Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of the most beautiful and popular concert venues in the United States, and it has hosted a veritable who’s who of the music world: everyone from The Beatles, whose concert there was the venue’s first rock performance, to Steve Winwood just last year. It’s absolutely stunning natural setting and the illustrious list of rock stars and musicians who have played the venue make it all the more fantastic that Joe Bonamassa has now become one of the artists to be added to that roster, first with his Muddy Wolf show in 2014, and now returning this summer with the Three Kings tour. What’s even more exciting is that the Three Kings tour is spreading out beyond Red Rocks to some of the nation’s other best outdoor venues this summer. So that you can have a glimpse of the perfection that is seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, we thought we’d run down a list of some of the other amazing concerts that have been played there in recent years – and a few throwbacks from Red Rocks’ glorious past. I hope this makes you as excited about Joe Bonamassa’s Three Kings at Red Rocks as I am!
1. John Butler Trio – Oceans
The John Butler Trio is an Australian roots and jam band that formed in 1998 featuring John Butler on guitar, and currently comprised of Butler plus Nicky Bomba on the drums and Byron Luiters on the bass. With quite a few platinum records in Australia under their belts, JBT has found great success with its earthy, guitar-bass-drums formula, finding both mass appeal and entering the consciousness of serious music lovers. In 2011, the band released it’s fourth live album, which was recorded at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and was simultaneously streamed on the internet. Featuring an eclectic mix of instruments including steel drums and didgeridoo, the band achieves a tapestry of complex and harmonious sounds that make them one of the leading and most interesting of the popular acoustic-oriented acts of today. The song “Ocean” has been in the band’s repertoire since their first album, released in 1998. Butler has described the gorgeous, intricate solo-acoustic guitar tune as a part of his DNA and as conveying all of the ideas that he can’t express with words. Enjoy this stunning example of the complexity of solo acoustic performance and the virtuosity of Butler’s skill.
2. Buddy Guy – “Damn Right I Got the Blues”
Let’s shift gears from acoustic to electric, from roots rock to straight up blues. Buddy Guy, of course, is one of the all-time great blues artists, and is one of the true stand-outs from the Chicago electric scene. Playing Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2013, Guy wastes no time as he takes the stage and starts ripping into his electric guitar the way a gang of hungry orcs would tear into a fresh piece of game. Adorned in his striking white and black polka dot top, Guy makes his guitar absolutely scream and beg for mercy, but Guy has none, and the results are musically unforgettable.”You’re damn right I got the blues!” he zealously rasps into the mic. The performance is stunning, and sets a phenomenal precedent that Joe Bonamassa continued the following the summer – that the large summer amphitheatres are perfect venues for astonishing blues performances, and that if you bring it, the people will come!
3. Tedeschi Trucks Band (featuring Grace Potter) – “Angel From Montgomery / Sugaree”
Tedeschi Trucks Band is one of the premiere blues-rock bands in the business today, lead by husband-wife duo of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. Tedeschi Trucks played Red Rocks on June 13, 2013, and brought out special guest, the beautiful and talented Grace Potter, for a moving performance of the John Prine country classic “Angel From Montgomery” that segues directly into a Grateful Dead Sugaree interpolation. In addition to the pitch-perfect vocal harmonies of the lovely blues-rock ladies, the song wouldn’t be complete with out some ultra-sweet riffing from Derek Trucks on the electric. Also featuring a soothing, melodic soloing flute solo from TTB’s flautist Kofi Burbridge. Add in the eye-catching setting of Red Rocks Amphitheatre as the setting, and you’ve got one of the loveliest performances you can imagine.
4. Mumford and Sons – “Little Lion Man”
Taking the stage for a two-night summer stand at Red Rocks in August of 2012, acoustic folk-rock darlings Mumford & Sons played two spectacular shows that were partially documented on their Road To Red Rocks DVD, luckily for us. The crowd positively eats up this performance, of “Little Lion Man,”the amazing debut single from their debut album, Sigh No More, released in August of 2009. Frontman Marcus Mumford has discussed how personal the song is to him, choosing to let the lyrics stand open to interpretation rather than explaining the painful story behind them. The band chose the song for their debut single because it represents both the harder and darker side of what the band does, and yet still remains firmly in the rootsy, folkey world in which the band is generally most comfortable.
5. John Mayer – “Voodoo Child”
Recorded in September of 2010, John Mayer treats the Red Rocks crowd by taking on this iconic Hendrix tune with grit and big brass balls. Mayer, who broke through to popular stardom by playing acoustic, singer-songwriter ballads meant to make teenage hearts sing and weep, over the years Mayer has established himself as an excellent blues guitarist in his own right, the music he was really born to play. Eschewing his more poppy side here, he takes on Hendrix faithfully but with fire and soul, keeping the guitar solo messy, aggressive and unique. Hey, if John Mayer had to spend a few years running through the halls of his high school and screaming at the top of his lungs to get to become a certified blues rock star, that’s quite alright with us.
6. Widespread Panic – ” Holden Oversoul / Weak Brain, Narrow Mind”
Widespread Panic has the impressive distinction of holding the record for greatest number of sold-out performances at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with 42 (and counting). Primarily a dominant force in the jam band scene, but, like most jam bands, their influences run wide and deep, with everything from southern rock, to blues, to jazz, and psychedelic rock influencing their sound and playing. Hailing from music hub Athens, Georgia, And like most jam bands, they have a polict of never playing the same setlist twice and allowing their fans to make audio tapes of their shows. Here the band plays a medley of their upbeat, funky “Holden Oversoul” and the blues-soaked “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind.” With a jam band, you never know what you’re going to get, so just watch the surprise twists and turns wash over your ears and mind.
7. U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
Kicking it back old school, U2 played and recorded a live album and video at Red Rocks in 1983, Under a Blood Red Sky. The album was designed to help promote the band in the United States and was filmed on a rain-drenched evening, which almost caused the show to be cancelled in the first place. The inclement weather actually added to the overall effect of the legendary performance, helping to cement U2 as one of the top live bands in rock music. Here’s U2 performning one of my favorite songs by the group, the anthemic and soaring “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” A political protest song, with its militaristic marching beats and its defiant chorus, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is also just a great rocker filled with jangly guitar and a driving bass line that shakes the walls of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
8. Dave Matthews Band (featuring Robert Randolph) – Louisiana Bayou
Another one of the to touring rock bands in America, the Dave Matthews Band has been bringing their eclectic mix of acoustic-jam-rock to hungry audiences since their formation at the beginning of the 1990s. Their first live album release was a performance from Red Rocks recorded in 1995, featuring some of the bands greatest anthems such as Ants Marching, Tripping Billies, and Satellite. Ten years on in 2005 the band once again took the stage at Red Rocks to record a live album and this time, a live DVD release as well. Featuring the brilliant slide guitarist Robert Randolph playing leads and launching into a massive, high-energy jam session that is augmented with bluesy violin improvisation by band member Boyd Tinsley, watching this performance makes me excited to see both Robert Randolph and Dave Matthews again sometime soon.
9. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers grew out of the heartland rock movement of the late 70s / early 80s and has become one of America’s most successful and popular rock bands, selling more than 80 million records worldwide. Produced by super-producer Rick Rubin, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was Petty’s first top 20 hit of the 90s. The meaning of the song is, of course, open to interpretation, with many people picking up on what could be an obvious drug reference, while others choose to view the song through the lens of a straight-up narrative about a girl coming in and out of your life. Either way, the melody sticks like glue and the guitars sound badass, and “Mary Jane” is just one reason you’d want to catch Tom Petty at a venue like Red Rocks.
10. Joe Bonamassa – “How Many More Years”
With the exception of Buddy Guy, not too many of the acts that play Red Rocks have been straight up blues bands. Blues-rock yes: there have been a number, and some of the bands on this list are either blues rock, or dabble in the blues, such as Tedeschi, Mayer, and Panic. But it’s pretty amazing that a musician like Joe could dedicate virtually an entire show to the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf at a venue as large as Red Rocks, sell it out, and re-book the venue for the next summer. Just more evidence that the blues is alive and well, folks! And as long as we continue to go out and support the artists that are keeping the blues alive, it won’t go anywhere anytime soon. But I think after watching this video of Joe rocking “How Many More Years,” not too many of us will have a problem with going and supporting Joe this summer. This music smokes! And I can’t think of a better place to listen to some amazing guitar playing than the majestical setting of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, carved in the mountains and featuring some of the finest shows on Earth.
– Brian R.