Twenty fabled moments in Denver music: #15: Grateful Dead's first time at Red Rocks in 1978
Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Bill Walton at Red Rocks with their sons July 1978.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Backbeat will be counting down the twenty most fabled moments in Denver music history. Today, a look back at the first time the Grateful Dead played at Red Rocks in 1978.
The origins of Colorado's jam band "scene" are pretty nebulous, but July 7, 1978, is probably as close to a date as you're going to find pinpointing its genesis, for that's the first time the Grateful Dead played Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and, by all accounts, it was a barn burner of a performance. Words like "legendary" and "monumental" are thrown around on internet discussion boards describing the first of a two-night stand in Morrison.
• #20: Beatlemania at Red Rocks
• #19: Michael Jackson's secretive stay in Denver
• #18: Black Flag openers Nig-Heist get arrested for nudity 1984
• #17: Einsturzende Neubauten play '86 junkyard show
• #16: Radiohead's gear gets jacked in 1995
Consider the circumstances leading up to these summer shows: Red Rocks was famously shut down after an infamous 1971 Jethro Tull concert (which is sure to be included here in the twenty fabled moments at some point). The tear gas dissipated and the crowds had left crying, and there wouldn't be another rock show at the Morrison venue for a full five years, soft-rock acts like Sonny & Cher excluded.
Meanwhile, the Dead had just come off a nearly two-year hiatus that ended in 1976. They had long before then established themselves as the quintessential Bay Area psychedelic folk band and had developed a strong fan base. Workingman's Dead and American Beauty were released in 1970, giving the world "Uncle John's Band," "Truckin'" and "Casey Jones." They had already played Colorado a number of times by then, including a City Park gig in Denver in 1967 (which also featured an altitude-sick Captain Beefheart) and an indoor rodeo gig in Colorado Springs in 1969 (where they took the stage at 4 a.m.). They also played gigs in Boulder in '69 and '72.