Now that Mike and I are back home in New Jersey, I am finally able to gather my thoughts around this phenomenal show, and what it meant for me to be there. I acquired a multi-generation soundboard tape of 7/8 sometime back in 1982, as well as a better sounding tape of 7/7. Both shows seemed to crackle with energy, and you could easily tell from them that the Dead were having a blast playing in such a place as Red Rocks for the first of what would be many times. I made a promise to myself then that I would make it to Red Rocks some day, and now after 36 years I have!
Just driving into the valley from Denver, where we were renting a house for the week, the geology of the area was spectacular. I knew that the venue was on a steep hillside, but never knew how many steps would lead up from the road to the entrance. Mike has arthritis in his knees, so it was quite a challenge for him, but he made it up, and we climbed our way to the middle of the 35th row, where we found a nice stretch of open seats. The heat had been intense that day (close to 100 degrees), but, it being Colorado, and about 6,000 feet up, there was no humidity at all. Keller Williams was in the middle of his set, and you could tell it was all he could do to keep even one eye open staring at the crowd, as the sun was blazing right at the stage. We marveled at how relaxed and joyful almost everyone seemed to be, and their smiles were inescapable. The beer selection was terrific, and we were grateful that we could bring in our own food.
By the time DSO came on stage, the breeze had picked up, and the sun was just beginning to set behind the rear of the venue, bringing welcome relief to all (and, yes, Mr. Barraco...we were never happier to feel that breeze, too!). The energy and enthusiasm emanating from the band members was palpable even before the first note was played, and it radiated right through the crowd. Happy to see Jeff sporting his Travis Bean, which has such a warm and unique sound, but I was kinda hoping he would be lent the Wolf for this show, as he had been given the honor of playing in Boston recently. Bertha got things started with a bang, and Jeff tore through his leads with obvious pride and focus. Good Lovin' found Eaton almost on fire, and in very good voice. Both Roses and Minglewood shined, and stood out to me as highlights.The rest of the first set was just played with similar gusto, and you could tell everyone one stage was having so much fun. It almost seemed like they were in some kind of rapturous vortex, acutely aware of what they were re-creating on this very special night, and relishing every minute of it! A thunderstorm developed in the distance to the East, replete with a few bolts of lightning, but thankfully never came in our direction. We also noticed that the temperature had dropped several degrees, and the breeze continued, making it quite comfortable compared to earlier in the day. A rainbow even appeared to the South as the storm passed, to the delight of everybody. Donna Jean was invited on stage beginning with Promised Land, graciously helped by Lisa, and the crowd gave her a properly rousing greeting. It was so nice to see her expression of gratitude, and the smiles grew even wider on our faces knowing that she was helping the band mark this re-creation with extra clout. Deal closed out the set raucously, with everyone singing the refrain back at the band, and then came a much needed break.
We enjoyed our picnic dinner, and relaxed with our neighbors, marveling at our incredible surroundings! The beauty of Red Rocks cannot merely be expressed in words... it is magical, entrancing, and as close to utopian an environment as we had ever been immersed in! Even the little kids and babies seemed lost in a blissful fog!
After almost an hour, the band reappeared looking fresh and ready to carry on with the magic. Samson blasted forth with immense energy, especially from both drummers. Rob Koritz played with the crowd by jubilantly pointing one of his sticks at the crowd and goading us to respond, which we did in kind! Eaton's voice was so powerful, and really came close to sounding like Bobby in 1978 at times. Ship of Fools was given a tender and heartfelt treatment by Jeff, and his vocals were spot on, as well. The Estimated that followed has already been lauded in previous reviews, and rightly so. I found myself spinning with my head back and allowing the jams to take me to heights I seldom experience, almost lost in the sheer joy of Jeffs leads. The Other One brought me back to earth, with Skip unleashing the best bass intro I have ever heard him perform! Eaton once again shined brightly, owning the lyrics, and spitting them out like a man possessed. Eyes was another treat, and I actually liked this version much better that the original. Drums were made even more special with the invitation to the stage of family and friends of the band, and the looks on those lucky kids faces I will never forget!
After a decent Space, Wharf Rat appeared, and what a fantastic version it was! I would call it a highlight of the show for me, but there were so many, and more to come. Franklin's got the crowd whipped into a frenzy, singing back to the band, and Jeff ripped through the leads. Eaton then went all rock star on Sugar Mags, leaning into the mic and shouting the lyrics, almost bordering on hysteria. The crowd went nuts, of course, and I found it hard to stay earthbound during SSDD.
A short break, then we were treated to a simply gorgeous take on Terrapin, which built up steam as it progressed, and had everyone on their feet again. Soulful delivery by Jeff, to say the least, and I could have gone home happy right then and there! As the final notes of Terrapin faded, Eaton introduced Saturday Night with just the right timing, and it sure pleased the crowd immensely, even though it was a Sunday night. The Werewolves that followed was a highlight from the original show that I looked forward to perhaps more than any other song. Lisa and Donna sharing the backing vocals lent an extra special quality to the tune, and Jeff once again leaned hard into the lyrics, while allowing the audience to respond in kind. Howls were abounding, and seemed to echo from every corner of Red Rocks!
We knew there would be some filler songs, and the ones they chose were absolutely perfect! Box of Rain gave Skip a chance to be in the spotlight, and he carried its weight with crystal clear voice and powerful bass. Another highlight, for sure, with the final line of "such a long, long to be gone, and a short time to be there" bringing tears of joy to my face, as well as many others'. But it was the China Cat>I Know You Rider which I had hoped would cap this show, and the opening lines of China Cat caused me to leap so high in the air I thought I might break an ankle upon descent! So strong and focused were these two closing tunes, and, of course the "I'd shine my light..." line gave the crowd reason to howl yet again! Such a fine, fine way to bring this historic show to a close, and looks of sheer happiness were on every face in saw.
The trip back to the car was easier than the climb up, but Mike still wasn't too thrilled with having to negotiate all of those stairs again. He came with me because he didn't want me to drive back to Denver while less than sober, which I deeply appreciated, but next time I will either take a shuttle, or car service if not going with friends. He was quite a trooper during the whole ordeal, and actually enjoyed the festive crowd, along with some of the music. I will give props to the security, who were very cool, calm, and not at all offensive. Getting out of the parking lot was a breeze, and kudos to all of the staff at Red Rocks for helping things run so smoothly.
Peace to all, and so glad Nugs provided a live video stream for those who couldn't attend. Thanks to everyone who made that possible, and thanks to the band and crew for making this one of the most special nights of my 54 years.