Red Rocks employee: "I've never seen an event go south like that"

Red Rocks concertgoers injured by hail, evacuation efforts hampered by storms

An employee working at Red Rocks Amphitheater when the concert crowd was viciously pelted with hail Wednesday night was critical of the decision to delay the performance, which in his words, gave the fans hope the show would go on as planned.

The announcement to take shelter came just three minutes before the hailstorm, the employee said. Fans had no chance to make it to their cars. 

Conversely, there was not nearly enough room in the venue's facilities to house the large crowd in attendance, either, he said. 

The employee agreed to talk with CBS News Colorado only on the condition of anonymity. The employee said he has more than a decade of experience working at Red Rocks but could be terminated for speaking about the incident. 

He also refuted claims by fans on social media that Red Rocks workers watched and laughed as fans who were unable to find shelter suffered in the elements, though he readily admitted to not being a witness to all conduct during the storm.

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Nearly 100 people were injured as a result of their exposure to the storm. Eight people were hospitalized.

West Metro Fire Rescue

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There were actually two delays. The employee said the first was made in plenty of time. 

"There were three acts total (that) night," he said. "An announcement was made over the loud speakers that the second act was being canceled. The venue makes the call."

The weather did not immediately become severe, and many of the fans stuck around to keep their position in the general admittance (first-come, first-serve) seating. 

But when the wind began whipping about 15 minutes prior to the downpour, and stage workers opted to lower large digital monitors which were swaying above the stage, the decision to cancel should've been made, in his opinion.

"It held out hope, but it really should be the time to say 'yes' or 'no' and get folks moving," the employee said. "You could stand in the amphitheater, look up, and say, 'That doesn't look right.' I think it was obvious something was brewing and it was not going to be a safe situation."

The second warning informed fans to "get to your car," he said. But there was no time. 

When the hail arrived, he and other employees tried to get people to the sides of the stage, into hallways, into restrooms and the visitors center. Anywhere there was a roof. But there is not enough room at the outdoor concert venue for a "close to full house" crowd to be sheltered. The same exposure to nature's offerings that make seeing a show at the iconic venue a bucket list for many fans - some certainly inspired by U2's rainy rendition of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in 1983 - also puts spectators at the mercy of the elements. 

The anonymous employee said the he did not see other employees locking fans out of shelters or laughing at them, as some fans claimed the day after.

"I personally did not see that. Very disturbing. I know we had a lot of folks who were in a panic attack. A lot of chaos. Some people (employees) were frozen. A majority of them were pointing, saying 'go this way, go this way.'"  


"Reading that (about allegations) breaks my heart. I would've slapped somebody if I'd heard or seen them making fun of the fans. You remain professional, you remain calm. Anyone who did that should be terminated."

The approximately 100 workers, he added, had their cars damaged or destroyed as the fans did, and many were struggling less than 24 hours later with what he interpreted as symptoms of PTSD. 

"I think it's unprecedented," the employee lamented. "I've never seen an event go south like that. So many people hurt, so many people traumatized. It was just surreal."    

The incident prompts consideration of the practicality of erecting more shelter at a facility designed for outdoor entertainment which is already surrounded by parking lots in difficult terrain; of the distinction between public safety and personal responsibility; and of the reliability of using entertainment management to predict unsafe weather conditions for thousands of people.

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Friday, as social media filled with images of vulnerable concertgoers struggling in the maelstrom, the park issued a statement.

The response didn't go over well with many, including the employee we spoke to. 

"Where's the accountability? What's the next step?" he said. "It's a little unsettling, how the response is. It feels like a general 'don't care' attitude."  

Later, in an interview, Brian Kitts of the City of Denver's Arts and Venues, said, "I think that we are going to lean in a little bit harder on telling fans to keep one eye on the stage and one eye on the sky. And when we say that it's time to seek shelter, do it fast, because that means that it's an emergency situation."

Louis Tomlinson, the headliner who never made it to the stage that night, responded the next day with condolences to his fans. And a promise. 

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