Sunday dawned even hotter than Saturday at the Mile High Music Festival (we didn’t think it was possible after the sweat and simmer of Saturday). In Colorado we usually get a rocky mountain high of mid 80s, with a rare foray into the 90s. So when the mercury hit 100+, it felt like a wave from an oven to this California girl who has forgotten what it means to perspire like that. The crowds were also more intense on Sunday, with several thousand more hardy souls fortifying themselves in the beer garden, filling up their water bottles, and slathering on the sunscreen.
The musical lineup Sunday was also more consistently solid, other than a lull right in the middle of the afternoon, when I was hard-pressed to find a single band that was worth peeling myself off the lawn for. This was one of the only downfalls of the MHMF — the bands were spaced out so that there was sometimes no choice #2 running simultaneously with the band you had no interest in seeing.
After regrettably missing The Whigs and Ingrid Michaelson (who I hear both turned in excellent performances), the first act I saw was the gypsy-flamenco sounds of former thrash-metal bandmates from Mexico City, Rodrigo y Gabriela. I was mightily impressed by this pair and the pulsing, ebbing, wildly romantic sounds that they coaxed from their pair of guitars. Through a combination of finger-picking, fierce strumming, and thumping a variety of beats on the wooden guitar bodies, this duo wove a rich set of moving music. They were also statuesque to photograph, especially the truly lovely Gabriela who evinced strength and grace like a piece of (really talented) artwork.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals knocked the crowd (and all the photographers) flat with her soulful wails and gorgeous confidence that reminded me of Janis Joplin. After starting her set with two songs seated behind a keyboard, writhing on the seat and tossing her head back in near-orgasmic ecstasy, Grace stood up, grabbed a flying-V guitar and rocked out with her bespectacled guitarist to the sounds of the turbulent “Stop The Bus” from her latest album. I was singing that song all the rest of the day (and on the long drive home to keep myself awake).
Stop The Bus – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
I got sidetracked by a wild concert promoter on my way to catch Denver’s own Flobots, and then couldn’t fight my way into the photographers pit (but Julio did). After watching their genre-melding set of politically-charged rap, alt-rock, and string instruments, I decided to hoof it over and find out how long John Mayer will, in fact, wait for the world to change.
Next up was a funk-laden, wild set from Philadelphia’s The Roots. The seven members were all over the stage, strutting and writhing their way through lengthy improvisations and a cover of Dylan’s “Masters of War” that clocked in at over ten minutes. The guitarist jumped out of his shoes at one point, and if I had to blow breath like that tuba player for an hour I think I’d pass out. They were absolutely awesome (?uestloooove!) and one of the clear highlights of the festival. The tent was packed to bursting, with the crowds spilling out dozens of feet onto the surrounding lawn.
I had to go all Prefontaine to hustle it over to see The Black Crowes strut, swagger, and wail their Southern rock. Through the haze of what obviously must have been incense, Chris and Rich Robinson + band (including a pair of gospel-singing ladies) wove a tight web of tunes for an enthusiastic crowd. The field erupted in a wave of hippie dances to the sound of gems like “Remedy” and “Soul Singing,” with plenty of guitar noodling and swinging hips on stage.
Dave Matthews Band turned in the most visually impressive set of the fest as the closer, with a curtain of lights obscuring the stage that slowly raised during the first song (the slow build and crest of “Don’t Drink The Water”), as a montage of images flashed between circus-bright bulbs. I had many interesting conversations throughout the weekend with friends, trying to guess who liked DMB at one time. A lot of us actually did (some refused to admit it, or claimed to like them for “about one minute” or “back in 1992 when they were so unknown”). I’ll admit to liking quite a few of the tunes off their first records — okay and by that I mean knowing them by heart. I’ll cop to it. DMB is nothing if not enthusiastic performers, and I pleased with their extended version of “Two Step” and loved #41 (now how about “Lie In Our Graves” or “Pay For What You Get”?). They were joined on stage by friend of the band Tim Reynolds, and played long into the night (closing with a Sly Stone cover) for the satisfied and damn sweaty attendees.