Taylor Swift

UCR On Tour:Taylor Swift • MUNA • Gracie Abrams • July 14, 2023 • Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, CO

Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe

Photo Credit: Kevin Rolfe

It’s difficult to describe the feeling you get when you see an email from Taylor Swift’s team telling you that you’ve been approved to cover her concert in Denver, Colorado.  I’m sure you can imagine from a professional standpoint the feeling I might have, getting to cover the biggest concert in the world.  And while I’m not sure I’d consider myself an official Swiftie, I’m a lover of concerts, and getting to see someone as massive as Taylor Swift, in a show that has been so well documented over social media, as epic, was an unbelievable experience.  

Photo Credit: Kevin Rolfe

I feel strange writing about something people already know so much about.  Even if you haven’t attended Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, it feels impossible not to know about it. Everyone seems to know about the 45-song setlist.  When I bring up the fact that the show’s running time, not including openers is three and a half hours, people tell me they already knew that.  Not to mention the many many costume changes.  But what’s amazing to me is although there is already so much out there about this tour, people still can’t get enough. I can’t say I blame them.  Because after being there in Denver at Empower Field at Mile High, I noticed that there was still so much more to see.  And even the things I did learn about ahead of time were still amazing in person.

I understand that it’s not breaking news just how far-reaching Taylor Swift’s influence goes.  But I have found it interesting that even in my small little world, the desire to go to this tour crosses all artists, and music fans.  I spoke to a group of people and I asked them if they could see anyone in concert who would it be.  Multiple people in the group said, Taylor Swift.  Some people I would have never expected to say that.  Then there is a woman I know who is a die-hard Swiftie telling me that she got amnesia from the show and doesn’t remember a thing about the Eras Tour concert she saw in Vegas.  Turns out it’s actually a thing

When I interviewed Utah-based singer-songwriter Emily Hicks, not only tell me about her first concert, which was Taylor Swift, but when I followed up with what’s the best concert she’d ever seen, she told me it was again Taylor Swift on this Eras Tour.  An entirely different concert from her first.  I believe she attended the infamous Nashville concert where it rained the entire time and Taylor still went on.  By the way, you should check out some of Emily’s music.  She’s good.

I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to attend due to Swift not scheduling a Utah date on the tour, but by the grace of the Swiftie Gods Utah Concert Review was approved.  As fate would have it, I was in Southern California at the time of receiving the email.  I was at Disneyland just getting off of the Cars ride to be exact.  When you wish upon a star, amiright?  I flew home on a Thursday.  Repacked my bag, made sure all of my camera batteries were charged up, and memory cards were clear.  I didn’t want anything going awry.  

I then headed up to Park City where I covered a show I was already committed to, Old Crow Medicine Show.  A band I highly recommend. Left the show and started my way towards Denver.  I decided I’d drive as far as I could and once I got tired I’d stop.  That lead me to wonderful Rawlins, Wyoming.  About three hours from Denver.  Following a virtually sleepless night (I suppose I was just way too excited to sleep!) I made my way on the final stretch to the stadium.

I arrived about an hour before the first opener, Gracie Abrams was set to take the stage.  Upon arrival in the stadium parking lot, I was immediately aware that I was underdressed.  For reference, I was wearing black jeans and a light blue Jason Isbell concert T-shirt.  The light blue might have been my saving grace.  There were not a lot of dark colors in that parking lot.  Pink was the primary color.  But I also saw a lot of purple and red.  Whoever manufactures sequins is making a killing right now.  Every homemade outfit included sequins.  It was an ocean of pink, gold, purple, silver, red, black, and whatever other colors were on Joseph’s coat sequins.  I was blown away. 

I even saw dads who would normally never dress in anything remotely flamboyant do their best by wearing a sequin pink golf polo.  The effort to stand out and look awesome at this concert was impressive.  My light blue shirt didn’t quite let me off the hook for not dressing up, but I maybe blended in a smidge more.  Anyway, my eyes were already in sensory overload and the concert hadn’t even started. 

After meeting a number of really friendly Denver-based photographers, we made our way out of the tunnel, onto the field, and inside the barricade where we would be shooting.  My eyes had to have been the size of dinner plates.  The area was not large, but the photographers did a good job of spreading out and finding places to shoot.  

Gracie Abrams and MUNA opened the show for Taylor Swift.  And while I’d like to give a full review on them, I’m unable due to the photographers having to return to the media room following taking photos of them.  But while I was out there they both seemed so excited to be out there.  I mean, what an opportunity.  Even with Gracie, who opened the night as people were still filling in she was performing for tens of thousands of people.  I liked seeing fans of MUNA and Gracie Abrams get excited about certain songs.  The opportunity to perform in front of that many people must be so intimidating and surreal yet so amazing.  I can’t even imagine what that experience was like for them.

Back in the media room, we were given the signal that it was time to head out for Taylor Swift.  I do my best to be professional and hide my excitement in these moments.  But I must admit that in this case, it was very difficult for me.  I sought out some other photographers who weren’t trying to play it too cool and just said, “This is so exciting! We’re about to shoot the biggest tour in the world!” They returned their excitement back to me, one even sharing that they were extremely nervous.  The rest of us just tried to tell them that they’d do great.  Loved the support and loved the joint nerding out on what was about to happen.  

We got into position, waited a bit, and then on the huge screen a three-minute countdown began.  The crowd went crazy.  I looked up into the upper level of the stadium and the little dots of people rushing to get up the stairs and through the aisles to their seats looked like little ants that saw some crumbs on a picnic blanket.  The energy in that place felt so intense.  The clock hit zero and the place went wild for the first of many many times. 

The center of the massive digital screen opened and out walked men with what appeared to be huge flower pedals.  They walked down the long catwalk to a huge platform about halfway down.  They got into a circle and one by one and bowed so that they could lay the pedals on the stage.  When they lifted back up, Taylor was there.  Such a cool entrance. 

I’m not sure I’ll explain this right, but there are only a few times in my concert-going experience where an artist has taken the stage and thought, ‘That’s them.  That’s really them.  They’re really here.’.  That would make sense because that’s obviously who we’re going to see.  But there’s something about these huge stars that make it different. When you actually see them, you still can’t believe it.  That’s only happened to me with Paul McCartney, Adele, U2, The Cure, and now Taylor Swift.  There she was.  In front of 73,000 screaming fans.

I was taking so many pictures that my camera sounded like a machine gun with how many shots I was firing off.  I’m surprised there wasn’t smoke coming out of it! When I shoot I try to get quality over quantity but I just didn’t want to miss out on capturing anything. But I took a breath to regroup.  I looked around.  People were FaceTiming their friends, taking selfies, and jumping up and down.  No one was sitting and no one was standing still.   

Swift opened with “Miss Americana”.  The singing and screaming were only just starting.  How could these fans sound like this all night?  Spoiler alert they did.  She shifted quickly to “the Heartbreak Prince”.  The staging, even with it still being daylight was impressive.  I knew that would only improve the darker it got.  And it did.  Taylor Swift was alone on that huge stage.  No dancers.  The band was way in the back on the sides of the digital screen.  She was out there alone and yet she totally commanded the room.  Something that would happen again and again throughout the night.  I was completely blown away by her stage presence and complete control over the massive throng of people.

Taylor Swift took her time to look around the stadium.  She smiled at specific fans, which most altered the course of their life forever.  At least I can only assume that’s how it goes.  She was everywhere on that stage and catwalk and we were only two songs in.  She must be walking like 10 miles a night during these concerts.  A part of the stage rose up about twenty feet high.  This brought Swift up to a new eye level with certain fans and they seemed to absolutely love it.  Again, only two songs in and I got the feeling that she’s thought of everything for this show.  I was so eager to see what was to come and yet I didn’t want it to go by too swiftly.  See what I did there?  I’m sorry it was there, I had to do it.  Please keep reading!

The last song for me in the photo pit was “Cruel Summer”.  This would be the first of Swift’s many costume changes.  She made her way to the main stage where the dancers were awaiting her.  She ran up and down stairs to various office spaces. These dancers were so talented.  Not that I’d expect any less from this tour.  I just really admired the choreography and the precision of everything.  The band, the dancers, and Taylor were all so well rehearsed.  It’s amazing that they can all be so spread out and yet still do everything with such pinpoint accuracy.  When you’re watching the show it goes so smoothly that you don’t really think of all the moving parts.  But when you take a second and realize that there basically no glitches and that is a huge deal.

The time came for me to leave the photo pit.  We were told that we would need to take our cameras back to our cars because there wouldn’t be a secure place to store them inside the stadium now that we would be heading to our seats. I did not want to miss much.  So the second we got back into the tunnel I went into Olympic-style speed walking mode so I could get back as fast as I could.  While I was walking to the tunnel I heard “You Need to Calm Down”.  So I knew I already missed one hit.  When I was walking outside of the stadium I heard “Lover”, another hit missed!  How was I going to get to my car and back without missing a half hour of the show?

The Swiftie Gods blessed me again.  They knew I needed to be back in that stadium.  As if a beam from the heavens, I looked in front of me and what did I see?  A Lime Scooter.  You know those scooters you can rent by the minute.  Well, I just happen to have the app already.  So I scanned my phone and I was off.  I scooted my way to the car, stashed my camera and step stool, and scooted back to the stadium entrance.  Fortunately, I only missed “Lover” and got to my seat by the end of “Archer”.  I noticed about 25-30 minutes later many of the photographers getting back to their seats.  Thank you Swiftie Gods. 

I was finally in my seat, just in time for the Fearless Era.  Things went to a whole new level with songs like “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story”.  Songs I know all too well.  There was a part of me that was surprised to see these songs performed so early.  But I learned quickly that Taylor Swift knows what she’s doing.  She has so many hits!  She spread them out quite successfully throughout the night.  I’ve seen many videos on social media where boyfriends would propose to their girlfriends during “Love Story”.  I looked around to see if I’d get to see that in person but apparently, no one around me was feeling romantic enough so I didn’t get my wish of seeing a live proposal. 

I almost fake proposed to the woman next to me just so people would have something to tell their friends but I thought better of it.  Also, I didn’t want to get a phone call from my sister the following week asking if I had proposed to someone in Denver because she saw me on TikTok.

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Taylor Swift didn’t talk in between each song.  But she did take moments throughout the concert to thank her fans and share stories.  During the evermore era she talked about how this was her first tour in five years.  She shared that she had been performing since she was 12 and this was the longest she had ever gone without performing live or touring.  “Honestly, thank you for coming. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be with you guys.” she said.  She called us the “most buoyant, bouncy crowd available”.  She gave us bonus points for our bounciness.  So take that other tour stops!  

Swift shared that since she didn’t tour she focused on making music.  So she asked the crowd to welcome to the family Lover, folklore, evermore, and Midnights.  People questioned what she would do having not performed all these albums live.  They wondered how she would fit them all in.  But then she told them that she would just have to do a three-and-a-half-hour show to get it all in.  I don’t know many artists that would do that. 

When she announced the song “champagne problems” I overheard some girls yelling at each other.  “I can’t handle this!  There are so many songs!  I can’t handle it!”  They were in tears.  Tears of blissful joy.  It was a thing to behold.  She also thanked the fans for supporting her in reclaiming her music by rerecording her prior released albums.  I think the moment got to Swift as emotions ran high during “Long Live”.

As much as I’d like to cover every era, I think you’re about ready for me to wrap this up. So let me go over the remaining highlights.  The Red Era was stellar.  Everything from the fun of “22” to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to the performance of the ten-minute “Taylor’s Version” of “All Too Well”.  It was an action-packed segment and the crowd was ballistic.  We’re like two hours in here and no one had sat down, people are as loud as ever.  People are still crying.  It’s a madhouse inside the stadium.  But everyone is being cool.  No one is out of line.  At least in my section and as far as I could see.  It was just a fun time.  

Similar to Red, the 1989 Era was pretty nonstop party time. “Style”, “Blank Space”, “Shake It Off”, and “Bad Blood” are all songs that would show closers for some artists.  But we still had time to go.  I do think this was one of the best moments in the entire show.  It was fun to see people who had dressed up for that era go crazy when they had outfits that matched Taylor’s.  The same could be said for each person who dressed up for each era. These fans are so dedicated and it’s clear that Taylor Swift is dedicated to them.  She’s a marketing genius.  But I do believe that she has her fan’s interest in mind.  

I can’t emphasize enough how impressive it was to see people singing every word to every song.  Every song.  All 45 of them.  I get it if some people knew all the words, but everywhere I looked people were singing the words.  I couldn’t help but notice an attractive woman in my section.  She was in all black.  No sequins, no pink, black jeans, and a black shirt.  I thought, “Oh someone must have just brought her and she’s not a fan.”  But as soon as the show started, the woman in black was singing every single word too.  I immediately questioned the universe and my place in it.  These lyrics mean so much to so many.

Taylor presented what she called a new tradition on the Eras Tour.  She called it the Acoustic portion of the evening.  What she does is perform songs that she has never performed live or at least not in a while.  The buzz in the stadium continued to build as she spoke about finding it necessary to explore all the eras.  Including her first album.  The volume rose to an entirely new level.  How was that even possible?  Swift began “Picture to Burn”.  This would be the tour debut of the song.  Think about how loud the speakers are in that stadium. 

I could not hear Taylor’s voice for the first minute of that song because of how loud everyone else was singing.  She followed “Picture to Burn” with a live debut of “Timeless” on the piano.  She was right in front of me at the end of the catwalk and it was almost as if we were in a small club watching her sing at an open mic night.  Almost.  The 73,000 voices were an easy reminder of where we actually were.  But it was a cool moment that Taylor Swift clearly loved.

The night ended as you’d expect.  With the Midnights Era.  People went crazy for “Anti-Hero”.  I personally thought that song should have been the show closer.  But I also trust Taylor.  She made no mistakes on this night.  As the fireworks flew over the stadium the crowd knew we were at the end.  They got out all the energy they had left.  I still don’t know how they went so hard for so long.  I was impressed with this crowd.  And to think about how much Taylor and her dancers did at such a high elevation blew my mind.  I was getting winded just bobbing my head.  Ok, I may have danced more than that.  But simply standing and kind of dancing wore me out.  I loved the energy and devotion.  

This was easily one of the best concerts top to bottom that I’ve ever seen.  The production value was all time.  I wondered before the show how much Taylor Swift actually sings and how much is tracks.  That’s a lot of songs to not have some help.  I didn’t go song by song or anything, but I believe she was singing on just about every song.  There were some big dance numbers where she might have had some help.  But I was happy to hear that she was actually singing.  And in the past Swift would get a lot of flack for not sounding very good live.  If that was ever the case, it’s not an issue anymore.  She sounded great.  She sounded live, which I love, but she sounded just like you’d hope for her to sound.  

The entire experience was amazing. From getting approved to Rawlins, Wyoming, to traveling to Denver for the show, it was one of my all-time favorite concert memories.  I think there are 73,000 others who were there that might feel the same. To see Taylor Swift in a show like this, where she’s at the top of the game and at the height of her powers not cutting corners, and having a great time along with her fans is something to behold.

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Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince
Cruel Summer
The Man
You Need to Calm Down
The Archer


You Belong With Me
Love Story


’tis the damn season
champagne problems
tolerate it


…Ready for it?
Don’t Blame Me
Look What You Made Me Do

Speak Now
Long Live


We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)


the 1
the last great american dynasty
illicit affairs
my tears ricochet


Blanke Space
Shake It Off
Wildest Dreams
Bad Blood

Surprise Songs

Picture to Burn


Lavender Haze
Midnight Rain
Vigilante Shit

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