by Brenda Hillegas
“But wait, Red Rocks is in Colorado,” you’re probably thinking. And yes, yes it is in Colorado. Yes this is a Philadelphia music magazine and yes, Red Rocks is way out of our coverage zone. But you know what? I went there, I’m the editor of this magazine, and I’m going to write about it.
I decided very quickly and impulsively to head to Colorado after a friend and I bought tickets to see Amos Lee do a hometown show here in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music. She suggested I listen to the album he recorded at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. If you aren’t familiar with the Red Rocks Amphitheater, it’s a beautiful (that’s such an understatement) rock structure; an open air venue that is one of the best places to listen to live music. Or so I was told. I had yet to see it for myself.
The wheels started turning in my head. One of my very best friends lives in Colorado. I texted her to see just how far away from Red Rocks she lived. About thirty minutes. When she moved to Arizona, I flew out to see her. When she moved to Texas, I went there too. And now she’s living in Colorado near Red Rocks and with a brand new baby I had yet to meet. I tried to find a few more reasons to justify a trip out to Colorado less than two months before my wedding. At the time, I didn’t think anyone would be throwing me a bachelorette party, so that was a good enough excuse to throw myself one. In Colorado. (Turns out I’m getting two bachelorette parties and they both take place in early October, oops). At this point, I didn’t even check to see who was playing at Red Rocks in the upcoming weeks. When I found out Jason Isbell would be there, one of my favorites, it was a done deal. Tickets to/from Colorado via Southwest were booked.
So two days after the Amos Lee show, I found myself on an early flight to visit my friend Megan and see my first show at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado. We hit up some breweries, as one does in Colorado, and spent the day in Boulder and at Avery Brewing before making our way to Red Rocks. I wanted to get there early to explore everything.
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame exists inside the Red Rocks Amphitheater and tells quite a bit of music history…
Everyone who has played Red Rocks to date…
I’m sure you’re very eager to get to the review part of the show, but the truth is, there’s so much more to a show at Red Rocks than who is playing there on any given night. I mean, look at this view:
The best seats in the house have to be in the section pictured above. Though we had closer seats, my friend and I decided to stand at the very top during the opening act, Lucero. I can’t say much because I was too busy being in awe at what was around me. Lucero was a name I had heard many times before and the band often pops up on Pandora when I play the Jason Isbell channel. I was glad to finally hear them live, though I can’t remember much other than this…
We finally made our way down to our seats just before Jason took the stage. My friend’s parents happened to be in town from Pennsylvania that week too and they decided to also come to the show, because like most people, they just wanted to see a show, any show, at Red Rocks.
Out came Mr. Isbell with his band, the 400 Unit. They opened with “Flying Over Water”, my personal favorite, off of his 2013 release Southeastern. Anyone who has seen Jason before knows he always plays a good mix of songs from his various albums, as well as some tracks he wrote during his days with Drive-By Truckers. As usual, he played DBT’s “Decoration Day” and “Dress Blues”. They are songs I’ve heard a million times before, but suddenly in the presences of Red Rocks, I heard the words in ways I never had before. At some point, early on in his set, he called the good people of Colorado some “lucky sons of bitches” for having this gorgeous rock formation turned venue right in their backyard.
“Cover Me Up”, a love song to his wife and band member, Amanda Shires is absolutely perfect. Shires wasn’t with them at this show, though, as she was out promoting her own record, My Piece of Land, which was about to be released that Friday. I’ve seen Jason, and Amanda, perform this song many times and the way the audience cheers every time he mentions getting sober, it’s chilling. We are all, and always have been, rooting for Jason Isbell. I could go on and on about first hearing about him via the DBT documentary, interviewing him back in 2013 and seeing him play in small Philly venues, and just watching him emerge into one of the best singer-songwriters out there. Ever. Yeah, I said that and I mean it.
When the chords to “Never Gonna Change” started, I knew it was time for us to leave. This is almost always the last song of the night before the encore and while getting stuck at Red Rocks might be something I will wish for one day, that night wasn’t the time. Traffic jams would be inevitable. Sadly, we missed an encore that included “Elephant” and “Children of Children”.
I’m grateful to have experienced Red Rocks, and better yet- with one of my favorite musicians. Whatever your taste in music, you can find something to listen to there. If you’re a fan of live shows and want to see one in a way you’ll never get anywhere else, then do what I did. It was the perfect night.