DENVER — Over the decades, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, U2 and hundreds of other acts have played the legendary outdoor stage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, nestled between two 300-foot sandstone monoliths in the Rocky Mountains foothills outside Denver.
On Jan. 27, thanks largely to a seasoned concert producer and a growing Denver-based ski company dreaming big, the hip-hop group Atmosphere and Grammy-winning rapper Common are headlining the venue’s first concert in the middle of winter, coinciding with a snow-sports trade show that will bring an estimated 20,000 attendees to town.
The ski company, Icelantic, has been rallying dozens of volunteers to shovel snow and chip away ice at Red Rocks — originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps — every Sunday to get ready for Winter on the Rocks.
“I love to do things off the grid, where people say, ‘You’re out of your mind,'” said Chuck Morris, president and chief executive officer of AEG Live’s Rocky Mountain region, which is producing the concert. “I’ve done that my whole career.”
Red Rocks is open all year as a park, but it shuts down as a concert venue for the winter.
Icelantic’s events director Sam Warren, 27, remembers promising at a bar that he’d throw a winter concert at Red Rocks if SnowSports Industries America moved its annual Snow Show from Las Vegas to Denver. In 2007, SIA announced Snow Show would move to the Mile High City in 2010.
Anne Hack of AEG Live had overheard Warren’s pledge in the bar and worked with Icelantic to throw sold-out concerts at the roughly 1,600-person-capacity Ogden Theatre during the SIA Snow Show’s first two years in Denver. Living Legends played the first year, and Big Boi played the next.
“We blew our own socks off,” Warren said.
But Warren was still set on Red Rocks, despite logistical questions. “Jump, and the net will appear,” he said.
Musicians would need heaters to keep instruments in tune. Trucks and concertgoers would have to make steep trips uphill in the cold to the amphitheater, and toilets would have to be brought up to make up for ones shuttered until spring.
Costs for a winter concert are roughly 20 to 25 percent higher than a similar summertime show at Red Rocks, just to remove snow and keep the stage area warm, said Don Strasburg, senior promoter and vice president of AEG Live’s Rocky Mountain region.
Still, Morris noted the thousands of skiers and snowboarders bundling up for outdoor concerts around Vail and Aspen, not to mention Denver Broncos fans watching live games in the cold, and thought there was no reason not to try a winter concert at Red Rocks, which holds about 9,450 people.
“We live in the Wild West. Our job is to keep pushing boundaries,” said Strasburg.
Denver city officials, knowing Snow Show attendees had grown accustomed to partying in Las Vegas during past conventions, were on board early on.
In addition to Atmosphere and Common, Grieves and Budo and Get Cryphy are playing at Winter on the Rocks.
Icelantic co-founder Ben Anderson, 29, said he hopes it snows during the concert. “It would make it different from all the other shows at Red Rocks,” he said.
Morris and Warren said a winter Red Rocks concert to accompany the SIA Snow Show could be annual, if all goes well this year. Already, more than 6,000 tickets have been sold.