Notable Performances
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Notable Performances

Summers of Stars

Hosting literally thousands of concerts and events over the past 75+ years, the history of entertainment at Red Rocks tends to follow the arc of popular culture and popular music. Opera, classical and chamber music performances of the early 1900s to 1940s gave way to the rock and roll and psychedelic music of the 1960s and 70s. Soft rock took over the venue for the majority of the 1970s, a genre deemed “safe” for the amphitheatre after a tumultuous and legendary Jethro Tull concert in 1971 resulted in a ban on rock and roll music being performed at the venue enacted by then-Mayor William H. McNichols and San Feiner, director of the city’s Theaters and Arenas division at the time.

Eventually the ban was lifted, paving the way for performers then and now considered musical superstars of all genres to fill the amphitheatre, including jam bands, new age rock artists, alternative, indie, rap and hip-hop and now, EDM performers and DJs.

Below are some of the most notable performances in Red Rocks history.

Pietro Satriano - 1906

On May 31, 1906, the grand opening of what was then known at Garden of the Titans featured Pietro Satriano and his 25-piece brass band.

Signor Ferollo's Band - 1910

Signor Ferullo’s Band, the in-house musicians at Denver's Lakeside Amusement Park, played Red Rocks on August 7, 1910. Tickets cost 60 cents, including the 45-minute round trip on the Colorado & Southern railroad from Denver to Morrison.

Mary Garden - 1911

Mary Garden, world-famous Scottish soprano performed on a makeshift platform on May 10, 1911, while fans sat and watched on a rocky slope. Her concert was pronounced as “the first test of the acoustic qualities of the great natural auditorium, capable of seating 30,000 people in which the most delicate notes on the violin which reach every part.”

Red Rocks Grand Opening - 1941

The Red Rocks official grand opening took place on June 15, 1941. The governor and mayor spoke, as did representatives of Rotary International. To honor the Native Americans, the program opened with a ceremonial Eagle Dance and a Zuni Indian melody. To further showcase the natural acoustics, vocal artists sang, “Home on the Range,” “Ol’ Man River” and the Overture from Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld.”

Easter Sunrise Service - 1947

The first sunrise Easter service debuted on April 6, 1947, and is now Red Rocks' oldest annual event, held near the beginning of each season. In its first year, an estimated 60,000 visitors showed up, while 16,000 squeezed in that Sunday morning.

Lily Pons - 1952

Lily Pons brought a huge crowd to the Rocks on July 3, 1952, to hear her perform with Saul Caston and the Denver Symphony. A crowd of more than 12,000 attended and a concert reviewer noted that she “sang with the voice of a happy bird trying its trills and roulades to break the calm of a summer night.”

The Beatles - 1964

On August 26, 1964, The Beatles played Red Rocks in concert for $6.60. Only three-fourths of the seats sold, making Red Rocks the only concert on The Beatles’ initial American tour that did not sell out. “I remember it was very high and the air was thin,” drummer Ringo Starr later recalled. “They were giving us hits from oxygen canisters.”

Johnny Cash - 1965

The first country and western musicians came to Red Rocks on August 29, 1965. Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three headlined the show, which included Tex Ritter, June Carter and the Statler Brothers.

Jimi Hendrix - 1968

Jimi Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge appeared on September 1, 1968, ushering in the psychedelic era. “I had a lot of fun at that Denver, Colorado place. That was groovy,” Hendrix recalled. This would be Hendrix’s only show at the venue, of which there are no known recordings or photos. It was the first Red Rocks booking for Denver concert promoter Barry Fey, who went on to control the lion’s share of bookings through his “Summer Of Stars” series, which began in 1976.

Jethro Tull - 1971

Jethro Tull’s show on June 10, 1971, sold out early and then exploded when thousands arrived without tickets and crashed the gates, resulting in confrontation with 200 cops. After police helicopters zoomed in to lob tear gas, rock-throwing and chaos ensued. The show went on, but with tear gas drifting over the crowd and performers. After that melee, rock concerts were banned from Red Rocks for five years until 1976.

John Denver - 1974

John Denver became the first artist to play four nights in a row (June 27-30, 1974) at a venue he helped make popular with broadcasts from his shows at Red Rocks during the 70s and 80s.

Bonnie Raitt - 1976

Bonnie Raitt’s initial appearance at Red Rocks came as part of the Summer of Stars, celebrating Colorado’s statehood centennial and the 200th anniversary of the United States. Her performance that year came with another first-timer, Jimmy Buffet.

Bruce Springsteen - 1978

Bruce Springsteen debuted at Red Rocks on June 20, 1978 in his first outdoor performance. Springsteen was notoriously reticent about playing outdoors but was finally swayed when told that Red Rocks was simply “indoors without a roof.” An awestruck Springsteen took the stage and marveled, “Nice place you got here . . . bunch of big rocks!”

Grateful Dead - 1978

The Grateful Dead’s maiden run at Red Rocks came on July 7-8, 1978. That two-night stand sold out, and some say these shows ushered in the modern-day jam-band movement. The following year, the Dead shifted to three nights as they preferred to play multiple nights rather than a single show.

U2 - 1983

U2 built their reputation playing in misty mystical weather at Red Rocks on June 5, 1983. Producers spent $40,000 to light the rocks, and despite driving wind and pounding rain, the show went on in front of 4,400 hardy fans. This became a turning point for the band, resulting in the group’s live concert film and album Under a Blood Red Sky.

Bob Dylan - 1986

Bob Dylan played Red Rocks on July 26-27, 1986, with backing from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Dylan’s show was the biggest of that summer for Red Rocks.

Blues Traveler - 1993

On July 4, 1993, Blues Traveler begin their three-decade long residency playing Red Rocks every Fourth of July.

Dave Matthews Band - 1995

Dave Matthews Band released Live At Red Rocks 8/15/95, the first in a series of live recordings to give fans an alternative to the many bootlegs on the market.

Film on the Rocks - 2000

To celebrate the new millennium, the now popular Film on the Rocks series was created, pairing popular Hollywood films with local music acts. The debut on August 7, 2000 screened Casablanca with local band Hot Tomatoes Orchestra.

Widespread Panic - 2008

In 2008, Widespread Panic surpassed all other performers by putting on 32 sold out shows, prompting Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to proclaim June 27, 2008 “Widespread Panic Day.”

Mumford & Sons - 2012

On August 29, 2012, Mumford & Sons recorded their live performance of their single “I Will Wait” at Red Rocks. The performance was released as the band's official video for the song and Mumford & Sons also released a full-length film of their show, entitled The Road To Red Rocks.

Stevie Wonder - 2019

Stevie Wonder played Red Rocks for the first time on June 24, 2019, at the age of 69. His performance at the venue was one for the ages as he ran through his parade of timeless tunes, with Usher joining him on stage for a few classic soul-infused songs.

Diana Ross - 2019

Diana Ross set a record five decades in the making when she played Red Rocks on July 22, 2019. Her concert in 2019 came 50 years after her first performance at the venue, when Ross, as lead singer of the Supremes, played Red Rocks in 1969 in what would be the group’s farewell tour.