Red Rocks season is always a beast and this year was no exception. The 303 Magazine staff attended more than 60 Red Rocks shows in 2018 and all of our music writers have narrowed down their summer’s on the rocks into one list of our favorites. From danceable international acts like Opiuo to the melancholic sounds of The National, check out the full lineup below.

Opiuo — April 21

Opiuo

Opiuo at Red Rocks in 2017. Photo by Miles Chrisinger

On the cold night of April 21, with fans dressed in winter hats and gloves to fight off the early spring chill, Oscar Davey-Wraight, aka Opiuo, presented his live orchestra to the perfect acoustics of the stone amphitheater. Dubbed the Syzygy Orchestra, the 20-piece orchestral set marked a major milestone for the electro-funk DJ. The performance was special because it was the first and last time he performed in front of an audience with an orchestra. It also held significance for Opiuo because it was his first time headlining  Red Rocks. Remixing and reimagining a variety of his past repertoire of songs, Opiuo puppeteered the crowd from beginning to end. The addition of live string, brass and various other instruments with Opiuo’s signature beats made the concert more layered than when he DJs alone. But, fans of his bass-prominent songs were satisfied when the orchestra took an intermission and Opiuo wailed on his drum kit for a few delicious songs. His passion and excitement were palpable and contagious, and when it all ended the crowd lingered in the stands, reluctant to leave and wanting more. – Cori Anderson

Vulfpeck — April 27

Photo by Ryan Lewis

It sure didn’t feel like Vulpeck’s first time headlining the stage at Red Rocks this year, but it was. The four-piece Michigan funkers rocked the house and sold out crowd as if they were with their most intimate friends. From their electric originals to classic covers, the entire night light up the beginning season of Red Rocks and set the bar for the hundreds of nights that followed this summer. With the impending release of their newest album Hill Climber, due out this December, there is sure to be more where they left off on that April night. – Denby Gardiner

Check out our full review here.

Primus — May 6

Photo courtesy of Primus’ Facebook page

Primus’ set at Red Rocks on May 6, 2018, showed a playful side of the famed metal band. The first half of their set revisited earlier works, complete with bassist and lead vocalist Les Claypool slapping his bass in a uniquely Claypool way. After about an hour, the band went backstage while stage techs transformed the set into a dark and mythical fantasy land. The band then returned after a wardrobe change — Claypool wore a top hat Serj Tankian would have been proud of, guitarist Larry LaLonde donned curling Satanic horns and drummer Tim Alexander crept behind his kit in a menacing cloak that obscured his entire face. They proceeded to play the entirety of Desaturating, Claypool’s fantastical lyrics reverberating off the moon-lit rocks up into the starry night sky, rocking the faces off of 60,000 ghoulish souls. – Padideh Aghanoury

Above & Beyond — May 19

Photo by Kiddest Metaferia

As veterans of the trance music scene, Above & Beyond (A&B) knows exactly how to make their audience feel all the feelings. From their poignant lyrics to writing personalized messages to the audience on the massive screens around the stage — they have their craft down to a science. While some may fault their shows for being predicable, the trance giants know what their audience wants and never fails to deliver. Amidst the freezing temperatures and mountain winds, concert-goers came ready to dance and the artists did not disappoint. After Mat Zo warmed up the crowd, A&B opened with a mashup of their much loved OceanLab track “Sirens of the Sea” followed by the tear-jerking “Always” from their latest album, Common Ground. In typical A&B fashion, their set took the audience on an emotional journey that had you sobbing one moment and dancing with fervent joy the next. Overall, the evening’s set reminded fans of the most cherished things in life — family, friends and damn good trance music — like only A&B can. – Chloe Dore

Check out our full review here.

Emancipator – May 26

Emancipator provides an exceptional show wherever the performance takes place — but Red Rocks particularly enhances the transcendental experience of organic sound and instruments that the ensemble emanates. The electronic aspect combined with the dynamic quality of the band’s production creates a pleasant illustration that is universal for every listener. Their sound — paired with the crimson slates of the amphitheater — formed harmonious rhythms that were matched with alluring visual elements. – Zena Ballas

ODESZA — June 15 and 16

Photo by Ryan Lewis

This past summer, ODESZA played two sold-out shows at Red Rocks — shows that had been sold out the day the tickets went on sale. If that doesn’t speak volumes to the reputation of an ODESZA performance, then their actual show showed you why. ODESZA used Red Rocks Amphitheatre for all it’s worth. From the echoing and heart-pounding drum line and the illuminating light show to the special guest performances, the night was pure magic. ODESZA announced they won’t be performing at Red Rocks in 2019, making this past summer even more bittersweet and memorable. – Katie Boudreau

Check out our full review here.

Griz (Live Band Set) — July 13

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Photo by Will Sheehan

GRiZ is no stranger to tearing it up on the Rocks, but still never ceases to blow minds. He brought along fellow Michigan-based friends Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers and Flint Eastwood, both of whom perfectly complimented GRiZ’s style and essence. On the first of a two-night run, GRiZ brought along his live band for an all-out boogie fest. They played only one of his really well-known songs, “Good Times Roll,” and instead jammed through a more unknown (to the average listener) setlist, including an unreleased track called “Give Me a Reason,” with velvety soulful vocals and a jam-band vibe. GRiZ really stepped aside and let the unabridged talent of his band shine, without depriving concert-goers of his own. His run at Red Rocks yet again proved that Colorado adores him — and to be honest, how could you not? – Jenna Beutler

Check out our full review here.

Imagine Dragons — July 16

Imagine Dragons is a band that can easily sell out stadiums and arenas, but back in July, the Nevada-based pop-rock band gave Red Rocks an intimate show that was high in energy from start to finish. Lead singer Dan Reynolds and his fellow band members put on a two-hour set that never ceased to have the sold-out Red Rocks crowd on their toes. From running up and down the amphitheater to executing almost every single hit song in their catalog, Imagine Dragons gave fans not just a concert, but also an experience. The band made sure to pack in every single ounce of music they could during their time on stage. Rather than leave the stage to build tension or take long gaps between songs, the band gave us all the music we could have asked for, and then some. – Michael Tritsch

Check out our full review here.

Nas and Blackstar — July 31

Nas. Photo by Alden Bonecutter

Nas and Blackstar brought serious fire to the Rocks this year, both playing an extraordinary set of classics well appreciated by old heads. The reunited duo of Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey was a particular treat for rap listeners, many of whom assumed that the duo had ceased to exist in the mid-2000’s. Despite not having played together in years the Kweli and Bey had enormous chemistry, owning the stage with sophisticated New York swagger. Hits like “Astronomy (8th Light)” and “Children’s Story” had an understated bounce that has largely been lost in today’s “turn-up” rap scene. Nas’ star power was tremendous, and he played a set with passion and love. His performance left much of the audience starry-eyed and ready for more. While rap is certainly undergoing something of a renaissance, the show was a reminder of just how strong the foundation continues to be. – Colin Wrenn

Check out our full review here

Leon Bridges — August 9

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Leon Bridges at the Fillmore in 2016. Photo by Kyle Cooper.

Leon Bridges stole the show for the best performance I saw at Red Rocks, and with it, the hearts of everyone in attendance. Bridges is known for his crooner of a voice resembling Sam Cooke which complimented the venue made from nature perfectly. His voice reverberated off the rocks while he danced, twisted, grooved and swooned all over the stage. For one night, Red Rocks was his home and we were invited to the intimate house party. It was his debut at Red Rocks and he set the bar incredibly high for others to follow suit. – Katie Boudreau

Check out our full review here.

Rodrigo y Gabriela — August 21

Rodrigo Y Gabriela photos by Camille S. Breslin-22

Photo by Camile Breslin

For the most part, it is the lyrics that serve as the metaphorical lamp to the moth of a music addict, unless of course, the act is Rodrigo y Gabriela. The duo from Mexico City are no strangers to the Red Rocks stage and they seemed as comfortable there as anywhere. The stage presence was as simple as it could get, with just two musicians and their guitars, but the sound radiating from their fingers could not have been more complex. No act this summer compared to their raw talent and energy, not to mention an on-stage connection that could only come from a nearly 20-year partnership. The tour that encompassed this Red Rocks performance came after a four-year hiatus, and Colorado welcomed them back with eager, open arms. – Denby Gardiner

Check out our full review here.

David Byrne — Aug 27 and 28

Photo by Ryan Lewis

David Byrne — legendary frontman of Talking Heads — played not one, but two sold out Red Rocks shows this year. It was theatrical, it was classy, but most of all — it was unforgettable. The performance was truly one of a kind with immaculate attention to detail. The performers all wore the same off-white colored suits parading around the stage with wireless instruments all-the-while moving to mesmerizing choreography. Byrne played many hits from his Talking Heads days, giving a lot of fans what they came for. With the addition of his new album American Utopia being brought to life on stage, there’s no doubt this was one of the best shows at Red Rocks this year. – Tyler Harvey

Check out our full review here.

 Shakey Graves — Aug 30

Shakey Graves photo by Alden Bonecutter

Shakey Graves’ Red Rocks performance was a hypnotizingly beautiful night of music. Twin Peaks kicked it off with a young energy that had everybody dancing. They were followed by José González who showed the crowd how to be captivated by one man and his guitar on stage. Shakey Graves combined the energy of Twin Peaks and the beauty of Gonález had the entire crowd dancing when he wanted us to and left us captivated when he decided to slow the songs down a bit. Shakey Graves played songs from throughout his career reminding listeners why we fell in love with him, and why we continue to love him. – Caleb Aerenson

Check out our full review here.

STS9 — September 7 & 8

Photo By Ryan Lewis

STS9 held nothing back for their two-night Cave of Crystals event on September 7 and 8. This carefully curated weekend brought a visual masterpiece of multi-colored crystals, technicolor lasers and a well-timed lightning storm. Paired with the beautifully unpredictable improvisational jams of Tribe, this weekend was an absolute treat for live music fans. Once you stepped into the crystal-laden rabbit hole, there was no telling how far STS9 would take you. We became fully immersed in the cavern of soft pastel gemstones and futuristic space jams — Sound Tribe had successfully transported us into another realm. Rumor has it some passengers never fully returned back to Earth after that weekend. STS9’s Cave of Crystals earned the title of one of the best Red Rocks shows in 2018 for their ability to go above and beyond in every aspect of the live music experience. – Ellie Herring

Check out our full review here.

 Nine Inch Nails — September 18 and 19

Photo by Ryan Good

Nine Inch Nails packed one hell of a punch at Red Rocks and perhaps served to be the knock out of the season. Trent Reznor and the gang were absolutely ruthless — blazing a trail of industrial beats, guttural screams and gnashing of guitars. The audience, donning all black were strung along by the band’s every movement on their head-banging fist pumping joyride. The mere fact that a band of their caliber graced Red Rocks, when they could have performed at larger venues was a treat in and of itself, but being there in the moment, was something else entirely. – Kori Hazel

Check out our full review here.

Beck – September 25

Photo by Meg O’ Neill

After 23 years of performing, Beck has certainly mastered his craft. The performance from someone of his caliber could be described, but there is no way to truly understand it until experienced firsthand. His ease as he rocks the finger-pointing, hip gyrating dance moves made for a most interactive audience encounter. Beck is not like most performers, because most performers do not have an entire sets-worth of cult classics that have been ingrained in our popular culture for two decades. It would be easy for him to rest back on his reputation and take it easy, but instead he rose up and offered a team of talented musicians, a light show to be reckoned with and more than a few fun covers to ensure that his two-nights at Red Rocks were two of the best of the season.  – Denby Gardiner

Check out our full review here.

The National — October 9

Photo courtesy of The National’s Facebook page

Red Rocks was a miserable display for The National. 32 degrees and dropping, a never-ending fog colored with the ominous orange glow of the stage lights, a constant drizzle and breeze creeping into our bones – never have the conditions been better for a National concert. It was clandestine that the band’s dour dad rock be served at its most depressing. Adding to the atmosphere the band was electrifying — lead singer Matt Bellinger running through the dense crowd and making hilarious quips throughout, and the rest of the band making light of the elements absolutely crushing their songs. Weather be damned — I’d do it all again. – Kori Hazel

Check out our full review here.

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