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A century later, Red Rocks still rocks

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Creation Rock frames one of America's most memorable concert venues. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

It’s a place where spectators watch shooting stars and rock stars. It’s a tourist attraction, a local favorite and a masterpiece. It was once even listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

And lucky for University of Denver students, it’s a mere 30-minute drive away.

Since its first concert in 1906, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre — originally known as the Garden of Angels — has been a Colorado mainstay. The amphitheater’s dramatic setting amid looming 300-foot monoliths has drawn rock super-groups like U2 and played host to deadheads. President George Bush even made a campaign stop there. Red Rocks experiences tend to stick in the mind.

Herman Asarnow (MA English ’74, PhD English ’81) clearly remembers Aug. 14, 1973. It was the year of John Denver’s hit “Rocky Mountain High.” Asarnow and Susan Baillet (MA psychology ’76, PhD psychology ’81) — then his girlfriend, now his wife — went with some friends to see the crooner in concert.

“It was an evening that promised a full moon,” Asarnow recalls. “As the sun went down, the stage lights came up, and the John Denver concert started as a full moon slowly crept up over the horizon and then the back of the stage. When it topped the back of the stage, its appearance seemed sudden and huge over the stage as Denver was singing one of his Colorado songs on a very warm, cloudless summer night.

“Our next year in Connecticut, as we suffered intense cold and snow and then awful heat and humidity, we talked often about that night,” Asarnow adds. He says the memories of that night at Red Rocks played a role in the couple’s decision to return to DU for their doctorates.

It’s not hard to see why. Geologically formed in the Rocky Mountain foothills, the one-of-a-kind amphitheater overlooks a 200-mile panorama. The park’s red sandstone rock formations tilt and tower every which way, some sloping as much as 90 degrees.

Marc Kessler (BA environmental science ’85) remembers Red Rocks being “a magical place to see music, where one minute it was hot and everyone was spraying each other with spray bottles, and the next minute an icy cold thunderstorm would come out of nowhere. Instantly, thousands of ponchos were doled out and the crowd would be a sea of orange.”

Kessler shares the same sentiments about the amphitheater as so many others: “It’s the best place ever to see a show.” Junior communication major Sarah Tellman agrees. Tellman’s Evergreen High School graduation ceremony was held at the amphitheater, and she enjoys the annual Film at the Rocks summer movie and concert series.

“It’s a different atmosphere to watch a movie in,” Tellman says. “You don’t have to be quiet, and you’re interacting more with everyone else who is watching it. It’s a lot better than a movie theater.”

Janice (Parish) Scanlon (MA education ’80) saw Henry Mancini direct the Denver Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks in the summer of 1963.

“The acoustics are so wonderful there, and it was great not having amplifiers booming the music to us,” Scanlon says.

“Of course, they played all of Henry Mancini’s wonderful love songs. It was so romantic with the stars above.”

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