Cooped up behind the first mountain ridges, tucked away from the winds of the Colorado high plains is the town of Morrison, Colorado, home to the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater and this year’s Monolith Festival.
A few bar restaurants line the street; a fine wine and dine sits at the highest part of town, with what I’m sure is exceptional food and drink, though for those not looking to luxury themselves with both, a liquor store welcomes them at the front of town.
Looking for a bottle whiskey to keep me warm through the cool morning rain, I stop at the front of town. It’s not even noon, still the clerk is rowdy and ranting loud as hell, as any proper liquor salesmen should. Cursing the rain and something about “that piece of shit car out there”, he gives me my change and points me to Monolith.
It’s not far before the town is out of sight, giving view to a grand scale of mountains, valley, and the Red Rocks Park. From a distance the amphitheater is hidden, carved into the natural landscape, only the surrounding parking lots give away its existence.
Hopeless on beating the rain or the crowds, I sat in my fogged up car at the top parking lot, waiting till the rain passes or till I was too drunk to care, savoring my last moments of dryness and praying for sunshine. This is how my and many Monolith experiences began.
Eventually the hard rain slowed to a drizzle and fans slowly creep out of hiding and made their way to the festival.
Along the way, all the half buzzed and out off shape fans pause for a break. The epic staircase leading up the amphitheater stands as a right of passage, whittling out all the fainthearted fans and leaving them breathless somewhere along the stairs.
Reaching the top, I regretted not having taken a break with the others. The altitude and lack of air had my panting, turning my buzz into a near black out drunk, a feeling that a never came down from.
The first half of the day was spent torn between wandering the amphitheater, marveling at the rocks and cowering from tent to tent.
The rain seemed to wash out all of those who came dressed to impress, no flashing lights, no shocking hairstyles, everyone just wore the same sad helpless look. Had you walked through the rain only a few minutes you’d hardly notice it, but after hours it soaked into every part of your shoes, clothes, and mind. The day had become miserable and the coming night was daunting, there was only one thing left to do, drink.
After raiding the media tent for all the beer and burritos I could stand, I finally felt drunk and warm enough to head back into the rain for some more abuse.
Kicking of the best main stage performance of the festival on day one, Scotland’s, Frightened Rabbit brought open arms to the despair. Even they were wet. As the rain struck sideways and worked its way up onto the stage, it only seemed had to the extravagance of it all. For many, there performance was the turning point of the day. Instead of holding onto what dry articles of clothing they had left, many joined the band and gave into the rain.
For fans and band alike, the rain brought out the worst in some and the best in others, bitching, cursing and avoiding the rain, or being cold, being wet but dancing and drinking to keep warm.
The rain held steady the rest of the day and through the night, and so did the better half of the fans.
The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s brought a close to the first day with an explosive but short set. Despite their allotted time of an hour and a half, the band finished their full set and an ungracious one song encore in just over an hour and fifteen, leaving many fans half satisfied and hoping for clear skies and longer sets the next day.
The morning sun woke me up in the same fool state that I feel asleep in, wet and still drunk. Despite giving an unwelcomed early morning wake up, I was glad to see the sun. Day two would bring the low 70’s, clear blue-sky day everyone was hoping for, and the fan turnout responded to that.
Unlike before, the parking lots were now full and loud. Music blared from every car stereo and coolers filled with Coors and other native beers lined the alleyway of cars. Lighters sparked and glass bowl were hustled at 15$ bucks apiece.
Keeping a sober face till at least I got into the festival, I skipped the tailgate and went to see one of the biggest buzz bands of MONOLITH. Playing in the interior pits of the red rocks, We Were Promised Jet Packs, managed to get the fire marshal involved bring the WOXY.com stage to its capacity limits, pushing a line all the way out the door, and forcing a one in, one out policy for the show. After waiting a half hour and missing most of the performance, I finally got in to see the last three songs of their set. The fans were quiet and tense. The only thing moving was my chest, pounding with the low frequencies reverberating from the previous song. It all made me uncomfortable. I had missed something; the pause between songs felt strange and my entering was a disruption. Still, the fans waited and I felt more out of place. Then a loud shriek broke from the speakers, instantly bringing the crowd from its daze into a full frenzy. I couldn’t help but get mixed in it all. The oddness was replaced with passion. The band and fans cried out, as if they were screaming at more than just each other. I didn’t know what to sing or how to move, but it was fantastic. I left ready to go down fighting.
In support of the local music scene, the Radius Earphones Stage was host to Denver’s own The Pirate Signal. Hyped up and ready to entertain, this DJ, lyricist duo put on a show louder and more energetic than the small stage could handle. The Pirate Signal show was a fresh blend of crunk, roof rattling beats, heartfelt lyrics, and always-comedic song transitions. After two shows underground, I was time too surface back into daylight for the most chaotic show of the festival.
I should have been more prepared before going to see Monotonix. Casually walking into their performance was a mistake. Nudity, beach balls, crowd surfing, and a crazed, half naked man, spitting and through water on the crowd…it was a scene that can only be described as mayhem. Monotonix force-fed the crowd with a near over-dose of Rock & Roll. Instead of playing on the stage, Monotonix played in the crowd, moving their portable set all around floor, giving everyone a front row show. Though the performance was only a half-hour long, it was plenty enough, any longer and I feared his sweaty, hairy body might come crowd surfing my way.
After a few hours of drinking, relaxing, and holding for the night, it was time for the party to kick off. Method Man and Red Man came on the main stage just after six, hyping the crowd up for the night’s shows and talking about how good the weed in the Colorado is. The festival instantly went ablaze with there performance. Smoke filled the air, climbing up the amphitheater seating and into a hazing fog floating above the crowd. The smell was as unmistakable and as it was intoxicating. Though it was just before Passion Pit that the drugs really started to kick in.
Excited for electronic dance night shows of MSTKRFT and Chromeo, the rave kids swarmed the scene to warm up their dance shoes with Passion Pit. Till the twilit hours Passion Pit put on one the most fan friendly shows of the festival. The impressive success of the their latest album, Manners, gave the band many new fans, and many first timers to their live show. Though despite the new following, fans acted like long time listeners, singing along to every song and dancing like veteran groupies. By the end of their set the night ahead seemed too good to be true, and for fans of MSTRFRKT, it was.
Having to cancel their performance due to illness, Phoenix was chosen to take their place on the main stage. The France band was set to play on the much smaller Southern Comfort stage at the top of the amphitheater and fans were unsure if the band would be able to set up and rock the big stage. Those doubts were cast away with the first notes of their performance. With the sun set on the mountain behind, the band controlled the main stage like they were meant to be there. By the end no one doubted that they should have been. Denver city shined behind the flicker of white lights cast on the crowd, it was dizzying, blinding, and unforgettable. Since the truly monolith performance, I’ve been unable to listen to their recent album, Wolfgang Amadues. All attempts ignite a surreal flashback, and reality of driving in my car and not dancing onto the Red Rocks Amphitheater is all to depressing to make it even through the first song.
After a stunting performance by Phoenix and a relentless hour long dance party by Chromeo, much the crowd was far too exhausted to handle chaotic sounds of Mars Volta. The crowd had died out, and those that remain could do nothing but lie in the half empty amphitheater and hold their minds together before exploding from the frantic noise being played on stage. But Mars Volta played like the place was sold out, with warped solo, untraceable rhythms, and dance moves that would make Michael Jackson turn over in his grave. The performance was sexy and fanatic, a new breed of rock and roll, without regard, breaking down the boundaries of sound and rhythm. Sadly the crowd was far to tired to match the excitement and energy that flowed from amps and cymbals on stage.
Red Rocks Amphitheater will make you feel you’re at the center of the world. With the mountains guarding you from behind and the city exposed in front of you, MONOLITH was nothing short of timeless. Still, the festival does not get the recognition it deserves, and has yet to be highly regarded or respected as Colorado’s best festival. Though the performances of this year’s festival should change that.