Some of the early-morning attendees for the Easter service keep warm under blankets at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison on April 20, 2014. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Contrasts at Red Rocks: Dawning with Easter service; Snoop, Wiz light up night

Since 4/20 landed on Easter Sunday this year, Reverb took the unique opportunity to be at Red Rocks Amphitheatre from 4:20 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. to watch the Easter Sunrise Service transition into Snoop Dogg’s big 4/20 concert. Here’s what we saw …

David Garcia is high watching a capacity crowd sing “Amazing Grace” at the 67th Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It’s just before 7 a.m. He woke up before the sun with two holidays to celebrate: Easter and 4/20. First he smoked marijuana, then attended the service and later that day will head to Denver for the Cannabis Cup.

“It’s a beautiful sight,” said Garcia, who was raised Christian and believes in God along with smoking weed.

“Man didn’t create weed — God created weed, and I don’t think smoking is harming anyone,” he said. “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong in God’s eyes.”

Visiting from New Jersey for 4/20 and Easter weekend, Garcia said that the church is becoming more and more tolerant with marijuana.

“People from Colorado realize that it doesn’t create crime,” Garcia said. “Look, there’s two completely different type of people at the same place in one day. It’s a beautiful thing.”

As the sun climbed above Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a capacity crowd huddled under blankets, wearing coats, gloves and hats. Crosses adorn the stage and men of faith led the congregation through “The Lord’s Prayer” and hymns with shouts of “Christ is risen!” and “Hallelujah!”

As the sun sets on the same venue, an equally sizable crowd will be filing in, and would be singing along with Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg to songs such as “Young, Wild & Free” and “Smoke the Weed.”

Dawn at Red Rocks opens with Easter celebration, Snoop/Wiz ahead for evening
Superintendent Patrick L. Demmer gives a sermon titled “What Are You Looking For?” during the annual Easter sunrise service at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison on April 20, 2014. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

It’s a coincidence that Superintendent Patrick L. Demmer pointed out during his sermon for a congregation of more than 10,000.

“Rap musicians often degrade women and express themselves with nasty language,” Demmer said after the service. “That’s not the God I serve.”

Though he wasn’t referring to weed specifically while speaking to the audience — rather, he wanted to draw everyone’s attention to the contrasts in the world.

“You don’t need weed to get high if you have Jesus,” said Demmer, who is one of few African American men to have spoken in the 67-year history of the Sunday Easter service. “When you’ve got Jesus. You don’t need anything else. I used to smoke marijuana on a regular basis and I enjoyed it, but then I found Jesus.”

Even before the sunrise service started to come to a close, the congregation began to trickle out early in an effort to beat traffic (which had been some of the worst I’d ever seen at Red Rocks entering the park). By shortly after 8 a.m. it had transitioned from God worshipers to fitness worshipers. A number of people had started the day early to run up and down Red Rocks’ daunting face of stairs. Crews quickly pulled down the podiums and crosses and began moving in trucks with speakers, lights and instruments for the Snoop Dogg show. Families wandered around the park hiking and enjoying the view.

Snoop Dogg performs at Red Rocks Amphitheater on April 20, 2014
Snoop Dogg performs at Red Rocks Amphitheater as a part of his 420 Wellness Retreat in Morrison, Colorado on April 20, 2014. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

Throughout the day, I asked people what it meant about Colorado to have these two completely different groups using the venue for two completely different celebrations on the same day. I asked weed-supporters, weed non-supporters, out-of-towners, lifelong Coloradans and typically the answer was always the same: This state is tolerant of everyone, this state is laid back, people here are nice.

As if some communal alarm had gone off somewhere, the crowd began to change just after 4 p.m.

“You could see the rush coming in at 4:20,” said Luke Dunning, who arrived at the part just after 4 p.m. He spoke with me in between turns playing bag toss. He had Easter brunch with his family before heading to Red Rocks.

Even in the open-air lots, weed smoke hung in the calm evening air among the beer pong tables and grills. Fans wandered the lots selling “I (pot leaf) Colorado” T-shirts and jewelry. Lounging on tailgates, most smoked from bongs, pipes and joints and drank from flasks, bottles and plastic cups.

Review: Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on 4/20 (video, photos)

At 6:45 p.m. — 15 minutes after the gates opened — the line at the South Gate of Red Rocks stretched to the bottom of the monolith. People waiting complained, smoked weed and blasted music from their phones. Shortly after 7 p.m. the show kicked off with Smoke DZA as half of the audience waited to have their bags checked and alcohol dumped out.

While he played I spoke to a Red Rocks event staffer who worked the park the night before for Slightly Stoopid, that morning for the Easter Service and now for Snoop. We started talking because she saw me yawning. She got about an hour of sleep in her car the night before — I had no reason to be tired. As for the two days of weed and hip-hop, she said it went smoothly, and, in fact, she prefers the crowds of kids at the concerts to the Easter crowd. The Easter crowd can be a bit difficult…

View more photos from the Snoop Dogg/Wiz Khalifa show on Sunday night

As you could imagine the late-night Red Rocks group skewed about 20 years younger, 98 percent higher, 100 percent drunker and wearing about 50 percent less clothing than the morning group. When Smoke DZA kicked off his set, rain began to come down, falling on the bare arms, mid-drifts and legs of the crowd. But despite all the obvious differences of the types of people I saw that day, there was a nagging familiarity with this crowd and the one from about 12 hours prior. And I didn’t fully grasp it until Wiz Khalifa’s set.

He led the congregation in a call-and-response of, “Roll it, smoke it.”

“Roll it,” Wiz yelled.

“Smoke it,” the crowd responded in unison.

I could have been on two completely different planets that day, and maybe it was my delirium from a 17-hour day, but something about this call and response seemed so familiar from that morning’s “Call to Worship.”

This story was first published on Reverb