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  • Writer's pictureMikala Lugen

Red Rocks Amphitheatre Celebrates 80th Anniversary

Red Rocks 80th Anniversary
Photo: Alpine Music Photo

Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre celebrated its 80th anniversary Wednesday night, welcoming members of the community to commemorate the venue’s history and Colorado music scene.

Emceed by KBCO’s Bret Saunders, the event also highlighted those in the Colorado community that helped keep the music and people alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of hosting a popular headliner, the event showcased multiple sets of selected locals who positively impacted communities across Colorado through music and connective events, including the founders of the global howling movement. Led by Brice Maiurro and Shelsea Ochoa, the howl movement first started as a local trend and eventually turned into a global consciousness from over 100 countries.

“Wolves and coyotes howl to stay connected to each other. I think that’s what howling has done for our communities. We’ve always dreamed of doing a ‘final howl’ once we were able to more safely bring people together. I feel so lucky that it’s in this venue. The goal is to have some nearby coyotes to hear us tonight,” Ochoa said.

Kicking off the night with a mountain-blushed sunset at 6:30 p.m., the Colorado Emerald Pipes took to the stage to deliver some traditional bagpipe ballads. Made up of police officers and firefighters, the group serenaded their communities during the pandemic with nightly Irish tunes.

To officially ignite the 80th season at the world-famous venue, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Executive Director of Denver Arts & Venues Ginger White, and Red Rocks Director, Tad Bowman walked onstage, delivering an inspiring speech to the crowd.

“Red Rocks is one of the great wonders of the world, bringing millions of people together every year to celebrate community and music,” Hancock said. “Over one million people have been holding onto tickets for shows that didn’t happen in 2020. Musicians and music industry workers have been out of work for a year now. Along with bringing people together, Red Rocks is great business for the state of Colorado. But tonight, us being here kicking off the 80th season says to all the musicians and workers that we’re back! Tonight, think about every one of the industry workers as we open Colorado and Red Rocks Amphitheatre.”

Inching closer to the 8 p.m. howl, the night saw rotating sets by various groups who inspired communities around Colorado the past year. Jazz trio, comprised of Jofoke, Shane Endsley, and Adam Waite, who performed virtual shows during COVID, swooned the crowd with their two-song performance, including a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Emily Worthem, frontline ICU nurse who sang to her patients, lifted up the crowd with her soulful cover of Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”

Parker 5th grader Raditya "Rad" Muljadi led the crowd to a standing ovation after his awe-inspiring performance on the piano. Having played virtual concerts for charity over the past year, 11-year-old was a staple performance of the night, really highlighting the different kinds of people who made a difference in their communities in 2020.

While COVID-19 changed the way children attended school, Longmont High School Drumline showed that they didn’t skip a beat over the past year with their performance. Nationally ranked as a top 15 drumline, the group dressed in matching white-creatured suits and masks and played along to a David Attenborough nature broadcast. The “creatures of habitat” struck rhythms to upbeat and darker themes as Attenborough talked through the creatures’ living habits and environment.

Just minutes before 8 p.m., saxophonist Rico Jones strode onstage with his band Countercurrent to deliver a two-song set. Comprised of Braxton Kahn, Hunter Roberts, Alex Heffron, and Tom Amend, the five-piece played through originals “Tagra” and “Don’t Wait For The Moment” on the stage, a quite different scenery from their usual front porch concerts in Sloan’s Lake.

At 8 o’clock sharp, Maiurro and Ochoa led the 2,500-person crowd into a great howl and officially ignited the 80th season at the Rocky Mountain venue. The roaring cheers and howl brought seven-piece Jazz Arts Messengers onstage for a two-song, funky jazz performance. Comprised of Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts students, the 2020 neighborhood front porch series musicians performed a “A Day In Vienna” and “Fried Buzzard.”

Concluding the night for an epic finale was D’Evelyn High School Marching Band. Elected earlier in the year to participate in a virtual parade across America on Inauguration Day, the emerald and black striking group sent the night off with a four-song performance, including Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and Neil Diamond’s famous anthem “Sweet Caroline.”

If you missed last night’s event, you can stream the performance on Red Rocks Facebook page here. You can view a full gallery of Red Rock Amphitheatre’s 80th anniversary celebration below, courtesy of photographer Colin McKinley/Alpine Music Photo.


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