Colorado is a beautiful place to play music. Whether it’s strumming a guitar while swinging in a hammock in the mountains or playing to a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks. It’s something many musicians have learned over the years, and something one group of rock-and-roll legends first learned half a century ago.
“Led Zeppelin was added to a bill that was headlined by Vanilla Fudge and Spirit at the Auditorium Arena. It was a sold out show the day after Christmas in 1968,” G. Brown explained.
Brown is the executive director of Colorado Music Experience and has been covering the music scene in town since he was 15. He can easily recall the story of Led Zeppelin’s first U.S. concert that night in Denver.
“Led Zeppelin’s agent, the soon-to-be omnipotent Frank Barcelona, called Barry Fey - the local promoter - and asked him if he’d put them on the bill,” Brown said. “Fey said no because there was no need. The show was sold out. Barcelona drove a hard bargain asked if they could get paid 500 bucks. Fey said sure. Led Zeppelin - not even on the ticket - showed up, did an opening set that apparently wowed the crowd, and set them on their path to stardom.”
It was early in the band’s career. Guitarist Jimmy Page had the most experience touring from his time playing in The Yardbirds.
Other band members had to adjust a lot more to life on the road, including singer Robert Plant.
“[He] was 20 years old,” Brown said. “He tells the story about how it was the end of the world for him to be away from England over Christmas. He also told me in later years that he definitely recalled that he couldn’t believe that the promoter could charge the backstage catering back to the band,” Brown said with a laugh. “That was his introduction to the fabulous concert biz.”
The show is documented in Thomas MacCluskey’s review for the Rocky Mountain News.
“The concert was ranked off by another heavy, the Led Zeppelin, a British group making its first U.S. tour,” MacCluskey wrote. A photo of Page sawing on his guitar with a violin bow appears in the band’s book: LED ZEPPELIN BY LED ZEPPELIN published by Real Art Press.
“Reportedly, at the Denver show, they debuted things that would become their trademarks in concert,” Brown said. “Jimmy Page taking a bow to his guitar strings, and John Bonham playing an extended drum solo.”
It was a historic night and a loud introduction of a band to a new country.