American Culture

6.5.83: The concert in the clouds

This song is not a rebel song…

The greatest concert in rock history happened 25 years ago tonight in an amphitheater just west of Denver, Colorado. Everybody’s seen the footage, but most probably don’t realize that it was filmed in June.

Barry Fey, who promoted the show, did an incredible interview with NPR affiliate KCFR yesterday. (Even if you don’t like U2, you probably want to give this a listen.) As it turned out, the show almost didn’t happen.

U2’s now-legendary Red Rocks show on June 5, 1983, had all the makings for a classic disaster.The weather bordered on sleet and rain all day — hardly idyllic conditions for a video shoot that included countless cameras and three giant torches sitting atop the rocks.The promoters were in California until the afternoon of the show, and when they flew into a blustery Stapleton Airport, they called the mountain amphitheater’s backstage to see where the show had been moved.

But the band wasn’t about to move the concert.

“I asked them why they didn’t call me, and the people said, ‘The band wouldn’t let us, because they knew you’d want to move the show,’ ” retired promoter Barry Fey remembered.

“Then Paul McGuinness, their manager, got on the phone, and then Bono got on the phone, and then Chuck (Morris) and I headed home to change out of our sunny California gear into something much heavier before heading up to Red Rocks.”

I once posed this question over at Lullaby Pit: If your fairy godmother appeared and offered to send you on a trip to any place humans have ever been at any moment that has occurred in your lifetime, what moment would you choose?

I began my own answer this way:

If I could go back to one event that occurred in my lifetime, I’d set the dial on the time machine to June 5, 1983, and point it toward Morrison, Colorado, the site of U2’s famous Red Rocks concert. I’ve seen footage from just about all of the legendary concerts ever staged, and while I guess you could never know for sure without being there, I’ve always imagined that U2 at Red Rocks might well have been the greatest rock show in history.

And ended this way:

You had the right band in the right venue before the right crowd at the precise second that all the gods of art and earth and sky leaned in and infused the moment with transcendence and immortality. Those who were there – and this number includes one of my former roommates – they were blessed, and I will envy them until I die.

According to promoter Barry Fey, thanks to the conditions Red Rocks was only about half full – 4,400 people. And that roommate…

I was in my first semester of grad school at Iowa State, and the roomie was a former military guy. We got to talking music one evening, U2 came up (being one of my favorite bands), and he says “Yeah, I saw them live.” Turns out he’d been stationed at Fort Carson down in the Springs. One of his buddies comes in and said he had a spare ticket. My roomie initially balked because the weather didn’t look so great and, oh by the way, he’d never heard of U2. But he got talked into it.

And wound up seeing the greatest show ever. By accident. I think he enjoyed the look on my face.

If they ever invent time travel, I’ll pay whatever it takes to revisit June 5, 1983. Meantime, I have seen U2 three other times (the ZooTV tour remains the best show I’ve ever been to) and at least we have video.

You might also pay a visit to this neat tribute blog.

5 replies »

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  2. i was in … 8th grade, i believe, and was not allowed ot go to any concerts at all (which annoyed me to no end, i tell you…oh, the shows i missed in the early 80s!). my brother, on the other hand, was supposed to go to this show with his best friend. of course, the rain came, and he didn;t end up getting to go. but his best friend did. and i have to tell you, he was seriously the coolest person in our school after it became known that not only was he at that show, in the cold and the wet, but he was right up front. we heard rumors that he was in the group of people holding the flag. the rumor may have been true, as the kid in question was not known to lie.
    i agree – this is one of those legendary concerts that we all wish we had gone to….

  3. Fantastic post! I agree entirely with your time travel wish. I sat here today in a small town in Canada and listened to the radio tribute live on KCUV Denver and was blown away. I just cracked open my still new copy of Under a Blood Red Sky and I’m watching the whole thing tonight.

    I feel for the guy they interviewed today who said all his friends were going but he was trying to save money for a car and stayed home instead.

    A big day today for fans, but August will bring the DVD release. That’s something to look forward to.