Hey! . . . Is this Red Rocks?

May 31, 2011 |  by  |  Flickr Gallery, Red Rocks, U2 Sites

Red Rocks

I could not visit Denver without going to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, site of U2’s legendary 1983 concert during their War tour, which would ultimately be released as U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky. Even non-U2 fans are familiar with this show. If you watched MTV at all in the 80s, you undoubtedly saw the video for Sunday Bloody Sunday, filmed here, that was prefaced by Bono’s famous “This song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

The atmosphere of this concert was unearthly, and made for an epic performance captured on film (the kind of “epic” that used to mean something, before it was used to describe movies like The Hangover). Torrential rain fell all day ahead of the show, and the lingering mist rises up to create a mystical glow around the giant torches. It’s early June, but still cold enough that Bono’s breath is visible with every song he sings. And as he struts around the stage with his sweaty mullet, sleeveless shirt and leather boots, massive rock forms are visible behind him. All of this was fresh in my mind after watching the remastered concert DVD on my flight out to Denver. I couldn’t wait to see the historic venue in person, to replay the concert in my head as I stood among the same rocks, to shout from the stage, “Hey, this is Red Rocks!”

Reeling from an incredible opening night of the last (?) leg of the 360 tour, Tim C. and I drove out to Red Rocks (about 20 minutes from downtown Denver) with the June 5, 1983, concert bootleg playing. As we got closer, we cued up Gloria to let Bono announce our arrival. Then the unmistakable Red Rocks profile came into view and I was unexpectedly verklempt. I haven’t made the Joshua Tree trek yet, but I imagine this ranks up there with it.

We parked at the top of the park near the visitor center and made our way up to the amphitheatre. I wondered what I’d find as we crested the entrance. Would I hear the haunting notes of October carried on the wind? Would I see the silhouette of Bono waving the white flag in the shadows of the rocks? Would I feel the roar of the crowd as I stood in the same place they stood 28 years earlier? I was ready to let Red Rocks wash over me when we got to the railing and peered down into the cavernous amphitheatre to see my sacred, hallowed ground covered in … spandex?

Denver is full of obnoxiously fit people. There are joggers and bikers everywhere in the gorgeous, humidity-free outdoors. And they look like they’re enjoying themselves. They’re sweat-free and smiling, and they wave at you as you’re clutching the rail with two hands, trying to catch your breath after walking up eight stairs from the parking lot because you’re “not accustomed to the altitude” or, in truth, to exercising. (If I work out in Florida, it’s like I’ve just climbed out of a swamp. I’m bedraggled and soaked with sweat and look as if I’ve been wrasslin’ gators.) And this Sunday morning, all these fit people were at Red Rocks, getting fitter. They had probably even jogged from downtown.

The place was crawling with exercisers. Literally. People were doing military crawls down the bleachers. People were zigzagging their way up the bleachers (the equivalent of a 5K). There was an extreme fitness group on the stage at the tail of a three-hour class that prides itself on “punishing every muscle in the body,” so much so that “first-timers will have to call in sick to work or not be able to walk normal for a few days” (see them in action below). (A missed flight later that day would give me plenty of airport Internet time to sleuth out what I’d witnessed.) These were people who could do handstand pushups (I saw it with my own eyes) and 24 pull-ups in a row. It was very easy to distinguish the fitness freaks from the U2 freaks, who all stood at the top railing in some iteration of jeans/hoodie/new concert shirt ensembles, looking at the athletic showcase in front of us and trying to figure out ways to creatively crop them out of our photos.

It was not the Red Rocks experience I imagined, but it was impressive and emotional, nonetheless. I took part in my own extreme fitness and climbed down the rows of bleachers, knowing that when I got to the bottom I’d have to get back to the top, which was a challenge as I am, indeed, “not accustomed to the altitude.” The class cleared out and I was able to hop onto the stage and look up and see what Bono saw on that Sunday in 1983. In my mind, I replaced the hundreds of athletes with a crowd of thousands of fans. The overcast mid-day turned into a red twilight. The sound of tennis shoes treading up and down the steps became Larry’s throbbing drumbeat on Out of Control, the show opener. I even paid homage with my own shout. Well, whisper. But, still, I got to say the words. Hey, this is Red Rocks!

See more of my trip to Red Rocks here:

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