While it might not be scientifically proven, there’s no doubt that music just sounds better in the high-altitude Rocky Mountains, where guitar chords and singers’ soulful melodies cut straight through the thin air. That must be why outdoor Colorado music venues are plentiful, and always packed.
And, did we mention the killer views that perfectly complement the awesome shows? Here’s the short list of the most scenic spots for live music in Colorado:
1. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison
The naturally occurring, acoustically perfect, jaw-droppingly scenic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison is the mother of all outdoor music venues, and it’s been captivating audiences and musicians alike for more than 100 years now. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, U2 and The Grateful Dead are just a few big names among the countless legendary acts that have rocked this world-famous stage. Concert calendar >>
2. The Fred Shellman Memorial Stage, Telluride Town Park
The jagged, 14,000-foot peaks of southwest Colorado rise high 360 degrees around Telluride Town Park, creating an impossibly beautiful live music setting for the annual blues, folk and bluegrass festivals and other summertime shows at this permanent stage. Camping right in the park is popular during days-long musical events. Big annual events at this venue are the always-sold-out Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride Jazz Celebration and the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival. Concert Calendar >>
3. Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail
Looking out over the Vail Valley, there are 1,260 covered stadium-style seats and room for another 1,300 concert-goers on the grassy hillside. Locals know that the Ford Amphitheater lawn is the place to be on clear evenings when the star show above is often as impressive as the on-stage performance. Sprays of wildflowers and the piney slopes of the Gore Range frame the stage, a perfect setting for popular events such as the Vail Dance Festival to Bravo! Vail Music Festival to the Hot Summer Nights series. Events calendar >>
4. The Folks Fest Stage at Planet Bluegrass Ranch, Lyons
In a secluded valley north of Boulder sits the open-air Folks Fest Stage with a sprawling, grassy field perfect for spreading out blanket to enjoy relaxed folk shows. The St. Vrain River runs parallel to the Lyons venue, so take a refreshing dip after soaking up some high-altitude sun. See performers like Brandi Carlile, Jackson Brown and Steve Martin at the RockyGrass Festival in June and the Folks Festival in August.
5. Benedict Music Tent, Aspen
The semi-permanent sides of this Aspen venue open up to allow more people to sit just outside while still enjoying the high-quality acoustics emanating from the Benedict Music Tent's canopy, which echoes the look of Denver International Airport’s white peaks. Shows here include student recitals from the Aspen School of Music, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass festival, the Aspen Chamber Orchestra and various opera performances. Concert calendar >>
6. Dillon Amphitheatre, Lake Dillon
Sailboats crisscross the crystal-blue alpine lake that serves as the backdrop for this stunning mountain-town stage in Dillon. The summer schedule is usually packed with live music concerts on Tuesday and Friday nights, Saturday sunsets and Sunday afternoons. Shows include talent shows, a band competition in July and August; Bluegrass and Blues weekend in June; and some special events like country- and swing-dancing nights. Concert calendar >>
7. Mishawaka Amphitheatre, Bellvue
The Mish — as it’s known locally — was in danger of a permanent shut down in 2010, but within a few months, new ownership rescued the beloved live music venue in northwest of Fort Collins in Bellvue. Set on the wooded banks of the Poudre River, the lineup of jam bands draws big crowds to the endearingly rustic lodgepole-pine stage. Shows like Leftover Salmon, Toad The Wet Sprocket and The Wailers keep the Colorado-cool vibe here alive. Concert calendar >>
8. Fir Mountain, La Veta Pass
Recently named one of the Top Outdoor Concert Venues in the U.S. by USA Today’s 10Best, Fir Mountain’s solar-powered amphitheater hosts the Mountain Rails Live summer concert series. The venue is only accessible via a ride aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which takes riders from Alamosa to the top of La Veta Pass for wraparound views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and tunes from artists like Sons of Pioneers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Wranglers.
Images: Red Rock Amphitheatre, courtesy of Visit Denver, The Convention & Visitors Bureau/Steve Crecelius; The Dillon Amphitheater, courtesy of the Town of Dillon; Benedict Music Tent, courtesy of Alex Irvin; Telluride Town Park, courtesy of Benko Photographics; Fir Mountain, courtesy of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad