Rolling up to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre for the first time in over a year, fully vaccinated and ready to fill the deep void resulting from the immense lack of live music since March 2020, it was obvious my enthusiasm wasn’t unique. Instead, this energy was a shared sentiment amongst the Red Rocks staff and concert-goers. As fans anticipated Red Rocks’ first show this year, performed by the electronic-jam band Lotus, the air seemed lighter than usual.
Things looked slightly different this time around, and it was clear the staff was still getting used to the new procedures. “Pepsi or Coca-Cola?” the dancing traffic guard asked, unable to contain his bright smile underneath his mask. He wasn’t asking about our favorite drink. Rather, he was asking which section was listed on our tickets. Quadrant sectioned seating is a new thing at Red Rocks, a newfound safety precaution against COVID-19. Rolling into the north parking lot, smiling faces flooded the parking lot as far as the eye could see, and a hodgepodge of laughter, coming from all corners of the lot echoed off the beautiful red rocks surrounding the space. From the security guards to the fans, everyone was excited to be back at this beautiful venue to watch Lotus perform.
Weaving through the dancing parking lot full of partiers to stand in line for Lotus, chosen to kick off the 2021 Red Rocks summer concert season with four back-to-back shows. This was the first. As each band member walked out on stage and began performing, it became immediately clear they missed being on stage as much as we missed watching them. Finally, after a year without live music, it was time to remember what we were all missing.
For the better part of the last decade, Lotus has headlined Red Rocks each year since 2012. In fact, this is the longest the band has gone without performing there – unless you count their September 2020 show, which only allowed for 200 people. Despite a year without touring, Luke Miller, who plays the keyboard and guitar for Lotus, wasn’t too nervous.
“The first bunch of times we played Red Rocks, I definitely had the jitters. But now, I don’t know how many times we played there – over 10. So I think we’re pretty relaxed about it. We’re just making sure that we are well prepared. It’s a lot of songs, four nights without repeats to prep [after] a whole year off. But I think we all did our homework and got up to speed. So yeah, we’re raring to go.”
For Red Rock’s opening weekend, the capacity has been reduced to 2,500 people down from the normal 9,500. Although the front rows were packed tight with screaming fans, the back half of the venue was comfortably spaced out. Miller wasn’t phased by the reduced capacity. Rather, he was encouraged, saying “no matter if it’s 10,000 people or 20 people, we still want to put on the best show we can. Sometimes at red rocks when it’s sold out, it gets a little crowded. So I think this will be nice. People have all the room they want to dance.”
Ahh, dancing. What a wonderful feeling, to express yourself freely and let your body move in whatever way the music deems appropriate. Sometimes, dancing is less of a conscious choice and more of a natural reaction to the music radiating from the stage. As Lotus performed “Free Swim” live for the first time, the crowd reacted accordingly. From the sound of the first kick drum, everyone knew exactly what was about to happen. People bounced up and down, following the undeniable rhythm of the bass guitar performed by Jesse Miller, and anticipating the psychedelic guitar lines from Mike Rempel. A beautifully chaotic combination of distorted sounds and electronic effects gracefully fused together to synthesize a coordinated climax of psychedelia and dance-pop — the crowd exploded.
Everywhere you looked people danced without limits, swaying back and forth, throwing their hands up unapologetically, and jumping up and down unable to contain their excitement. All the pent-up energy accumulated over a year of isolation was released simultaneously, without apology. Only a crowd who has been robbed of the pleasures of dancing for the past year could dance this way.
Since the pandemic began, Lotus has released an album Free Swim and an EP Citrus, for a total of 17 new songs. In the absence of live shows, most of this material was grounded from being heard the way all Lotus’s music deserves to be experienced – live. Thankfully, though, this means that Lotus has enough new material to perform four congruent shows and make each one unique.
“We did release a full album and another EP, so that’s 17 brand new songs. We’re looking forward to being able to play that in front of an audience. We thought that those were super fun songs and they’ve been sounding great and rehearsals, so we can’t wait to play some of those live.”
Miller was right, the new songs sounded great live. Illuminated by the massive rock encompassing the stage, the band seamlessly transitioned from one song to the next, strung together with impressive improvisational passages spearheaded by Rempel’s contagious guitar melodies. For a brief moment, the world felt right again.
For Miller, this show represented turning a new page on the progress towards building a post-COVID society.
“It feels like you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Miller told me. “And I think we still have a way before we’re back to full capacity indoor shows, but I think we’re heading in a really great direction.”
Rather than dedicating each night to a specific project, Lotus will be performing a healthy mix of songs from their last two records, plus older fan favorites such as “Sodium Vapor” and “Colorado,” in each performance with no repeated songs. Expect the same energy for the next three nights at the venue. Welcome back Red Rocks. We’ve missed you.