As the co-host of television’s Entertainment Tonight for ten years, John Tesh became a household name. But the role sidetracked him from his true love—music.
His breakthrough came when he first appeared on PBS with Live at Red Rocks. Broadcast in 1995, it was hugely successful, repeated endlessly by stations nationwide during pledge drives. The attendant album went gold and the video reached double platinum sales.
The next year, Tesh daringly left the security of E.T. and its seven-figure salary to concentrate on writing and recording music. Most pop music critics would run screaming from his over-the-top pop instrumentals, but New Age music fans feted Tesh as an icon, a star whose mix of styles sold more than five million albums.
“Denver is, in my mind, the reason I was able to do that,” Tesh said. “Certain people are defined by certain things. Steve Martin is defined by, ‘Ex-cu-u-u-se me!’ I’m defined by, ‘Hey, Red Rocks!’ I love that. I really didn’t want to be known as a talking head my whole life.”
Ironically, the man associated with Red Rocks didn’t want to do the show there.
“I knew the Moody Blues had already done something,” Tesh said. “I didn’t think we could afford to light the place. The budget increased to $1.5 million. I financed it myself—took loans from three banks.”
Pianist Tesh had won Emmys for televised sports contests, and in the Live at Red Rocks special, he paid tribute to the spirit of competition—Olympic champions Nadia Comeneci and Bart Conner performed choreographed gymnastics routines to his music.
Tesh and his eight-piece ensemble battled inclement weather. His wife, actress Connie Sellecca, came to town, got altitude sickness and ended up in the hospital.
“It was magical, and I made my money back,” Tesh said following the concert. “But it would be difficult for me to play Red Rocks again, let’s put it that way.”
Tesh revisited the venue with the 2004 release of Worship at Red Rocks, a family-friendly live set of contemporary Christian music.
“Nine years ago, in a driving rainstorm, my life changed forever at Red Rocks Amphitheatre,” he explained. “It was inspiring to be back with a new concert.”