Making music eventful

Categories: Columns
Thumbnail image for Wilco Red Rocks 2009 013.jpg
Soren McCarty
Most years, I make it up to Red Rocks for just one show. It has to be a real occasion -- something to make it worth the drive, the parking, the overpriced beers and the difficulty of escaping once the show is over. Two years ago, I made the journey for Ozomatli, and I left when the headliner, Los Lonely Boys, launched into its onanistic set. Last year, it was Daft Punk, I think. This year, I thought Leonard Cohen was going to be the one show worth the hassle -- one beautiful, magical, once-in-a-lifetime moment up in the hills to catch a performer I've longed to see for more than twenty years. Turns out I was wrong. Tonight, I'm heading up for the third time this summer, so far.

It's not that I have anything against Red Rocks. In fact, I think we should be extremely proud to have such a stunning and truly awesome venue in our backyard, owned and operated by our own city government. In this, as in so many musical riches, we're very lucky. It's just such an event. I mean, I have to pack up rain gear to avoid getting drenched (as I did in 2000 at the infamous Neil Young show), fill up my flask to avoid spending all my money on bad beer, and deal with surly parking lot attendants in their blinding vests. I have to stretch out of my easy, comfortable world of Denver's readily accessible dives, with their cheap drinks, adequate sound systems and, above all, roofs. 

Let's face it. I'm lazy as hell. If live music happened in my bedroom (other than when Leif Garrett makes his occasional appearances in my dreams), I wouldn't leave. I'm spoiled by the fact that a minimum of effort often yields some pretty fantastic musical experiences. But there's a downside to this. Quotidian acts like pulling out my slicker, pouring the Maker's through a funnel and ascending I-70 lend a sense of import, of moment, of event to checking out live music. And it's a sense I've lost.

My first concert ever -- well, the first one I really chose and went to without my parents -- was at Red Rocks. Gene Loves Jezebel opened, followed by a surly and fame-resistant New Order. The night ended with a truly captivating performance by Echo and the Bunnymen. I remember feeling like the coolest kid in the world in the coolest place in the world. That was an event.

But it's just not practical to get all of my live music fixes at Red Rocks. Some of my favorite bands in town just wouldn't translate among those megaliths. So as I shove my raincoat into a duffel for tomorrow night's Film on the Rocks, featuring Bad Luck City and Donnie Darko, I wonder about how to bring that sense of occasion and specialness to the thousands of small shows that happen throughout our fair city throughout the year. I want those shows to feel special for me, but more than that, I want them to feel like worthwhile events for all the folks in town who view coming out to the 3 Kings with the same trepidation I feel about Red Rocks. 

A CD release isn't enough. Those shows rarely feel like events. They're just another night when bands play and hope to sell some stuff. I'm convinced, however, that there is something truly and intrinsically special about live music in Denver. We just have to figure out how to hold that specialness up and marvel at its scintillations, which look an awful lot like the Mile High City's lights, viewed from the beautiful vantage point at the top of Red Rocks.

How do we do it?


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