Colorado's Best Outdoor Venues That Aren't Red Rocks

July 20, 2018

We Coloradans are spoiled for a variety of reasons—one of which is our proximity to what is considered by many to be one of the greatest outdoor theaters in the world: Red Rocks.

Red Rocks is a monumental event for performers and concert-attendees alike, what with its ability to set the scene for music that often ends up being the perfect soundtrack to the otherworldly rocks and city lights flickering in the distance. Or, maybe it’s less of a poetic gesture to the natural elements that we should consider ourselves blessed to experience (let alone while Bonobo or Pretty Lights is performing in front of us), and more of a non-traditional place to watch Happy Gilmore (coming July 23rd, btw). Either way, we don’t need to remind you of the glory of Red Rocks—you’re already aware. But that means that you’re also probably aware of just how pricey experiencing Red Rocks can be. So, while it’s mandatory that you catch at least ONE Red Rocks event this summer, it’s also worth entertaining a few alternatives around Denver and Colorado if you’re eager to see powerhouse performers while sitting on a warm blanket, exposed stone seats, or…plastic benches. But hey, you’ll be outside, right?

Levitt Pavilion

Levitt Pavilion’s website features their mission statement front and center: “Building community through music, one concert at a time”. Only in their second year, they hold a combination of free and ticketed events for the eager Denver public that range in style and intensity, though are largely designed with the whole family in mind. Usually symphonies and more “classic” styles seem to thrive in these kinds of environments, but to Levitt’s credit, there really does seem to be a range of music for everyone. If we had to commit to one of their free events right now, we’d probably hang our proverbial hats on August 10th’s performance by the Mariachi sol de Mi Tierra + Shiners Club Jazz Band. We don’t know really anything about either of those bands, but has anyone ever had a bad time at a free mariachi concert? (Actually, let us rephrase that. Has anyone ever had a bad time at a free Mariachi concert that they voluntarily attended? Of course not.)

Denver Botanic Gardens

This may be the only venue that can truly rival the natural beauty and raw majesty of Red Rocks. Instead of giant shards of pressed red earth, though, the stage at Denver Botanic Gardens is predictably surrounded by a diverse assortment of flowers and trees, and honestly, probably a lot of butterflies. Ordinarily we’d say that the Botanic Gardens is one of the most peaceful places in Denver, but that changes with these concerts, of course, which this year include acts like Chaka Khan, Guster, and Amos Lee. Unfortunately, most of the shows are already sold out, though it’s probably not impossible to still get tickets (the site actually has a pretty convenient portal for finding fan tickets). That said, the lone event that isn’t currently sold out may just be the best of them: Angelique Kidjo and Femi Kuti.

Elitch Gardens Dive-In Movies

While most of the alternatives we’ve mentioned focus on music, outdoor cinemas are also a huge hit among us Coloradans. Red Rocks is doing its fair share to contribute to the summer movie scene in Denver, featuring classics like Happy Gilmore and The Big Lebowski. But if you’re going for something different than the traditional “bring a blanket and find a spot” kind of thing, look no further than Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, which screens films that guests can watch from the pool idle in the pool. While the idea of watching Despicable Me 3 surrounded by hundreds of screaming charming children might not be everyone’s cup of tea, for others, this is certainly a unique way to catch a flick. Plus, you know we have at least 20 more blazing hot days between now and September, so that cool, child-infested water might just end up hitting the spot.

Mishawaka

Mishawaka or “The Mish” might be a bit of a schlep from Denver, but with artists like Ziggy Marley, Brett Dennen, and Devotchka passing through, it’s worth the trip to beautiful Poudre Canyon. Spiritually, the venue shares a lot more with Joshua Tree’s famous western saloon “Pappy & Harriet’s” than it does with Red Rocks. The rustic cabin-esque exterior that seemingly comes out of nowhere and the flowing river it sits on lend the space a real turn-of-the-century-expedition feel. It also has a restaurant that’s open all year round which, given its location, could come in quite handy during a freak snowfall. Ultimately, this hidden gem does a great job of retaining its “my-buddy-Jeff-is-having-a-BBQ-with-a-couple-of-bands-playing-and-you-should-come” vibe, which ultimately captures the true spirit of summer. A massive production in the world’s best outdoor venue is awesome, but sometimes, you just want to feel like you’re watching a gig—not a show.