Beckwith: No let-downs at Red Rocks
May 10, 2017
Rarely do expectations live up to the hype. Greg Oden, alleged Portland Trail Blazer franchise center, petered out before he took his peter out and put it on the internet. New Year's Eve is the ultimate over-promise, under-deliver night out. Even something as simple as the little pepper pictures that restaurants put by spicy dishes often disappoints. If I see a pepper icon by a dish, I want to sweat through my nose.
However, when something does meet the hoopla, it is one of the best feelings ever. Movies like "Superbad" and "Wedding Crashers" that made you rue working on their opening weekends are a couple examples. It's a matter of perspective for many aspects: losing your V-card, awesome; the strip club, terrible. But one place, revered and praised by many, had me drinking the spiked Kool-Aid by the end of the night.
That place was Red Rocks. The disposition toward Red Rocks was a lot like how locals talk about Belly Up Aspen. You can visit Aspen many times, but seeing a great show at Belly Up is a rite of passage. It's like going to a steak house in Omaha or eating barbecue in Kansas City. So when I found out that Chance the Rapper was doing a two-night set at the legendary venue, I had to buy tickets — which was about the only drawback.
My friend and I caught a concert shuttle from Boulder. For $35 apiece it wasn't a bad deal. I would've preferred to organize a party bus with Denver and Boulder friends, but a midweek concert isn't exactly convenient for my late-20s to early-30s friends. If I were 10 years younger, it would've been easy to rally the troops and slam a bunch of Fireball and vodka straight out of the bottle like our fellow bus riders. Did I say easy? I meant vomit-inducing.
The walk from the parking lot to the entry line wasn't bad. Getting passed by a bunch of jogging millenials might have been disheartening if I didn't live in Aspen. The wait to get in was painless and the "pat down" even less so. I'm not advising you to sneak illicit drugs in. That said, I adhere to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus-beer policy of "be discrete so we don't have to be dicks."
We entered at stage level. The stage is flanked by two brick buildings that appear to be carved out of the rocks. Upon closer examination they were just brick structures, but the color was similar to the towering rocks that surround the bench seats. The rocks were red (duh) but a slightly more muted red than the color of the mountains around Glenwood in the summer. The rock formations shooting up the sides are massive, and the most prominent looks like Pride Rock from "The Lion King." You know the rock that Rafiki hoists Simba up to show the masses while "Circle of Life" plays? That one. From our seats we could see the Denver cityscape, which was even more awe-inspiring when the sun went down and the buildings lit up.
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Red Rocks is largely general admission unless you splurge for reserved seating by the stage, which I did not, so we found a great spot midway up the bleachers. The bench seats are spacious and provide ample room for dancing. I would hold onto your beer though, because concert-goers streaming up and down to rows led to a lot of fallen soldiers.
Speaking of refreshments, once situated, we needed two necessities. The first was beer and the second was bathrooms. Drinks were readily available whether it was vendors walking the aisles, or concession stands at the bottom, midway and top of the area. Bathrooms were a little trickier. They're located at the bottom and top of the venue. So we, sitting at the halfway mark, had to run stairs whenever the urge came calling. And being as excited as we were not to miss a song, we ended up running enough stairs to have sore calves the next day.
As for the show, that hit every expectation that the venue did. The opener, who was all bass and mumbled lyrics, and the hype DJ, DJ Oreo, who amped the crowd with new Kendrick Lamar like Travolta giving an adrenaline shot to Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction," got the crowd hooting and the weed smoke clouds billowing.
Chance came out in his usually subdued manner: jeans, beige jacket and the ever-present "3" baseball hat. In his soft, welcoming voice he announced that he would get to his most recent album, "Coloring Book," later, but would begin with "Acid Rap," his second mixtape, which happens to be my favorite. It's like if you're a Sublime fan and they played "40oz. to Freedom" instead of the ever popular and over-played self-titled album.
The other aspect of the show I thoroughly enjoyed was his live band and backup singers. Songs like "Smoke Again" and "Same Drugs" were enthralling. The bass on "Smoke Again" would've been deafening with only a sound system, but was crisp with a live drummer. "Same Drugs," which is more ballad than a rap song, closed out the night and I snuck down stage-side for it. Looking up and watching the sea of people happily dance and sway under the moonlit amphitheater was a surreal visual to end the evening.
While most shows have me repeating Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype," this one shattered and exceeded the high bar I set. I'm very thankful I spent the money to attend and also for the hospitality of my sister Sarah and her fiance and my good friend Zack. And if you're ever on the fence about Red Rocks, flip a same-sided quarter and call heads.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.