The ticket said “snow or shine.” This was the first indication of insanity. The ticket was actually allowing for a contingency of snow. At Red Rocks. I had always viewed the shivering masses at winter football games with judgemental suspicion, and yet, here I was, scouting out a spot for a hip-hop show at Red Rocks in the pitch-black darkness of a January night.
We settled into our seats Friday night to the tommy-gun wordplay of Seattle artist Grieves, backed by the frenetic beats (and surprising trumpet/guitar/keys chops) of Budo. While the phrase “warm up” might be inappropriate in this situation, the two brought a unique and impressive energy to the bundled-up crowd.
Common bounced onstage next, with characteristically kinetic, grandiose flourish. Common’s funk-infused, flowing style and penchant for freestyle rhyming made up for his amusingly incorrect shout outs to “Denver! Boulder! Lake-land!” The hit-heavy set was artful and exciting, but about halfway through, the cold began to get truly bitter. A shimmer of snow began to reflect in the spotlights. And even walks up the steps to the (mercifully open) visitor center restrooms weren’t enough to keep the cold from distracting from the show’s appeal.
Following a DJ set by fellow Twin Citizens Get Cryphy, Atmosphere rocked their set with indie radio favorites like “Just for Show” and “Free Fallin,” as well as classics like 2001’s “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands.” The crowd began to thin as the set went on, as all but the most devoted fans sought the solace of a heated ride home. With tongue-in-cheek irony, Slug kicked off the encore with “Sunshine,” claiming he’d forgotten to sing it during the main set. It was at this point that my resolve wore out. Lyrics of butterflies and backyards grew softer as we walked with frozen feet down the venue steps. Icelantic Boards, the sponsor of the event, says this is the first of many winter shows on The Rocks. But despite an incredible lineup and a solid show, it will the the last outdoor winter show for me.
Cassandra Schoon is a Denver freelance writer and regular Reverb contributor.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.