First responders braved the drizzle at the debut of the renovated Fiddler's Green

A group of firefighters with yellow walkie talkies swaying at their chests were examining the new on-site structures at the first show at a renovated Fiddler's Green Ampitheatre. They wanted to ensure that they were familiar with the new facilities in case they were called to the scene in the future. And there's plenty to get aquatinted with, including some substantial changes to the walkways and entrances, several infrastructure improvements new buildings, including multiple concession stands, restrooms and ticket booths. The firefighters were satisfied, if understated. "It was safe before; it's safe now," one said.

90% of the audience was US Veterans, active National Guard, firefighters, police officers and other first responders who got their tickets for free to an event dubbed Volunteer Jam, headlined by country legend Charlie Daniels. Overall, the feel inside the venue was like a late-afternoon picnic on a cloudy Saturday. Families scattered out on the lawn, which was specked with cowboy hats and waving American flags (the latter were handed out at the entrance in honor of the holiday).

"America the Beautiful" blasted from the new speakers before the first act went on, and montages of baseball, fireworks, sunsets, families playing, rodeos and mountain scenes lit up the large LED screens on both sides of the stage. Children rolled down the grassy hills and played tag while their parents sipped beers. Teenagers in sundresses and baseball caps had no trouble holding down spots by the railings closest to the stage. The smell of newly laid mulch and freshly cut wood filled the air. The renovations certainly gave fresh life to the amphitheater. And many patrons who had negative experiences in the past felt their concerns had been addressed. The sound quality is noticeably improved, with huge blocks of speakers raised on both sides of the stage. Previous design issues sometimes led to long lines and congestion. There were neither on Saturday, although the amphitheater, which can hold over 17,000 people, was never close to capacity. Still, the accessibility of bathrooms, beer stands and other concessions and the venue itself is a good sign.

"The stage looks updated -- the paint looks fresh," said Eric Knutson, who came to the show with his military friends. He is excited to return to Fiddler's for the Offspring in late August -- it's one of his childhood favorites. "It's a good place."

Of course, not everyone was impressed with the renovations. "Honestly, it doesn't look any different," said Gerie, who worked at the venue in its earliest years, when New Kids on the Block was touring for the first time. She took some time away before finally returning for a Rascal Flats concert in 2012.

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More thoughts from fans are on the next page. She and her group weren't happy about some confusion related to the blankets and chairs they brought with them. One of her friends complained that security at the two entrances gave conflicting reports about what was allowed in. The restrictions came in announcements by parking lot attendants and policemen, and plenty of the people streaming toward the venue had to double-back to their cars to return things they thought they could bring with them -- umbrellas, for example. The sky was already dark and ominous before the opening act was even set to go on. Twenty-something Zach had some critiques as well, directed at Mother Nature herself. "All the hot girls were scared away by the rain," he said. "Thats why I go to country shows, to see the hot western girls." We trust the venue's renovators are taking careful notes. As the night went on, the venue opened up all seating to all ticket-holders, and many fans moved from the field to the plastic seats closer to the stage. Some families filtered out, and others huddled under parkas. At least one group wasn't letting the weather dampen its mood, however. Members of the US Veteran Riding Club were boisterous throughout. "We love being here, because there are many people who have walked the same soil as we have, walked the same fields," said a woman who goes by Silk. She and her group were particularly appreciative of the gesture made to public servants in giving them free tickets to the show. As the members of the USVRC walked toward their seats, the huge "US Vets" patches in the center of their leather vests caught the last rays of the sun. Charlie Daniels Band attracted a small group of enthusiastic fans to the front of the stage, where they cheered the county legend. It was in some ways a quiet start, but there's a full summer planned at Fiddler's Green. Among the artists scheduled to play the new stage in the coming months are Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars, OutKast, the Colorado Symphony, Rascal Flats and plenty more. Some of the changes have yet to be put to the test, and some may go unnoticed by the majority of concert-goers. But there's definitely some new musical life in Englewood.

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