Concerts strike a chord with mental health
Summer may be winding down, but there’s still time to catch a few free shows in the great outdoors — all without leaving metro Denver.
If you’ve made it to a concert this summer, you know the music can make your blood pump, your feet move and your mood soar — sometimes long after the music stops. And there’s good news for anyone who loves to rock: There’s a real psychological benefit behind a concert’s contagious high.
How exactly do concerts benefit our brains?
Concerts aren’t just fun and entertaining but can actually activate neural pathways associated with rewards and pleasure. People attending concerts show increased levels of endorphins, which are hormones that can intensify positive emotions. The dancing, clapping and poses people do at concerts can result in the neural transmission of dopamine, making us feel good. And singing out loud with others can release oxytocin, leading to increased satisfaction.
What about being part of the concert crowd?
Taken together, this can lead to increased feelings of belongingness. Being together with people who are all focused on the same thing and moving in unison enhances our liking of the people around us. This synchrony and social cohesion can increase our feelings of trust and can also decrease loneliness. We like to be around people whom we perceive to be like us, and people who are attending the same show often have more in common than just a love for that performer or type of music.
Music and dance can be cathartic and have been shown to help regulate our negative emotions. At a concert, we can engage in various types of creative expression, sometimes more freely than we can in our regular day-to-day lives. And experimental research demonstrates enhanced memory consolidation when paired with music and dance, leading to potential cognitive benefits as well.
Does seeing a concert outdoors add benefits?
There is separate, albeit mixed, literature that shows many different physical and psychological benefits when interacting with nature. This includes decreased anxiety, lower levels of anger and frustration, improved learning, better productivity, lower stress levels and overall better physical health.
While there’s no reason to suspect that an outdoor concert, especially one that is surrounded by natural beauty (think Red Rocks), wouldn’t also have some of these same benefits, I’m not aware of any research that compares the benefits of indoor vs. outdoor concerts directly. We can look at other bodies of literature for clues, however.
For example, there’s research that compares indoor and outdoor exercise. The results don’t suggest that one is necessarily more beneficial than the other. Instead, the research demonstrates that the setting can result in subtle difference in the kinds of benefits that exercise produces (outdoor exercise might be more energizing, whereas indoor exercise can result in feeling more relaxed afterward).
I suspect the same would hold true for indoor vs. outdoor concerts. During the pandemic, outdoor recreation became the preferred method for interacting, and so there may also be a lingering feeling of safety when congregating in large groups outside as opposed to inside.
Do you have any favorite outdoor concert venues in Denver?
Ready to rock? Here are a few additions for your concert calendar:
LAPOMPE: City Park transforms into the hottest jazz club in town Aug. 6 with the finale to this summer’s swinging series of free concerts.
Colorado Dashiki Fest: The sounds of Africa will activate ears on Aug. 12, when Dashiki Fest — a free festival celebrating African culture — takes over Levitt Pavilion.
Rock in the Park: Get ready to get blown away by kid rockers at this free showcase of local talent from School of Rock at City Park on Aug. 13.
Jaguar Sun: Pack a picnic and catch experimental instrumentalist Jaguar Sun’s dreamy soundscapes Aug. 17 in Denver’s Riverfront Park, thanks to its Summer Sessions series.
Like so many folks in Colorado, I love attending shows at Red Rocks, especially on a clear night when the sunset serves as such a perfect backdrop against the city. I also enjoy attending music festivals in Lyons at Planet Bluegrass. There are incredible rock formations just like Red Rocks, but also the St. Vrain River is a perfect place to cool off and relax between sets.
Any favorite concert experiences?
I was one of the lucky people to attend Taylor Swift at Empower Field two weeks ago, and that was definitely a show to remember. The social benefits were particularly striking. Not only was it something super-special and unique that I could do with my children and friends, but the venue, production and culture surrounding the show were clearly designed to enhance the sense of belongingness to all 73,000 people in attendance. They gave out bracelets that were synchronized to the music, which made us all feel like one entity rather than a sea of strangers.
Being in such a huge and loud venue definitely made me feel like I was on top of the world.