On Monday, May 3, Steven Zhu — who sings and produces dance music as ZHU — wore dark shades and a glistening trench coat as he delivered nearly two hours of beats, accompanied by drums, sax and guitar, during his first of six nights at the venue. Standing on a DJ booth, he fidgeted with his gear and offered much of his music in his signature falsetto to fans who looked like bouncing ghosts in plastic ponchos.
He sang hits: "Sky Is Crying" as the sky wept, and "Faded," a song about getting fucked up and wanting to go home to your lover, as many in the crowd were faded themselves.
And plenty of others were already faded when they showed up at Red Rocks in party buses and crowded SUVs.
One young man, reeking of booze, had lost his phone and needed tickets; he was willing to pay for them again, but the patient worker at the ticket box helped him out. The man's friend, wearing full-body coveralls over bare skin, busted his zipper and struggled to keep himself covered up. When they finally got into the show, they bounded around the stadium all night long, grins wide, cold be damned.
Even as the opener, Manic Focus — John “JmaC” McCarten, spinning with a drummer — finished pumping up the crowd with an energetic set, a teetering woman collapsed on the bleachers, nearly smashing her head into the concrete. She was barely cared for by her dancing friends, but she didn't seem to mind. She smoked some more weed and shot the show with her cell phone, every now and then standing to stumble-dance.
And it looked like almost everyone, high or drunk as the devil, had a good time.
It was one of those nights that shows how Coloradans are tough as tungsten or out of our minds or so stoned we've lost our senses. We're willing to square off against any kind of torture from Mother Nature — from shivering in snow to soaking up rain — for a little pleasure. We do it on the slopes. We do it on the trails. We do it on the Rocks. And we dance the whole way.
When I closed my eyes and ignored the cold and the damp and let the music move me, I could imagine what it was like to be in a nightclub or at a rave again, dancing to house music where it really belongs: at the sort of raging party we're still missing because of this deadly virus, at a party where the crowd becomes one, moving together, person to person, like a single, joyful organism.
When I opened my eyes, many in the crowd seemed to be having that experience, even if they were facing the stage instead of each other. They were shoulder to shoulder, in big mobs — the kind that the City of Denver, which owns and runs the venue, has told us to avoid and allegedly forbids.
Denver is enforcing social distancing at Red Rocks about as well as it's preventing people from smoking weed or bringing in gum: haphazardly, at best. Yes, security walks the aisles to ensure that there is space between the rows. But along each row, nobody is trying to manage the pandemonium.
Just as they put up with bad weather, many Coloradans seem willing to risk disease for a good time. We want to party to killer music like Zhu's — rain, snow or virus.
So let's remember that vaccinations could be the real ticket at concerts this summer as crowds cozy up. We need to keep live music — and its fans — alive.