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How to Survive...A Hippie-Fest at Red Rocks
Ethan Wenberg

How to Survive...A Hippie-Fest at Red Rocks

Having attended at least one all-day fest at Red Rocks Amphitheatre per year for over a decade, I've been lucky enough to see nearly every great reggae band in the world. I gave a high five to Toots Hibbert while the Maytals looked on, aghast at my dancing. I watched a cop pass a guitar pick from Family Man Barrett of the Wailers to my friend from high school. I saw performances by George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. From the general-admission seating, I observed climbers who got marooned on the weather-pocked monoliths enclosing the amphitheater, Ship Rock to the south and Creation Rock to the north, and had to wait for helicopter rescues. In the parking lots, I saw the most amateurish drum circles and hack sessions form and disband fluidly like intermittent schools of Phish fans eddying in the currents of the neo-hippie tribal music emanating from the stage.

From all of this, I've learned a few things. The first is: Crotching the pot is necessary, but not sufficient, to get through security unmolested. Depending on the day's terrorist-threat level and the patchouli saturation of the crowd, fascist yellow-shirted security guards might demand that ticket-holders dispose of items as innocuous as cigarette lighters, rolling papers, switchblades, glass pipes, half-full Frappuccinos and unopened bottles of sweet, sweet beer. By coincidence, most of these things are available for repurchase inside the gates -- except the switchblades, so hide your backup in your sock. As for all that spilt beer, which could have been donated to starving alcoholics in Ireland, the security goons may have a point -- considering the ill effects of flying glass bottles on the human head.

Then there's the fine print: "Open alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the parking lots. Due to risk of fire in the park, open flame fires and charcoal grills are also prohibitedŠ" But these rules are as meaningless as Lenny Kravitz lyrics. Consider the numerous parking-lot barbecues and all the octo-hookahs in the green vans -- which must be lit with extra-long fireplace matches.

Still, the safety of 9,450 people (not counting undercover narcs and Red Rocks employees) is imperative. Thus, despite the luxury, you cannot bring glass bottles inside, nor can you bring in unsealed (and possibly dosed) plastic water bottles or Thermoses, or aluminum cans or anything alcoholic, or umbrellas with points. Ditto lawn chairs and weapons of mass destruction, including laser pointers and whole fruits or vegetables that have not been sliced open to disprove suspicion of harboring recording devices, anthrax spores or umbrellas with points.

The lack of umbrellas raises another concern: This venue is out of doors, people. Getting so drunk you can't feel raindrops or sunburn does not count as protection against the weather. And if you slather on coconut sunscreen and then hitch a ride up to the parking lots in the back of somebody's truck, angry bees may well storm out of the honeycombed rocks overhanging the access roads. Neither Barry Fey nor the ticket-takers will come to your aid.

All of these facts must be considered when preparing for a day-long outing at Red Rocks. Maybe an extra pair of socks will be in order; maybe a soft-sided stadium chair with a seat back and ass pad; perhaps a few aspirin for the headaches caused by too much sun or too many microphone squeals. (I'd be sly with the aspirin if I were you -- security isn't too lenient about finding a pocketful of pills.) Bring a hat and sunglasses and a factory-sealed water bottle and a sandwich and an ATM card and DeepHippieOff Repellent (aka deodorant) and some condoms for that one drunk chick whose giggles in the men's bathroom broke my concentration while I was trying to pee. Sorry about the floor.

And for God's sake, all you music and drug aficionados, decide whether you're going to bounce or twirl before you get lost in the psychedelic sea of tie-dye and incense smoke and glass beads woven into hemp necklaces and dreadlocks. Indecisive stoner grooving is the foremost cause of muscle cramps and harshed vibes. Birkenstocks were not designed for kicking up heels to crunchy funky melodies, or even Hacky Sack. And swaying in place while staring at the trails your hands make is not a valid form of dance.

But whether you've just licked the blotter of God, caught the first glimpse of that fabulous bitch Barbra Streisand assuming the stage, or watched the Easter sunrise over Denver's promise-keeping suburbs, one thing holds true: You don't want to peak too fast. Don't get drunk early in the day, and don't dance yourself out to the opening band or hymn. You're in it for the long haul, which at Red Rocks means until two people in your group fall asleep or lightning takes precedence over acoustic jam bands and Lenten godliness. But never Babs: Lightning cannot usurp Barbra. I'd sit through a dingleberry hailstorm to hear that woman's heavenly voice.

You should just take a deep breath, imbibe the scenery and expensive bottled water, smell the sage-and-armpit-and-crisp-foothills air, and be glad you live in colorful, musical Colorado. Until you lean too far back on those flat wooden bleachers and someone steps on your hand; then feel free to curse the whole fucking world and pull out your spiked umbrella and laser pointer.


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