Smaller Is Better: Red Rocks Amphitheater

The Red Rocks Amphitheater gives me an amazing experience every time, and it has truly become my favorite venue of all. Even the rain can’t stub out its fire. Imagine this – the sunlight dies out behind you as the chords of the opener began splitting the warm summer air. You’re surrounded by hundreds of people that look on with you, singing, smiling, moving with the beat. The night is just beginning as the sound hurtles over and around you; thousands of lights from Denver begin blinking below. Creation and Ship Rock stand tall at your sides. And Stage Rock embraces the band in front of you. You become immersed in the music and for those few short hours, you forget everything and become part of the show. So what makes it so special?

The beauty of a smaller venue is the intimacy it brings to the crowd. You are closer to the performer and they feel closer to you. What may seem like a minute change can actually make the world of difference for your experience at a live show. The interaction level changes as the crowd becomes more involved and the performers begin to feed off of that energy.

You tend get a raw concert setting that opens up to both listener and musician. You can see the pain or happiness that spreads on their face while playing a tune, maybe even catch it in their voice or chord emphasis. They begin sharing a personalized version, specifically tainted that night by the crowd’s energy.

Another factor with a smaller venue is the people themselves actually want to be there. That is a huge influence on how much you will enjoy show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to an arena show, only to be shocked at the complete withdrawal of the people around me. Texting. Trying to have private conversations. Even sleeping. Why even come if you’re not interested?

This segment of the population has always boggled my mind. Not only are they not having fun, but they’re taking that away from the people around them, too. It’s difficult to stand and jam when you’re blocking someone’s view.

Situations such as this make you question the engagement level of the performers that night. Was it them? Did they put on a lame show? Were they not excited about their own music? I have to say no. I think it’s the setting that’s wrong. When you go to that level of performance, you have to become more than just a band to gain the crowd’s attention. You need lights. You need flashy backgrounds. You need dance sequences. You need moving parts.

But even then it’s still not enough. For me anyway. At that point, the performer has lost their intimacy. They have become an entertainer putting on just another show. Ironically, that connection you initially had when you fell in love with their music has disappeared, leaving you with a lackluster emotion and completely unsatisfied.

Now granted, you could also argue that Red Rocks is certainly not the smallest of venues. To which I would agree, but it does create one the most unique performance experiences you can find for its size. Small venues, like the Ogden or Fillmore in Denver, also produce that same personal effect on a greater level. The crowd is sincerely listening like an old friend allowing the performer to open up and share their life and other’s through the music.

I encourage you to go try out one of your local small venues if you haven’t. Start by picking a band you like, (I wouldn’t expect you to try to get through hours of music you dislike and actually enjoy yourself … But it could happen?), and go give it a shot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and, like myself, will never return to an arena sized venue again. Should you by chance make it to Red Rocks this year, I’ll see you there!