Winter on the Rocks. Red Rocks. 01.30.15
It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since I talked a group of people into going to Red Rocks in January. The first winter concert to be held at the amphitheater showcased Atmosphere and Common. I wasn’t all that excited about seeing either act, but I was extremely excited at the thought of bundling up and stealing an offseason show at my favorite venue. Colorado has much to offer from October to April, when the Red Rocks concert season is put on ice, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being up there during the seven month intermission. Talking people into buying tickets for an outside concert in the middle of winter, especially for a concert that isn’t being held at a ski resort, was a hard sell, but I was able to play on the emotions of a group of friends who really, really like Atmosphere. It took some convincing, but I ended up getting a crew together for the show. Then I decided to flake. An enigmatic Swedish band called Ghost decided to play the Marquis Theatre on January 27th, 2012 and I decided seeing them was more important than freezing my ass off at Red Rocks. That night ended up being the coldest I had experienced since moving to Colorado. I was in Denver and I was uncomfortable, so I can only imagine what my friends were experiencing at Red Rocks. Needless to say, when the next year rolled around, I wasn’t unable to find anyone to join me for Macklemore, Major Lazer and The Grouch & Eligh. Those bridges had been burned (actually, they had been frozen and smashed to bits), and no matter how much warmer that second Winter on the Rocks turned out to be, I have yet to convince anyone to attend one with me for the past three years. I have had to roll alone every time. It’s become somewhat of a tradition at this point.
2012 was the year Macklemore blew up with “Same Love” and “Thrift Shop”. He went from playing the Bluebird Theater in 2011 to headlining the Ogden (and the Westword Music Showcase) in 2012. He was riding high on that insane trajectory when he headlined the 2nd Annual Winter on the Rocks in February of 2013. Having seen him quite a few times at smaller venues, I wasn’t sure he was ready for Red Rocks, but it was an extremely mild night weather-wise so I decided to check it out. He absolutely killed it. I was sold on the winter experience from there on out.
2014 was something different. It was the first year that I was extremely excited about the headliners. Jurassic 5 were back together and I was finally going to get a chance to see them live. I bought tickets in advance and I was in the Upper North lot early on January 31st. It was extremely dark and the rocks were invisible behind a layer of fog. Then the snow came. Men in yellow jackets were shoveling it from the seats and packing in along the edges of the venue, but it just kept coming down like glitter from the sky through the laser lights of Ghostland Observatory. When J5 took the stage, they did so in full snowboard gear. It was the first time in history that snow fell during a Red Rocks concert. It was cold, but not unbearably so, and seeing everything covered in white just added to the experience. J5 absolutely killed it. Once again, I was sold on the winter experience. In fact, the 3rd Annual Winter on the Rocks was one of the best shows I saw in 2014.
That brings us to 2015. After seeing J5 in the snow, I was anticipating something big for Winter on the Rocks this year. So when the line-up was released, I was extremely disappointed. Major Lazer was an opener in 2013. What exactly had they done in the past two years to elevate them to headliner status? And Damian Marley? Sure, he’s a Marley and Jamrock was a good album, but unless he was going to bring Nas out to perform Distant Relatives in its entirety, I wasn’t sure he was worth the trip to Red Rocks in the winter. If I couldn’t sell Macklemore or J5 to my friends, there was no way I was going to sell Major Lazer. So I decided to skip it. I even talked a bunch of shit about how the line-up sucked and how I didn’t know how they were going to sell tickets. But then Friday night rolled around and I realized it was going to be my only opportunity to see a show at Red Rocks for another three or four months. Then I remembered how much fun Major Lazer were when I saw them at the Pitchfork Fest in 2010. I also remembered that they did a pretty good job opening for Macklemore. So there I was, at the box office, buying a ticket by myself.
The 4th Annual Winter on the Rocks was held on January 30th, 2015. The temperature was in the low-40s to high-30’s. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t freezing. It wasn’t foggy and it didn’t snow. It was a typical winter night. Holy Ghost! opened things up with a respectable set of electronic-infused pop music. Unfortunately, they were performing to a practically empty house. The place started filling in a bit as a young reggae artist from Jamaica warmed things up for Damian Marley. Unfortunately, some of the attendees will not remember much past that part of the evening. While it was a pretty moderate crowd overall, there were those who were puking or passed out in the bathrooms as early 8:00pm.
Marley was actually a lot more entertaining than I had expected. He had a full band and dreads that hung down to the stage. He covered a lot of material I didn’t know, but it was all upbeat and he seemed to have the young crowed locked in step with him, especially when he pulled out some of this father’s classics. “Exodus”, “Could You Be Loved” and “Welcome to Jamrock” were all highlights of his solid set.
A DJ was setup in the middle of the crowd, near the sound booth, toward the top of the 20 row VIP section. It was his job to entertain the crowd in between sets. It was the crowd’s job to entertain me. I found a good spot on an endcap around Row 17 and was thoroughly entertained by the people around me. The girls trying to act like they weren’t cold even though half their flesh was exposed to the night…the guy with the “I don’t get drunk, I get awesome” t-shirt…the kid wearing matching Jamaican flag pants, poncho and beanie that slept through Marley’s set…the guys trying to keep the girls attention…the girls trying to act like they were paying attention to the guys who were paying attention to them. The lights…the smoke…the crisp night air…the collective voice of the crowd…and the huge monoliths framing the picture perfectly. Those are the things that made it such a great night. The 4th Annual Winter on the Rocks just didn’t have the line-up to be a great concert for me, but just being at Red Rocks in January made it all worth it.
Major Lazer took the stage at 10:00pm. Diplo was perched at his elevated booth. Dancers populated multiple platforms. Jillonaire and Walshy Fire were the frontmen — with mics and flags and hypeman skills. They were responsible for the audience’s reaction to what Diplo was laying down — electronic dancehall music, with a hip-hop base. Major Lazer can get a crowd moving. They threw down some Kendrick Lamar, some Drake, some Busta, and some new material that had never been performed before. They took their shirts off and asked the crowd to do the same. They brought us to Carnival…they brought us to the streets…they brought us back to the Rocks. The dancers were amazing and the mix was fun…for awhile. But then I started losing interest. I feel like Major Lazer were a lot more interesting when I saw them in 2010. They had a Chinese dragon back then. And rows of insane twerking (before Miley even knew the word). And although Skerrit Bwoy had his issues, I think he added something to the show that is missing now. So after about an hour, I decided it was time to make my exit.
Every year, as I drive up Red Rocks Loop by myself in the dark, I think of it as an act of penance for flaking in 2012. But every time I drive back down Red Rocks Loop at the end of the night, it’s with a smile on my face. This year was no exception. I was leaving before the show was over, but I had already got more than my money’s worth. Major Lazer and Damian Marley won’t go down as one of my favorite concerts of 2015, but I’m confident that the 4th Annual Winter on the Rocks will go down as one of my most memorable nights of 2015. I’m still disappointed in myself for missing the first one, but every Winter on the Rocks since then has been a great experience. Maybe one of these days I will convince someone else of that fact.