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Paul Epstein’s “Let Me Take You Down (to the basement)” #3

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Bob Marley And The Wailers

On May 11, 1981 Robert Nesta Marley passed from this existence to the next. It’s safe to say that none of the Coloradans who experienced his concert at the D.U. (University of Denver) Arena on December 5, 1979 had any inkling that this tragic event was on the horizon. In fact, my memories of this magical evening involve Marley, Zeus-like, hurling musical and political lightning bolts from the stage all night as though nothing of this earth could stop him. His Brilliant Survival LP had been released earlier in the year, and it was filled with anthems of social justice and national (African/Jamaican) pride and unity. 

The show itself was a remarkable gathering of slices of Colorado life that we knew existed but had never been seen together under one roof. Hippies, Rastas, Politicos, Mountain People and all stripe of countercultural ‘fringies’ crowded the floor of the large gymnasium under an impossibly thick cloud of pre-legalization pot smoke in anticipation of the prophet-like figure Marley was becoming. 

The show opened with Betty Wright, whose funky 1971 hit Clean Up Woman must have been seen as a possible calling card for Black audiences unfamiliar with Marley’s music. One of the subtexts of Marley’s career was his inability to reach a larger Black audience in America during his lifetime. Betty Wright seemed like a miss to me this night. She put on a good set, but it was rooted in older show-biz traditions and fell flat on an audience looking for transcendence. 

When Marley finally hit the stage, the crowd exploded in joyous revelry. I can remember few shows I’ve seen where there was such an overwhelming sense of happiness in the audience. We had waited a long time for this opportunity, and now here it was in Denver–an artist of true lyrical substance, producing anthems you could actually sing along with. It was truly a great moment. Everyone I knew who went was glowing for weeks afterwards.

The D.U. Arena was the home of Pioneer hockey and basketball for years before the Magness Arena was built. There were sparse concerts held there, and my memories of the place involve more family ice skating than concert-going. It was essentially the field house, the gym, for D.U. Not built for music, it was like a lot of large university athletic facilities that the 1960s and 70s turned into make-shift concert halls to meet the exploding desires of students taken with rock and roll. 

Above see the (full) poster of the show as well as a rare photo of Bob at D.U. Both came from a woman who was an early customer of Twist And Shout. She came in to the Alameda Ave. store one day and told me she was dying of cancer. She also told me she had been photographing Denver concerts for years. She handed me those two items and over the next few weeks brought me many more, including incredible photos of David Bowie and Keith Moon at Denver concerts. I hope she and Bob are both in a safe place.

– Paul Epstein, Co-Chair, Colorado Music Hall of Fame; founder/former owner of Twist & Shout; music historian and archivist

“I moved to Colorado in 1968 and started going to concerts almost immediately. I eagerly grabbed posters, flyers, ticket stubs, advertisements, concert recordings, pretty much any proof I could find that the event happened. In 1988, I started a record store called Twist & Shout, and my collecting of memorabilia went into even higher gear. Over the next 34 years, I had rare access to memorabilia of all types and sizes. Now that I’ve retired, the time seems right to start sharing these things, and the stories that go with them. So, every other Tuesday, I will ask you to Let Me Take You Down (to the basement) to check out some of the good stuff!” – Paul Epstein