Tusinski: Red Rocks is starting to tumble downhill

Red Rocks’ reputation has begun to precede it, and the venue has become a bit less magical as a result.

Red+rocks

Collegian | Dylan Tusinski

Concertgoers dance in the stands of Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre during a Bob Weir concert June 8, 2021.

Dylan Tusinski, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

The fall semester just started, and tons of Colorado State University students have arrived in Fort Collins — many from out of state — and all are looking for Colorado-y things to do in their new home state. One of the first boxes freshly minted Coloradans seek to check off is seeing a concert at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre.

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Take it from someone who has lived in Colorado their entire life and has seen upward of 25 concerts on the rocks: It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Before rattling off all the reasons I’ve become disillusioned with Red Rocks, let’s get something out of the way: In terms of physical beauty, Red Rocks is second to none.

There is nothing on this Earth like seeing a show beneath the gaze of the venue’s eons-old sandstone monoliths, climbing to the top after a show to see the glittering lights of Denver dance along the horizon or taking the long, winding drive through tunnels and trees to arrive at the venue. When it comes to physical splendor, Red Rocks truly is the best in the world.

That being said, many first-timers at the venue find the natural landscapes are one of the venue’s biggest flaws. Many people don’t realize Red Rocks isn’t a place you can hike, it’s a place you sometimes have to hike.

Unless you get there early enough to park in the upper north or south parking lots, you might have to hike up massive staircases, roads and dirt trails to get to the venue — not to mention the 69 rows of seats you could climb up and down in order to get drinks, buy merch or go to the bathroom.

“When the skies are clear, the wind is soft and the heat is low, Red Rocks certainly does have wonderful sound quality, but the second any of that changes, the sound follows suit.”

While lots of people go to Red Rocks to indulge in that athleticism, the physical requirements of Red Rocks make it a very inaccessible venue.

Only two of its rows are wheelchair friendly, with those being the first and last rows (behind row 69). That means wheelchair-using concertgoers looking to see a show either have to possibly pay extra for a front-row seat or sit farther away than anyone else. Red Rocks was even fined earlier this month for overcharging wheelchair-using attendees and their guests $47,950.90 from 2018-20.

On top of that, the sound quality of Red Rocks shows is hit or miss, to say the least. The venue proclaims itself as “the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world,” and while the first part is true, the second claim is a bit questionable, as Red Rocks’ acoustics are often only as perfect as the weather.

When the skies are clear, the wind is soft and the heat is low, Red Rocks certainly does have wonderful sound quality, but the second any of that changes, the sound follows suit.

The sound issues have become so problematic that Red Rocks has begun to encourage visitors in the nosebleed seats to wear headphones and listen to a livestream of the show instead of just listening to it live.

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Furthermore — and this may be the most jaded opinion I have in this article — Red Rocks just isn’t as special as it used to be.

Historically, Red Rocks has only allowed big-ticket artists to headline a handful of shows each year. Over the last couple years, Red Rocks has shifted from only holding concerts on weekends to holding events nearly every single day for two to three months over the summer. While I support letting as many people as possible enjoy the magic of Red Rocks, the venue isn’t holding all those events to elevate more artists — it’s doing it to increase revenue.

That being said, I wouldn’t have been to so many Red Rocks shows if there wasn’t something special about the venue. It’s a uniquely magical place, and I think everybody should see a show or two there during their life. Red Rocks’ reputation has begun to precede it, and the venue has become a bit less magical as a result.

Reach Dylan Tusinski at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.