open-air amphitheatre. There is a large, tilted, disc-shaped rock behind the stage, a huge vertical rock angled outwards from stage right, several large boulders angled outwards from stage left and a seating area for up to 9,450 people in between. The amphitheatre is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver, Colorado.
In 1927, George Cranmer, Manager of Denver Parks, convinced the City of Denver to purchase the area of Red Rocks from Walker for the price of $54,133. Cranmer convinced the Mayor of Denver, Ben Stapleton, to build on the foundation laid by Walker. By enlisting the help of the federally sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Work Projects Administration (WPA), labor and materials were provided for the venture. Geologically, the rocks are representative of the Fountain Formation. Originally the place was known as the "Garden of the Angels" (1870s-1906), and then as "Garden of the Titans" (1906-28). The park, however, had always been known by the folk name of "Red Rocks", which became its formal name when Denver acquired it in 1928. The amphitheatre's rocks are named "Creation Rock" on the north, "Ship Rock" on the south, and "Stage Rock" to the east. Red Rocks Amphitheatre was designed by Denver architect Burnham Hoyt.
The amphitheatre's largest scale performance to date was the Feast of Lanterns on September 5, 1908. Commemorating the opening of the scenic road up nearby Mt. Falcon, it was patterned after the festival of Nagasaki, Japan, and featured four military bands and fireworks off Mt. Falcon, Mt. Morrison and two intermediate hills.
Renowned opera singer Mary Garden put Red Rocks on the world musical map with her performance on May 10, 1911. Having performed at many opera halls around the world, she pronounced Red Rocks the finest venue she had ever performed at.
Upon the full construction of the amphitheatre to its present form by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the venue was formally dedicated on June 15, 1941. It has held regular concert seasons every year since 1947.
The first performance of each season is the Easter Sunrise Service, a non-denominational service on Easter Sunday of each year.
The earliest notable rock and roll performance at Red Rocks was by the Beatles on August 26, 1964. When 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 thirty-six years earlier. On August 26, 2004 the East-Coast-based Beatles-tribute band, "1964" was flown to Denver to re-enact the Beatles concert held at the site exactly forty-years earlier to the date
An incident during a performance by Jethro Tull 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 the overflow, non-paying crowd to an area behind the theater, where they could hear the music but not see the band. The situation seemed satisfactory until some of the people without tickets attempted to enter the amphitheatre by charging at, and breaking through, the police line. Some of those without tickets began lobbing rocks at the police, and the police responded by discharging tear gas at the gate-crashers. The wind carried the tear gas over the hill, into the paying crowd and on to the stage. Following the "Riot at Red Rocks," Denver Mayor William H. McNichols, Jr. banned rock concerts from the amphitheatre. For the next five years, shows at Red Rocks were limited to softer acts, such as John Denver, Sonny & Cher, The Carpenters, Pat Boone, Seals & Crofts, and Carole King. The ban on rock and roll was finally lifted though legal action taken by Denver concert promoter Barry Fey, who tried to book the band America at the venue 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. Starting in the summer of 1976, the rock bands were once again welcomed at the venue. Jethro Tull is scheduled to play Red Rocks again on August 12th, 2008..
One of the notable performances given at Red Rocks was by the rock group U2 in June 1983. This performance was released as a full concert-length video, segments of which were frequently shown on MTV, and captured the band in its ascendancy to superstardom. U2's performance at Red Rocks was later included in Rolling Stone's list of the "50 Moments that Changed Rock and Roll".. Two tracks from the performance were included on U2's 1983 live album, Under a Blood Red Sky (subtitled "Live at Red Rocks" despite the fact that many tracks were recorded elsewhere).
Red Rocks was one of the favored venues for the Grateful Dead and the venue has become a traditional stop for many subsequent jam bands. Widespread Panic holds record for the most sellout performances at Red Rocks Amphitheater (32 shows).
The beautiful and unique setting has led to the venue becoming a favorite for many performers. Geddy Lee of rock band Rush said, "It's an amazing location. One of the most beautiful concert venues in America...or anywhere. I would hazard a guess that it's one of the most beautiful anywhere."
Red Rocks has been a popular venue for live recordings and especially, owing to the visual uniqueness of the setting, concert video productions. During the 1970s and 1980s, local folk-rocker John Denver recorded several world-televised concerts at Red Rocks. U2's 1983 concert video became a best-selling long-form concert video and several songs became popular music videos. Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks released a 60-minute long DVD of her 1986 concert at the amphitheatre, towards the end of her Rock A Little tour.
Other Red Rocks material on CD and DVD includes Dave Matthews Band's albums Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95 and Weekend on the Rocks, The Samples live album, Live in Colorado, John Tesh's Live at Red Rocks and Worship at Red Rocks, the Incubus DVD Alive at Red Rocks, Blues Traveler's Live on the Rocks album, Steve Martin's comedy album A Wild and Crazy Guy, The Moody Blues's A Night at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and Boukman Eksperyans' album "Live At Red Rocks". Widespread Panic's DVD "The Earth Will Swallow You" features a 15 min segment on Red Rocks.
The live Neil Young album, Road Rock Vol. 1 and its accompanying DVD Red Rocks Live was filmed and recorded at Red Rocks in 2000 during the "Silver and Gold" tour. Local Colorado band Big Head Todd and the Monsters released a DVD and live album of a notable 1995 performance in 2003 capturing what has become a local annual early season tradition.
A two-volume 2003 album, Carved in Stone, features live performances by various artists at Red Rocks, including R.E.M., Ben Harper, Coldplay, The Allman Brothers Band, and Phish, with proceeds going towards a fund for preservation of the park and amphitheatre.
Insane Clown Posse released a Bootlegged In Denver DVD from their 2003 Red Rocks performance on their Hell's Pit album in 2004. Former Phish front-man, Trey Anastasio, included excerpts from his 2005 performance at Red Rocks on the DVD that accompanied his album "Shine." Country music superstar Gary Allan filmed the music video for his song "Watching Airplanes" during a live sell-out concert at Red Rocks in August of 2007. A portion of British rock band Oasis's rockumentary film "Lord Don't Slow Me Down" was filmed at Red Rocks.
Part of the film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was filmed at Red Rocks. Opening sequences feature the fictional rock band "Black Plague" playing at Red Rocks Amphitheater where lead singer Bobby Black (played by Vince Neil) makes a grand entrance hanging from the rock face of the landmark red rocks above the crowd swooping on stage via zipline