Let me ask you something. Has there been a place you’ve wanted to go to for pretty much your entire life? As a live music fan, there are venues around the globe that I still haven’t been to but the one that’s been on the top of my list since the 80s is the one I FINALLY saw a show at in August.
What you’re about to read is a review of a recent Brandi Carlile concert. (Spoiler alert, I LOVED the show). But that’s not where the story begins, it begins with the band U2.
I’m in my 40s and have been a fan of U2 for as long as I can remember. On June 3, 1983 U2 played, in the cold rain no less, at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. It was the only time they’ve ever played there and several of the songs from that show were released on the “Under A Blood Red Sky” EP. This was the first U2 thing I ever bought. The show was released on video in 1984 (I still have a VHS copy somewhere) but initially, I saw it on MTV as individual clips. These clips are what made me a fan of U2.
This brings me to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” This was the first performance footage I saw of U2 and to this day I can’t watch it without getting the chills and without being reminded of how much I love this band. But the main reason this footage has stayed so close to my heart for so long is where it was filmed. To me, Red Rocks has never quite been a real place. It’s been a dreamscape, an alternate reality, a musical nirvana and a sacred locale that surely can’t actually exist. And yet performances have been happening there for more than 100 years. I don’t have a good answer to the question of why it took me so long to finally bridge the gap between fantasy and the real world. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Maybe I was afraid that if I actually stood in that place of my dreams that it would somehow shift its place in my heart. I’m still not sure. But what I can tell you is this: I can’t imagine a better act for my first visit to the hallowed ground that is Red Rocks than Brandi Carlile.
But first, in case you haven’t seen this, here’s the “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” footage that I used to stand in front of the TV and imitate Bono’s moves to and lip sync the lyrics to. Here’s the video that put its hooks into me decades ago and that has kept my desire to see a show at Red Rocks a constant pull in my heart for so, so long:
OK so onto the evening of Sunday, August 12. Whew…
I kept going in and out of almost a dreamlike state as the four us (my gal Tracy and our local pals Jodi and Jen) arrived on the grounds of Red Rocks and it got all the more real when we stopped at the box office and I was handed tickets. I had an all out Charlie Bucket Golden Ticket moment as I stood there with the pair of killer seats I had bought for Tracy and I months and months ago.
Fast forward to securing a parking spot and beginning the march to one of the entrances where the line moved along at a respectable pace and I took in the breathtaking scenery around me, all the while coming to terms with the fact that within a few minutes I would cross the proverbial threshold and would be standing inside Red Rocks.
As for that first moment, it’s hard to put into words. Something you’ve visualized for decades is never quite what you imagined it would be. But I have to say, when the full view of the venue lay before me two worlds collided; the younger version of myself watching Bono hold up that white flag and the present day version of myself finally standing in a musical version of the promised land.
The first order of business was to climb to the top and take it all in while also loving the hell out of The Secret Sisters set.
It took a moment for my brain and heart to sync up such was the poignancy of the moment.
From there we spent a little time in the visitor’s center which you simply must do because the Performer’s Hall of Fame documents hundreds of shows that have taken place at Red Rocks including, of course, that legendary U2 one.
Next up was a set from Shovels & Rope. They’re the duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent and I’m a huge fan. The fact that they were on this bill was another layer of frosting on the concert cake.
By this time Tra and I were in our 7th row seats ( off to the side a bit but entirely fabulous) which were none too shabby! From there I snapped a few more photos so as to try and capture to scope of Red Rocks’ natural magnificence.
The last bit of sunlight faded and the time for Brandi Carlile and her nothing less than 100% dynamite band to take the stage was drawing near. This was my sixth time seeing her this summer and the final show of my incredible #summerofbrandi2018.
Previously in 2018 I had seen BC twice in Boston, once in Portland, Maine, once at the Newport Folk Festival and the night before the Red Rocks show at a private fan performance in Boulder. My love for her music is as deep as the ocean and it grew all the more after the release of her latest album “By The Way, I Forgive You.”
And then it happened. The show started by way of a string trio medley that I’d heard at previous shows this year. It was all the more riveting because this was happening at RED ROCKS! I had chills that were multiplying more than Sandy and Danny combined and they didn’t stop until well after the last song about two hours later.
What followed were no less than 20 songs. It began with “Every Time I Hear That Song” and ended with the lights out all being turned off and thousands of us holding up our phones while Brandi and Laura and Lydia of the Secret Sisters sang ‘Amazing Grace” in what was one of the most memorable endings to a concert I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
In between Carlile and company delivered a tremendous set of tunes that included Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” which was sung by Brandi’s niece Caroline in advance of an upcoming talent show competition. The kid nailed it.
Shovels & Rope were invited to play their song “Cleanup Hitter” with Carlile and holy shit, it was fantastic.
The Secret Sisters sang backup on one of my favorite “By The Way” songs, “Sugartooth” and then stayed put for a rendition of their song “Mississippi” from their Grammy-nominated album “You Don’t Own Me Anymore.” And yeah, it was goddamn great.
Back to back covers late in the set just about put me over the edge, despite having seen Carlile sing them both at previous shows this year. It didn’t matter. This was Red Rocks and Brandi Carlile sang Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” and for the love of all that is holy in this universe, it was one of those moments that was a reminder of why the live music experience means so much to me. Hearing Carlile’s voice ring out in that Colorado night against a backdrop of piano and strings was everything.
No sooner did the Mitchell song end did Carlile and the band break into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” I always like to remind people, in the interest of given songwriting credit where it’s due, that the song was written in the late 50s by a woman named Anne Bredon and the first famous recording of it was by Joan Baez in 1962. The version however that is arguably best known and most revered is the one recorded by Led Zeppelin in 1969 on their debut album.
Carlile made the song her own and I think the world might have damn well stopped spinning for a few minutes while she sang it. Here’s a great clip of her singing it on July 21 in Portland, Maine (where I live) with gratitude to the fan who captured this and posted it.
Hearing “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” at Red Rocks elevated the song to yet another level of rock perfection and is one of about 12 bazillion examples of Carlile’s vocal capabilities.
The last song they played before the encores was one I still can’t make it through without crying and that’s “Party of One” from “By The Way, I Forgive You.” I always think I’m going to survive and then the strings come in like a wave and I lose it. But at least I can say I’ve cried in four different states during the same song this summer.
Here’s a decent video by a YouTuber named Annalie Benjamin of the song being played at Red Rocks.
I dried my eyes and we were all rewarded with the return of the band to the stage for three encore songs beginning with a when-in-rome esque medley of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” It didn’t suck one bit that the band’s former fiddler Jeb Bows joined them for this little slice of magic. Hell even I sang along.
Next up was the sing-along of the ages with the song “Hold Out Your Hand” during which every kid of the band came out on stage not to mention former White House (when we had a sane POTUS named Obama) photographer and friend of the Carlile clan, Pete Souza. And so did Shovels & Rope and The Secret Sisters. The devil sure as shit wasn’t getting our souls that night. We were in the throes of redemption in the form of a glorious song.
But perhaps what gave me the biggest chills of the night was “Amazing Grace.” I’d been to shows before when fans were asked to shine their phones. But this was something altogether different and I think everyone there knew it.
Shout-out of gratitude to YouTuber RESphoto for capturing this:
It was perhaps the finest example of how pristine the acoustics are in the natural wonder of Red Rocks , a place that took more than 200 million years to form.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful” said Carlile at the end of the song and she was absolutely right. This was one time that the prevalence of technology at a concert made for an unforgettable live music moment full of wonder, full of angelic vocals and full of upwards of 9,000 fans who knew this was something special.
I’ll always be thankful that I was one of them.
I’ll end with seven words that you’ ll just have to trust me on:
GO SEE A SHOW AT RED ROCKS
Aimsel on the Record in sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.
Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.