Twenty fabled moments in Denver music: #15: Grateful Dead's first time at Red Rocks in 1978
The Grateful Dead at Red Rocks.
So they were a known quantity around these parts. The Dead's time off, however, and Red Rocks' somewhat recent reintroduction of rock bands created the kind of momentum that pretty much assured the band's first show there would be legendary. Jerry Garcia could have taken a nap on stage that night, and it would likely still be remembered as the Dead's mythical first Red Rocks show.
Twist & Shout owner Paul Epstein was there, and put it in perspective thusly:
"The entire -- what is now unfortunately called the 'jam band movement' -- is inextricably tied to Colorado. Absolutely, this is the cradle of it. The whole summer festival touring scene really developed here. The Grateful Dead's first concert at Red Rocks was hugely important. This was when the traveling Dead scene was becoming nationally known, instead of a little cult thing. Those shows at red rocks were just gigantically important. Tons of people came out from California. It really became the first major travel destination outside the Bay Area for the Grateful Dead."
And it became a major headache. Deadheads, the (mostly) harmless band of Dead groupies, inundated campgrounds around Morrison with each successive year the band played there. This culminated in a petition to get the Dead show in Telluride canceled in 1987, while the band was on a career high with their only hit song, "Touch of Grey." The petition did not work.
The '78 shows -- of which there were four total (two in July, two in August) -- were the first of many return engagements to Red Rocks. By the time Phish first played there in '93, the venue was already a mecca for jam bands. The question of whether Colorado would be the jam band destination it is today is debatable. But Epstein's point is a salient one: Without the Dead playing here on those summer days more than three decades ago, the Rocky Mountains would be a little less tie-dyed than it is today.
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