Hot take: Red Rocks is a cool place to see a show, OR, My first Red Rocks experience absolutely lived up to the hype in every possible way.
Opener: First Aid Kit
The Soderberg sisters from Sweden provided a nice warm up as we sipped beer while standing in the lengthy merch line to grab a couple of sweet Ryan Adams t-shirts. And no, not the one that says “I listen to Ryan Adams because I am pretty emotional right now”, although those are also hilarious. Pretty harmonies, mellow music, and even a Heart cover transitioned us from late-afternoon sun to pre-twilight semi-darkness. Their set didn’t turn me into a big fan as my brother had hoped and predicted, but it was certainly not unenjoyable. Basically, it was First Aid Kit.
Headliner: Ryan Adams and the Unknown Band
A little context may help explain how much I was looking forward to this show. Ryan is one of my favorite musicians going, and I consider him among the very greatest American songwriters of my generation. Throughout his career with Whiskeytown, his early solo work, his short stint with The Cardinals, and his more recent solo efforts, he has been as effective as he has been prolific. The only other time I saw him perform was in Boise in 2007 with his Cardinals, and it was truly fantastic to see them up close in the small 900-person capacity Big Easy (now Knitting Factory for you youngsters).
Artists who have genuine talent and passion, and are willing to follow their muse, have always been “my guys”, and Ryan fits that mold. Consider that in a span of less than three years, Ryan released an album of 1-minute “singles” under his new Paxam label, followed that up with a solid eponymous solo record, decided to cover Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 album, and then went ahead and issued his finest album in years, Prisoner. Not bad for a guy who many thought had his best days behind him.
The afternoon started out ominously, with temps approaching 100 and smoke from nearby wildfires billowing into the greater Denver area valley. Then, as we were having dinner before the show, a storm rolled in, complete with wind gusts, lightning, clouds, and substantial rain. This actually turned out to be a blessing: after about 20 minutes, the wind, rain and lightning were gone and it was about 15 degrees cooler – and the smoke was all but gone. We ended up with a clear and relatively cool evening, complete with a terrific view of the city.
To call Red Rocks Amphitheatre a beautiful place to see a live performance is an understatement. I will not try to paint the picture, but can tell you that it is everything you have heard. I have been to a lot of amazing places in Oregon, Utah, Alaska, British Columbia, Montana, and my native Idaho, but this one is a special place: oh, and bands come from far and wide to play music there. This was a sold out crowd that was involved and loud (in a mostly good way) throughout, enjoying every minute of every song – of which there were many. In all he played 24 songs, and continued playing about 20 minutes after the curfew, which he acknowledged would cost him $15,000 but said he was having fun and didn’t care. I think he was telling the truth, he seemed to be as happy as Ryan Adams is capable of being.
There may not have been any covers or crazy obscure tracks, but he did close with a killer solo rendition of “Jacksonville Skyline”, an old Whiskeytown favorite that he dedicated to his deceased brother. Before they left the stage, he introduced his backing band, the Unknown Band, which occurred to me made them pretty, well, known. All in all this was an experience that lived up to the hype I had allowed myself to build up for it.
Let It Ride
To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Gimme Something Good
Stay With Me
Prisoner (Ryan solo)
Shakedown on 9th Street
Do You Still Love Me?
My Wrecking Ball
Oh My Sweet Carolina
New York, New York
I See Monsters
Come Pick Me Up
Jacksonville Skyline (Ryan solo)
Spotify playlist link: