Heart. Joan Jett. Cheap Trick. Red Rocks. 08.30.16
Filthy water rushed down the stairs as the masses fought their way to shelter. The bruised sky was crying something fierce as it bled icy pellets of hail onto the crowd. Lightning was striking a little too close for comfort, as deafening thunder filled in for the postponed music. The experienced Red Rockians found their way to the safety of the visitor’s center and various bathrooms, while others flooded the exits in search of their vehicles. Having attended well over a hundred shows at the iconic venue in Morrison, I was prepared to stand my ground; ignorantly believing the storm would pass as quickly as it came. Fifteen minutes later we were soaked to the bone. Light windbreakers and cheap rain ponchos were no match for the natural violence surrounding us, so my wife and I escorted my parents (in town from San Diego) to the secret bathrooms to wait it out. That’s where we stayed (with the exception of a few beer runs) for the next hour and a half. Forecasts in Colorado are a guess at best and a joke at worst, but 15% chance of rain turned into one the most unexpected extreme weather nights I have ever experienced at Red Rocks.
The last Monolith Festival, held in 2009, was a cold one. It even hailed at one point. But we were prepared for it. We knew it was going to be cold.
The rains were extremely bad when MGMT, Janelle Monáe, and Tame Impala performed in 2010, but it wasn’t a sold-out show, so there was plenty of room to take a break in dry places. There wasn’t the threat of being struck by lightning either.
Winter on the Rocks 2014 saw Jurassic 5 perform while fresh snow piled up along the stairs. It was the first (and only) time it had snowed during a performance at Red Rocks, but everyone was wearing their best snowboard gear, so it hardly seemed to matter. It might have been cold, but it was also extremely unique and beautiful.
When Jack White came back in 2014, he turned Red Rocks blue as the sky turned black. He fought torrential rains and lightning like a champ. There was no room to complain about getting wet when White was up there, with his electric guitar, standing in a lake of water while electricity ripped through the sky above.
The difference between those nights and what we just experienced is that the weather did not affect those previous performances. I have read a couple reviews and comments about Tuesday night, claiming Joan Jett and Heart were not bothered by the weather and that they ‘wailed’ with the storm, etc., etc. I’m sorry, but those reports are bullshit. I’m not saying the bands didn’t make the most out of the situation, but anyone who says the concert should not have been cancelled is lying to themselves. The storm lasted for hours, Joan Jett only performed for 25 minutes, Ann Wilson was visibly freezing and miserable on that stage, and the curfew wouldn’t allow for the making up of lost time. Again, every performer did the best they could, but with the exception of Cheap Trick, it was an abbreviated (sometimes painful) performance all around.
But it wasn’t all bad…
My parents try to come out for a Red Rocks show every year, so when the Heart, Joan Jett, and Cheap Trick show was announced, tickets were purchased immediately. Reserved Row 15 meant we could tailgate without the stress of getting in early to get good seats. A few stray clouds took the brunt of the sun, leaving us with a perfect evening in the Upper North lot. We almost left the jackets in the car when we decided to head in around 6:30pm, but dark clouds way out to the east changed our minds. Better to be safe than sorry.
At our seats, with cold drinks in hand and jackets stowed under the bench, we were ready for “The Best Fucking Rock Band You’ve Ever Seen!”
Cheap Trick took the stage at exactly 7:00pm with an introduction followed by a question. “Hello there ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock?” The answer from the sold-out crowd (all of whom had arrived early) was a resounding ‘Yes!’
Dressed all in white, with sunglasses and swagger, an ageless Robin Zander led the band from one hit to another. “Big Eyes”, “California Man”, “Baby Loves to Rock”, and by request, “Never Had a Lot to Lose”, were all peformed before Zander handed the mic over to Tom Petersson for a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man”. The sun began to set during “The Flame”, thus lighting the night on fire. White clouds hovered like marshmallows ready to roast against the vibrant orange sky. I’m always amazed at how many timeless songs Cheap Trick has to pull from, and how Rick Nielsen seems to have a customized guitar for each one. The trifecta of “I Want You to Want Me”, “Dream Police”, and “Surrender” followed, before they closed out their set with “Gonna Raise Hell”. The whole thing was classic rock perfection. We hardly noticed the rain that had been falling for the last few songs. It was 8:00pm when they finished.
And that’s when sky opened up. And that’s when it started storming. And that’s we got soaked. And that’s we hung out with 75 of our closest friends in the women’s restroom. And that’s when it stormed some more. And that’s when it stormed some more again. It seemed it would never end.
At 9:30pm we made an executive decision. It was time to leave the bathroom. The rain had lightened up and Red Rocks (or the promoters or whoever) were going to have to get Joan Jett on the stage or they were going to have to cancel the show. One way or another, something had to happen.
Five minutes later we were back at our seats when Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took the stage. The packed house wasn’t quite so packed anymore, but that’s probably because the communication with those who went back to their cars was less than ideal. In fact, I’m guessing many people missed the set entirely, considering it lasted less than half an hour.
Kicking things off with “Bad Reputation”, Jett and her four-piece Blackhearts opted for the ‘less talk, more rock’ option. Donning a black shirt, jeans, and a leather jacket, Jett’s style hadn’t changed a bit since her days as a young punk rocker, so watching her perform The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” with a stack of faux tv sets behind her was bucketlist shit. “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” were a couple other highlights from the shortened set. Joan Jett’s presence, with her attitude and raspy voice, was enough to keep the weather at bay for a short time, but by the time she wrapped up her set, the wind was wreaking havoc on the night.
Eight minutes after the Blackhearts were once again safely backstage, Ann and Nancy Wilson appeared as Heart. Having seen them perform a couple times over the past five years, I know for a fact that they are no novelty act. Ann still has a voice that can move mountains, while Nancy still shreds a guitar like an animal (and sings like an angel when called upon to do so). That’s why it was so sad to see them devastated by the elements. The microphone wasn’t working during the first verse of “Wild Child”, and once the problem was fixed, Ann seemed to be screaming into a hurricane. The wind was blowing directly at the stage, causing her to fumble with her jacket and scarves to keep warm. Tears were forming in her eyes as she powered through “Magic Man”, and even though her vocals won the battle during “What About Love” (it really was great), she was forced to forgo the high notes.
Comments were made about the Colorado fans sticking it out “hell or high water,” but it felt more like an accusation than a compliment, especially coming from a woman who was obviously not happy to be performing. Nancy was holding it together a little better though, so despite a less than ideal set, “These Dreams” was the highlight of my whole night. My jeans were still soaking wet and there were oceans of water in my shoes, but even as the wind tried to freeze me out, I was completely content while Nancy was at the mic. She continued on with “Two”, but by that time I was worried about the health and welfare of the rest of my family. The rain was light, but the wind on our wet clothes was getting pretty bad. We had been at Red Rocks for six hours and exhaustion was setting in. They performed “Kick It Out” while we made our way to the north side of the amphitheater and we could still hear the appropriate “Beautiful Broken” as we made our way up the stairs to the ramp to the Upper lot.
I knew we were going to miss “Alone” and “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda”, but it was time to go. It’s hard to watch a band that doesn’t want to be there. And no matter what anyone says, it was obvious that at least one of the Wilson sisters was only on that stage out of obligation.
Overall, the night was an amazing experience. We will probably remember it more than we would’ve if it had just been another concert at Red Rocks. My parents were good sports about the whole thing and were laughing about it on the way home. Weather at Red Rocks is always a risk. It’s just part of it. Every ticket says RAIN OR SHINE and I respect that. But when the weather causes the show to be cut short, or causes certain acts to be on stage for less time than it takes to get a beer, or causes people to trek through lakes of mud to their cars (just to trek back through it an hour later), or causes artists to perform in extremely uncomfortable conditions, then the concert needs to be cancelled. Or at least offer refunds to those who can’t handle it. The whole thing was fine for us. Like the bands, we made the best of it. But I can’t say I blame those people who were chanting “Refund! Refund!” when Joan Jett left the stage early. The tickets were not cheap and (for the first time after 143 shows at the venue) I don’t feel like I got what I paid for.
Baby Loves to Rock
Never Had a Lot to Lose
I’m Waiting for the Man
I Want You to Want Me
Gonna Raise Hell
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts:
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
Light of Day
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
Crimson & Clover
I Hate Myself for Loving You
What About Love
Kick It Out
Crazy on You
Stairway to Heaven