G. Brown was a budding music journalist in his late teens when he first made his way up to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It was 1973 and, following a riot at a Jethro Tull show in ’71, the authorities had banned “harder” rock bands from performing at the venue. So Brown saw venue-approved artist John Denver but was no less intrigued by the venue's environment. Two years later, the ban was lifted and Brown saw the Eagles at Red Rocks. He was hooked.
Brown went on to write for the Denver Post for 26 years until 2003, and now he works extensively with the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. An accomplished reporter, however, he didn't quit writing, and he’s authored a handful of books that have been published under the Hall of Fame’s own imprint. Red Rocks: The Concert Years is the latest.
Clearly a labor of love, Brown has been working on the book on and off for sixteen years, though he says that he spent much of that time figuring out the appropriate publishing model for it.
“You would think that a book about Red Rocks would be a slam-dunk, and I think it is,” he says. “It turned out it happened the way it was supposed to, coming out on its own imprint.”
It’s apt that the Eagles happened to be the first truly rock-and-roll band that Brown saw at Red Rocks; one of his first professional interviews was with Joe Walsh while the guitarist was living in Nederland.
“Walsh had left Cleveland and his band the James Gang," Brown says. “He put together this new band, so I went to the club at four in the afternoon — a nondescript place. I told them that I was there for the interview, and they wouldn’t let me in because I was sixteen. I went outside and sat in my Dodge Dart, and Joe Walsh walked over, got in my car and talked to me for an hour about his life at that point. I’ve had a few run-ins with Joe Walsh over the years. He had a great impact.”
Brown struggles to recall just how many shows he’s seen at Red Rocks now, though he does concede that he’s spent a good portion of his life up there. He says that it’s the total uniqueness of the venue that keeps him going.
“I think the pitch of the seating is the most remarkable thing,” he says. “In most venues, the performers look out over a sea of heads. At Red Rocks, they’re looking at 9,000 cheering faces. That’s pretty energizing. I’ve been privileged to be able to stand to the side during shows, and it’s not a wonder that people claim it’s their favorite place to perform. It’s quite the experience.”
While Brown says that he didn’t really uncover any surprises during his research, he's happy that he was able to right a few long-believed wrongs, not least that no photos exist of Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 performance at the venue.
“It took me twelve years, but I get to disagree with that,” Brown says. “It’s right there in the book, and it’s been authenticated. I’m proud of that. It’s tough to keep this an accurate, comprehensive tally of who performed up there. It would need almost forensic type of accounting, because the existing concert schedules don’t take into account cancellations due to adverse weather or late additions. Many people see on walls that Bob Marley played there in 1978 and think it must have been fantastic. Well, it would have been if it had ever happened, but it never did."
As well as being well-researched and written, Red Rocks: The Concert Years looks great. Brown had thousands of pictures to choose from, taken by many great photographers.
“That was cumulative too, going through every newspaper morgue and historical society, public library, private collections, just tracking this stuff down,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the best photographers over the years, at the Post and in a freelance capacity. The book is a testament to their work as much as it is to my history.”
There are very few concert venues that would demand a book of this type. CBGB in New York has one, as does the Whisky a Go Go in L.A. Brown knew early on that Red Rocks was definitely deserving.
“It’s a special place,” he says. “I do remember being inspired by seeing a book about the Hollywood Bowl. Red Rocks deserves that, probably more so.”
When asked to recall the best concert he ever saw at Red Rocks, Brown doesn’t look any further than U2’s historical Under a Blood Red Sky show.
“I’m glad I was there to witness history,” he says.
That concert, and many more, are documented beautifully in this book.
Red Rocks: The Concert Years is available now via the Colorado Music Hall of fame; cmhof.org.
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