Ed Sheeran makes history, captures lightning in a Denver bottle

Ed Sheeran makes history, captures lightning in a Denver bottle
Video ed sheeran denver concert

Ed Sheeran + 85,233 fans ÷ a three-hour lightning delay X rabid fan loyalty = late-night history being made Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High.

Sheeran’s cleverly monikered “Mathematics” Denver tour stop didn’t even get started until after the Denver Broncos had lost to the San Francisco 49ers out on the West Coast. That made for the oddest of scenarios back at Mile High: Concertgoers killed time by huddling in front of concourse TVs inside the Broncos’ home stadium watching their team bumble away a preseason victory in a stadium 1,000 miles away.

But the genuine and genuinely adored British superstar made it worth the wait. When the persnickety lightning and persistent light rain finally fully cleared, Sheeran began his set to thunderous (the human kind) response. By then it was just after 10 p.m., and his encore ended at around 12:15 the next morning.

That made Sheeran’s upbeat performance not only the largest concert in Empower Field history, which dates back to its opening in 2001, but, in all likelihood, the largest concert in Colorado music history. The largest stadium gathering of any kind was when 90,000 came to see Pope John Paul II at Mile High Stadium back on Aug. 12, 1993.

It also may have been the latest ending for any outdoor stadium concert in Denver history. But Zeus certainly made them wait for it by issuing a surly early evening lightning storm that had fully eluded area forecasters.

Stadium officials stopped Khalid about five songs into his opening set when the National Weather Service issued a severe lightning advisory at around 7:15 p.m. While only intermittent light rain fell over the next three hours, lightning persisted throughout. Concerts at nearby Red Rocks and the Levitt Pavilion were also temporarily halted. After a hailstorm injured nearly 100 at a planned Louis Tomlinson concert at Red Rocks on June 21, it was clear that no one would be taking any chances Saturday night.

The delay was certainly a boon for those selling stadium concessions for three bonus hours. Said one sweaty beer hawker working the concourse crowd: “Selling in here is a lot easier than selling out there!”

Sheeran’s devoted fans came from far and wide, and represented a spectrum of races, genders and ages. Surely only a very few of them were deterred by the delay.

“Unless they cancel the show, I am not going home,” said Sandy Garling, a 70-year-old retired teacher from Arvada. She fully admits to (musically) crushing on Sheeran, but her place at this show had both a special significance for her – and a connection to the singer.

Garling and her husband were using tickets they had bought for friends as an anniversary gift. But the wife is now facing a serious health crisis, so they could not attend. The best way Garling could think of to honor them, she said, was to have fun in her friends’ absence.

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Sheeran, whose arms, voice, songs and life are a wide-open book, has spoken publicly about his wife, Cherry Seaborn, who was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor at six months pregnant – and doctors could not operate until after she gave birth. Sheeran wrote seven songs in four hours to cope with the devastating news. They became the basis for his album “-” (“Subtract”), which made a big impact on Garling.

“It doesn’t matter how famous you are, or how rich, or how poor,” she said. “When these things strike your family, the family core becomes the only important thing.”

Lovebirds Jennifer Dockery and Tony DeMoraes drove from Glenwood Springs for the concert, in part because, 10 years ago, they chose Sheeran’s ubiquitous hit (one of many) “Thinking Out Loud” for their wedding song. That’s the one that goes, “And darling, I will be loving you till we’re 70” – which drew some teasing from Dockery.

“At first, my husband thought that Ed said 17 – not 70,” she said to laughs (from both of them).

Joyce Sorenson came from Greeley for the show, accompanied by her friend Karen Helton of Boise, Idaho. They planned ahead and scored second-row seats six months ago.

“I love Ed Sheeran. I really do,” said Sorenson. “I love his videos. I love his soul. I love his personality. I love his honesty. I love his heart. And I love the purpose for his music. He’s just so real.”

Sheeran kept demonstrating that realness with a concert that was shockingly intimate for its massive setting. The reason he could fit more than 85,000 fans into Empower Field is because his beguiling and, yes, mathematically designed set was placed dead-center of the field. By performing on a rotating turntable, everyone got a fair and equal look at that pinchable, scraggly, ginger-headed face. Unlike stadium shows with end-zone stages that make large swaths of seats unsellable, this smart layout allowed not only for every seat to be sold – with a decent sightline – but made room for another 10,000 down on the field.

Now, what that graphically intense set was supposed to actually represent depended on whether you had consumed an edible, alcohol or bottled water on this particular evening. It featured six giant light towers with huge hanging guitar picks that doubled as video screens. Some said it collectively looked like a ship. Another suggested a Scottish bagpipe. Maybe a spider? That one might explain why Sheeran was on the run for most of the night like a man sprinting for his life on the world’s biggest treadmill.

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After an opening musical salvo that included “Tides,” “Blow,” “I’m a Mess” and “Shivers” accompanied by a July 4-worthy pyrotechnics display, Sheeran settled in for a cavalcade of hits, mostly from his fourth and fifth mathematically-themed albums. It was soon plain to see that, even with all the lights, the video and occasional backup musical support, this evening was mostly a guy and his guitar who just happened to be singing to 85,000 of his closest friends.

Sheeran, sporting a simple black-T-Shirt with DENVER written in rainbow colors both front and back, was disarming from the start, telling the crowd, “I think this is going to be the best gig of the tour” because of the lightning delay. He said their energy was giving him goosebumps. He told wonderful origin stories about songs that his most faithful fans surely already know by heart, but he delivered them with such joy and utter earnestness, you’d swear it was for the first time.

He spoke of how he wrote “Eyes Closed” after his best friend died suddenly in February. He talked about how he came to write “Love Yourself,” which, go figure, became a massive hit for Justin Bieber. He sampled a bit of Dr. Dre that he said was not on the set list. He acted like he sort of understood Denver’s rivalry with Kansas City. And he sent my friend Kit into a fit of nostalgic whimsy when he played “Perfect” – the song that inspired her to make out with a random Irish guy when she was visiting Dublin.

In these cynical, divided times, you wouldn’t think anyone could ever get 85,000 disparate people to join in on unapologetic singalongs. Sheeran even had the usually super-scary stadium workers in the yellow shirts clapping along with arms over their heads. Sheeran just makes you drop your guard and play along, even through a succession of seriously (and wonderfully) mushy songs about love’s possibility. Say what you will: Dude knows how to write a song.

“I just want to say I come from a tiny farm town in England, and my dream was playing in London,” he said. “My dreams did not stretch this far. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would ever be able to play theaters in America, let alone fill stadiums like this. … This has far surpassed anything that I’ve ever hoped for.”

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The only reason Sheeran’s tour is not obliterating attendance records like Taylor Swift and Beyonce are doing right now is because Sheeran plays two dates in every city he visits – one in a very small venue and another in a stadium or arena. On Friday, Sheeran played a very different set for just 1,800 at Denver’s Paramount Theatre. That crowd heard Sheeran play three songs live for the very first time anywhere: “English Girl in an American Town,” “When Will I Be All Right?” and “England.”

The lightning delay made a long day for Sheeran even longer. He’s also made a point of dropping into an iconic spot in each city the morning between shows. The mathematical odds that Sheeran would choose Casa Bonita were about 10,000 to 1 (and he did).

At the end of the night, he thanked everyone for being patient with the weather.

“I’m sorry if people have brought kids here and they’ve stayed up late,” he said. “But hopefully they’ve been excited and whatnot.”

There seemed to be plenty of whatnot.

You look around and there are kids on their dad’s shoulders. Then again, there are grown men and women on other people’s shoulders, too. Everywhere, people of all sorts are singing and dancing along.

Like the recent Taylor Swift weekend extravaganza in this very same stadium, the good energy, the joy and the positivity in the air were palpable. Sheeran gave love, and that love was freely returned. He made a lasting impression as a humble and authentically grateful star who exudes joy and positivity.

Set lists:

Aug. 18 at Paramount Theatre:

From “-” (“Subtract”):

  1. Boat Salt Water
  2. Eyes Closed
  3. Life Goes On
  4. Dusty
  5. End of Youth
  6. Colourblind
  7. Curtains
  8. Borderline
  9. Spark
  10. Vega
  11. Sycamore
  12. No Strings
  13. The Hills of Aberfeldy

Happy Hour of Hits:

  1. Shivers
  2. Thinking Out Loud
  3. Perfect
  4. Bloodstream
  5. Shape of You
  6. Bad Habits


  1. The A Team
  2. Crashing in Head and Heels
  3. Blue
  4. English Girl in an American Town
  5. When Will I Be Alright
  6. England
  7. Magical
  8. The Parting Glass
  9. Afterglow

Aug. 19: Empower Field at Mile High

  1. Tides
  2. Blow
  3. I’m a Mess
  4. Shivers
  5. Don’t / No Diggity / In da Club / The Next Episode
  6. Castle on the Hill
  7. The A Team
  8. Eyes Closed
  9. Give Me Love
  10. Boat
  11. Peru / South of the Border / I Don’t Care / Beautiful People
  12. Galway Girl (with Alicia Enstrom)
  13. Overpass Graffiti
  14. Thinking Out Loud
  15. Love Yourself (Justin Bieber cover, written by Sheeran)
  16. Sing
  17. Photograph
  18. Perfect
  19. Bloodstream
  20. Afterglow
  1. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You
  2. The Shape of You
  3. Bad Habits