The last time Brice Maiurro was on the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, it was for his high school graduation ceremony, when he got to sing. Over a decade later, on Wednesday, April 28, it will be his night to howl.
Maiurro and partner Shelsea Ochoa created the Go Outside and Howl at 8pm Facebook page just as the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic — and the stay-at-home orders — were hitting Coloradans. "What better time to howl than this time of isolation?" the first Facebook post asked on March 27, 2020. "Every night at 8pm in your time zone, take a minute to step outside and let out a cathartic howl!....Let's see how many people the world over we can get to howl in one night!"
The concept took off faster than they could have imagined. "The first time I heard other people howling, I was like in disbelief. 'Is it real? Are people really doing it?,'" Ochoa recalls.
And how. Within a week, the page had more than 10,000 members, and the concept had stretched far beyond the confines of Colorado to places around the world gripped by the pandemic. "There was a lot more fear in that moment, in that new way of life," Maiurro remembers. "No one knew how long it was going to last, where we were heading."
So many people were howling — and visiting the Howl Facebook page — that the two Denver creatives who'd come up with the concept were overwhelmed. They organized other administrators to help vet comments; divided the page into threads for grieving, recovery stories, selfies and selfies with pets; and pronounced it a "space of tolerance." Within six months, membership had gone past the 600,000 mark; people were heard howling in a hundred different countries.
The howling continued even as Ochoa and Maiurro began focusing on other artistic endeavors in their spare time: Maiurro edited the South Broadway Ghost Society's poetry anthology, Thought for Food, and raised $2,500 for Denver Food Rescue; when she wasn't working at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Ochoa stayed busy as the creative director for Soul Stories, a platform for community engagement through storytelling. And their activities didn't end there: Together they walked the length of Colfax Avenue (starting from opposite ends) for a video now on Tilt West; they set up a tent in Cheesman Park for people who were grieving, who could share their loss on a flag flying from the structure.
"Now, looking back at it a year in, I feel so grateful for the positive stories that we heard," Ochoa says. "It was a way for people to reach out to each other without being physically close."
By the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, they were ready to set the howl free; it's certainly shown that it can survive on its own. But then came the invitation to participate in the season opener for the eightieth anniversary of Red Rocks, which opened in June 1941.
That's pretty heady stuff, considering that the city didn't even know that the howl was a Colorado creation when Mayor Michael Hancock decided to host one last month in honor of all the front-line workers. But the howl's local origins made Maiurro and Ochoa obvious choices to participate in this homegrown celebration, which will include performances by everyone from Emily Worthem, the Denver ICU nurse who sang to her patients and hospital staff through the pandemic, to "Rad" Muljadi, an eleven-year-old fifth-grader from Parker who offered online concerts for charity.
But first, at 6:30 p.m., Hancock will welcome the crowd to Red Rocks for what was initially planned to be the season kickoff but was postponed from April 21 to April 28 — jumping over a Lotus concert series — because of snow predictions. And at 8 p.m. that night the audience will be asked to join Ochoa and Maiurro in a howl, while a just-past full moon shines overhead. "It's such an honor, such a legendary space," says Ochoa. "It's kind of a dream, to do this with other people. It's nice to be able to see an audience." And it's especially nice, she notes, when a ticket to be part of that 2,500-capacity audience costs only eighty cents.
Ochoa and Maiurro hope that emphasis on accessibility spreads beyond the ticket price, and maybe even allows them to share with the mayor their concerns about the sweeps of the city's homeless encampments over the past year. "The biggest thing Shelsea and I are thinking about is that the city needs to do a better job of protecting the citizens," Maiurro says, "and how to make it abundantly clear that we are not on that stage because we agree with Hancock."
Actually, they are thinking about something else: how to "dress appropriately for the howl," he acknowledges.
"We do have a basement that's almost entirely dedicated to costumes," notes Ochoa.
And they have heads full of other ideas about what they can do to make Denver a better place as it comes out of the pandemic. "The biggest lesson for me: When you're doing community work and creative work, listen to what your community needs," Ochoa says. "The spirit of grassroots collaborative creation will continue to thrive and evolve around Denver."
Whether they're leading the howl or not.
"We've said this before, but I think it's out of our hands," Maiurro admits. "I don't think we could stop a bunch of people from howling. I'd love for it to continue, to get people out howling. If not, it will always be something special and dear to me."
The Red Rocks 8 O'clock Howl will be livestreamed for those not ready to join the crowd (or shut out of tickets); find out more at redrocksonline.com.
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