Drugs and Red Rocks go hand in hand.
The place often smells like a grow house. Dealers are selling drugs in the parking lots and inside the venue itself. And fans often pregame at tailgate parties that include smoking, snorting and eating various intoxicants. Reddit and other online sites host multiple threads discussing how to best smuggle drugs into the venue, whether or not it’s safe to buy drugs there, and what will happen if you’re caught.
Then there are the drunks. Drunks stumbling down the bleachers. Drunks vomiting. And, on a bad night, drunks squabbling in the stands.
Yet in 2019, there were just 121 criminal cases reported at Red Rocks' 170 concerts, according to data from the Denver Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Considering that nearly 10,000 people are at the venue every time it sells out, those numbers are low.
Some crime statistics are maintained by the DPD, which is on site to handle criminal issues at the venue and address misdemeanor cases. Others are kept by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which handles felonies and any crimes that take place outside the venue itself.
From the beginning of 2019 to the end of the concert season, DPD recorded just 55 offenses, only a handful of which were violent. Jefferson County recorded 66 incidents; 23 of those charges were not dropped.
Brian Kitts, a spokesperson for Denver Arts & Venues, which operates the amphitheater, says crime stats are low because of the fans. They’re there for a good time, not a crime spree.
“Red Rocks fans are lovers, not fighters,” he explains in a statement. “Seriously, fans who have shelled out big bucks for entertainment are generally focused on what’s happening on stage, not perpetrating violence. As at any venue, alcohol may increase some bad behavior, but fans at Red Rocks are usually there for music and good vibes.
“I think people at entertainment events generally avoid confrontation," he adds. "You’d probably see similar numbers at Pepsi Center or Fiddler’s Green [twice the capacity of Red Rocks] or Empower Field [nearly ten times the capacity]."
And sending disorderly-behavior cases to the police is a last resort for the venue, according to Kitts. Most incidents are handled by in-house company Argus Security, which has not responded to Westword’s request for comment on this story.
“As with most venues, uniformed security and guest service staff manage most complaints — seating issues, intoxicated fans, etc. — before they escalate,” notes Kitts. “Police get involved once a situation isn’t resolved, escalates, or when the safety of fans is at stake.”
In 2019, there were six incidents of assault causing minor bodily injury at shows, including the NGHTMRE and Slander concert on May 5; Colorado Public Television’s Get the Led: A Celebration of the Mighty Zep, a Led Zeppelin tribute show on September 26; the October 3 RÜFÜS DU SOL concert; and the October 4 Kill the Snails Slugtopia show. One incident — at the TroyBoi and G Jones concert on November 18 — included aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury.
According to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, there were twelve incidents of possession of an unlawful controlled substance and four of criminal trespass with an automobile. There was one case of sexual assault (at the May 29 Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band show), two disturbances, two second-degree assault cases, one harassment with "strikes, shoves, kicks and touches," and one robbery.
Every assault but one reported in 2019 occurred at EDM shows, which also had the highest number of other criminal cases.
There were 21 trespassing incidents, two for disturbing the peace, one for forging a check, and another for giving false information to a police officer. Someone was accused of indecent exposure at the Big Gigantic concert.
There were nine cases tied to an assortment of environmental or animal offenses (which would include trespassing into a closed area, which a DPD spokesperson says some people do to urinate), two for possession of marijuana, one for public fighting (also at Slugtopia), one for a public disorder offense, two for theft, another two for theft of items from a vehicle, another two for theft of services (which could include trying to go to a show without paying), one for a traffic offense, one for violation of a court order, and one for violation of a restraining order.
The most police activity occurred at the Flume concert on August 7, with a total of four incidents. The electronic music producer also played on August 6, where there were three incidents.
Alison Wonderland’s show had three incidents on September 12. Rezz on September 22 also saw three incidents, as did Snails on October 4.
The philosophy behind keeping Red Rocks safe, according to Kitts, begins with prevention. "That starts with something as simple as the list of items to leave in your car. Then, a general awareness of the venue’s rules and easy access for patrons to resolve minor issues quickly (texting or contacting uniformed staff) takes care of a majority of problems."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.