Monique Bechard had been anticipating Wednesday night for a long time. “It’s like we’ve been on a long road trip where you’re waiting and waiting until you’re actually going to get there,” she said, while lounging with three friends in the Upper South Parking lot outside of Red Rocks Amphitheatre. “We are here, and we finally get to open the doors and stretch. Red Rocks is back.”
Red Rocks definitely returned in a big way on Wednesday night, as some 9,000 people crowded in between the iconic music venue’s sandstone monoliths to watch Americana artist Shakey Graves perform. While Red Rocks has hosted concerts throughout the pandemic, including small shows for hundreds of people last summer and performances with larger capacities—first 2,800 and then 6,300—this spring, Wednesday was the first event at full capacity since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the space in March 2020. It represented an important milestone on the Denver area’s continued return to normalcy.
The significance of the event was not lost on many fans in attendance. Before the show, the space’s upper plaza featured a parade of people looking out over the entire venue and saying things like, “Red Rocks, baby! We’re back,” or “Back in heaven!” Many of those excited declarations, of course, were accompanied by “rock on” or “hang loose” hand gestures.
For some, it was their first Red Rocks experience. Lauren Fuchs, a 24-year-old from Massachusetts, was on a road trip visiting national parks when she realized she could snags tickets to one of her bucket list venues. She decided to stay an extra night to make it happen. “I am on the verge of tears, getting chills—[my] heart is bursting with happiness,” she said before the live music started. “What a way for me to kick off post-COVID concerts.”
The concert’s opener, indie singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus, was also overwhelmed by the moment. “Fuck. I haven’t done this in awhile,” she said at the start of her set. “This is my first show since March 2020. I don’t know if y’all have been to shows, but I haven’t.”
Ahead of Shakey Graves’ performance, as the venue reached high capacity, the familiar smells (i.e., mountainous wafts of weed) and sounds (the metallic clinks of Dale’s Pale Ale cans) created a sensory symphony for anyone who had spent the past few months avoiding people. So, too, came the less enjoyable parts of large crowds: lines. Beer and food queues were, at times, 40 to 50 people deep. “I was trying to cut through the beer line to get somewhere and nobody moved,” said 33-year-old Jon Black. “During COVID we all became so spatially aware. And everyone just stood in their place like, I ain’t getting cut. That was weird.”
The night was also not without reminders of COVID-19. While mask-wearing was almost non-existent (we saw maybe 20 people with one on), the big screen next to the stage advertised a free vaccine clinic, where concertgoers could get a free t-shirt and other souvenirs along with a Johnson & Johnson inoculation. The King Soopers pharmacist manning the clinic said he had given one person a shot as of about 8:30 p.m. He had only brought 15 doses with him, and didn’t anticipate giving out many more, if any.
Once Shakey Graves began playing close to 9 p.m., the experience felt remarkably familiar for some concertgoers. “If I had a picture pre-COVID and compared it to one of right now, you wouldn’t see a difference really,” said Black. “That’s pretty cool that we are at that point.”
The end of the night, however, featured the ultimate sign that Red Rocks is all the way back: Revelers headed to the legendary area’s parking lots for after parties, while other concertgoers waited in a conga line of cars slowly snaking down the hill to get out of the venue. The wait, though, was at least accompanied by the high from seeing live music with thousands of other people.