Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights surprised fans in 2018 when he announced he would play only one venue that year: Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colo. The shows commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Colorado native’s first performance at the 113-year-old venue west of Denver.
A decade ago, Pretty Lights and Paul Oakenfold were the only dance artists playing Red Rocks, both as openers. Now, dance is one of the venue’s biggest genres, with 28 shows in 2018, including double nights by GRiZ, ODESZA, Zeds Dead, Big Gigantic and Alison Wonderland, who sold out her first Red Rocks concert in five minutes.
“In 2007, we did a show with Daft Punk and couldn’t sell out the venue,” says Don Strasberg of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, one of several promoters who book the city-owned space. The rise of electronic acts there since is, he says, a “cataclysmic shift.”
According to Paradigm agent Lee Anderson (who works with Zedd), fans who attended the first Rave on the Rocks with Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim in 1999 were embracing “this crunchier, jamtronica sound” that helped define the Colorado scene in the mid- to late 2000s. At the same time, stars like deadmau5 and Skrillex were making the jump from smaller college-town venues in Boulder and Fort Collins to the much larger Red Rocks. With the EDM boom then in full effect, moving the 9,500 tickets necessary for a weeknight show wasn’t a problem.
Now, selling out Red Rocks signals that a dance act has arrived. Zedd will headline the venue for the first time in June. Big Gigantic’s Rowdytown festival will return for its eighth year. And Red Rocks has built cachet with fans, too. “There’s no other venue where you’re looking up at the audience and become totally enveloped in this amazing natural setting,” says local promoter-manager Ben Baruch. “It’s the big show you always remember.”
This article originally appeared in the March 30 issue of Billboard.