Whit’s End: The magic of live music
There’s nothing like a Tuesday-night concert to make you feel your age.
That was my mantra last week, anyway. I had looked forward to my first concert at Red Rocks since I decided to move to Colorado. The venue is world renowned, of course, and it had been on my radar since my mid-20s. I spent a decade writing about music, and that meant studying industry publications and attending as many concerts as I could manage. (This is why, when friends mention bands they’d like to see, I often respond with, “Oh yes, I remember seeing them back in 2008 …”)
One of my favorite hometown venues, WorkPlay Theatre, grabbed a spot on Paste Magazine’s “America’s 40 Best Music Venues” list in 2007. The music-centric publication surveyed its readers, who nominated 500-plus venues, and then the staff considered the history, atmosphere, unique qualities and careers launched at each spot. I was excited to see my favorite 300-seat club on the list, and I pored over it to learn of places I might like to travel.
You won’t be surprised that Red Rocks topped my list.
The magazine described it this way: “Best place to have your mind blown by music and nature: Hearing the majestic sound bounce off the natural amphitheater of red sandstone monoliths named ‘Ship Rock’ and ‘Creation Rock’ is a must for any true music fan’s ‘before I die’ list. Since it’s in the middle of a state park, even if you’re not U2 (remember the video for ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’?) you can jump onstage on off-days and play for the make-believe masses.”
Surely any show would sound good in that setting, but I had my mind made up: I didn’t want my first show to be just anybody. I wanted it to be one of my favorites. When singer/songwriter/master-of-releasing-three-albums-in-a-year Ryan Adams announced a show there, I pounced on tickets.
The Infamous Stringdusters opened the show, and it couldn’t have been a better pairing. Their bluegrass tunes carried through the space, reverberating off the namesake rocks and setting the tone for an exciting evening of music. Storm clouds lingered over Denver and the surrounding area before Ryan took the stage, but Morrison was safe from the rain. Instead, we were treated to a lightning show to complement Ryan’s alternately rocking and crooning songs. An amp was giving him trouble, so he spent a lot of time with his acoustic guitar. Although it was my sixth time seeing him, it was perhaps the most special set I’d seen.
A week later, I was in another venue, in front of another band, playing another unexpected set. Reckless Kelly faced car trouble on the way to a show in Steamboat Springs, and so the band rented a car and carried what gear they could to their Ute Theater show. Although I’d heard of the band, I wasn’t familiar with their music — a friend persuaded me to join her, and I didn’t regret it.
It’s nearly impossible to compare a Ute Theater show to Red Rocks; the venues are completely different. One’s outdoors, one’s indoors. One holds nearly 10,000 people, the other several hundred. One requires a two-and-a-half-hour drive, one is local.
But they share common ground: There’s magic in music, especially in live music, and benefits to both settings. Reckless Kelly’s stripped-down set — my first show at the Ute — allowed me to really listen to the lyrics. We sat in the second row, where we could take in every facial expression and observe the musicians at work. The room sounded great, and afterward we were able to thank the band for a special show.
I wasn’t quite as exhausted after that show as I was my Ryan Adams experience (or Widespread Panic, also at Red Rocks, or Brothers Keeper with John Popper at Snowmass). Instead, that Tuesday-night show left me invigorated, reminded of the power of music.
There’s nothing like a weeknight show to make you feel your age, perhaps. But there’s also nothing like soaking in the music, dancing in my seat, to take me back to my younger years.
Carla Jean Whitley used to see as many as 50 concerts in a year. She’s much older and sleepier now. Share your favorite musical memories with her at email@example.com.