BIG Summer Classic :: 07.03.05 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO
Having spent a nice long day at Red Rocks last summer with Gov't Mule and a host of other jam-oriented acts, I was mentally prepared for the kind of talent-packed all-day musical marathon that is this summer's BIG Summer Classic.
The BIG Crowd :: 07.03, Red Rocks
The great thing about Red Rocks is that because of its location in the foothills of the Rockies, it's easy to take a nice hike or bike ride prior to show time. So naturally, we did. Note to the wise: avoid grueling mountain bike outings before attending shows that require long trudges uphill!
Yet no matter how tiring it can be to get into the Rocks, it's always worth it when you reach the top of the steps and look out over Denver and the plains beyond... and especially when you hear killer music!
San Francisco's New Monsoon opened the BIG bill with a hot set that recalled (at times) the grooves of Santana, Pink Floyd, and other classic explorers. More specifically, their sound melds tabla, mandolin, and banjo with electric guitar and drums to produce a rich and exotic weave that dances from rock to jamgrass to world music and beyond. It was nice to finally catch a live set by these guys.
Keller Williams followed, and he was in great form. It was cool to watch him walk around barefoot on stage as he prepared for his set. He's a supremely relaxed guy who looked like an audience member who happened to wander on stage and started messing with the instruments. But when you hear him play, it's a whole different deal. What a talented dude. He's got the free-form, improvisational thing down, and with the help of looping technology, he's taken it to the next level. The jams he builds with his own hands, instruments, mouth, and whatever else he happens to be using are epic. It was sometime during his set that I first noticed the bubble mushrooms. These plastic fungi props, which had been set up midway up the sides of the amphitheatre, began to blow LOTS of bubbles over the audience and helped to establish a certain mood for the day, which was just beginning.
Kaufmann (YMSB), Keller, Austin (YMSB) :: 07.03, Red Rocks
Keller was joined by Jeff Austin and Ben Kaufmann from the Yonder Mountain String Band for a few hot ones devoid of looping, though never of scatting – Keller is the Bobby McFerrin of jam music. Skiddly, biddly, boop top ta . . . ssst. Favorite Keller moment: his funkified version of "St. Stephen."
Michael Franti & Spearhead :: 07.03, Red Rocks
Michael Franti & Spearhead brought their super UP vibe to the gathering crowd and got people on their feet and YO YO YO'ing like nobody's business. Their set marked the beginning of the great stagecraft that was to peak during the Cheese's set later that night. Michael had several "trees" dancing on stage with him as he decried the present state of the natural world and attempted to repair the destruction with soulful music. Based on all the hips I saw moving, he seemed to be succeeding pretty well with his healing. Props to Spearhead. These dudes kick up a super boogieable groove.
Next, Umphrey's McGee lit things up with some serious jamming. One of the day's musical highpoints arrived during their version of "Baba O'Riley." I could see Jeff Austin rocking in the wings to this one, and I know I was definitely rockin' too.
My new personal musical saviors, Yonder Mountain String Band, took the stage with characteristic aplomb and unleashed the spirit of progressive bluegrass. It was interesting to watch the crowd transition from the juicy electric instrumentation of Spearhead and Umphrey's to the more acoustic-oriented vibe of Yonder, but it was pretty seamless and soon the whole place was chicken scratching to the sound and hollerin' along with Jeff Austin, who has worked up a pretty unique and powerful vocal style. Whether they're covering one of their own compositions or laying into a smoking cover of a nicely chosen classic, YMSB just plain rocks. And who better to set the stage for the Cheese than these jamgrassers?
Aijala & Austin of YMSB :: 07.03, Red Rocks
The String Cheese Incident defined BIG by busting out a huge sound. The band's sound system is righteous, and the crowd got a taste of how precise and broad the Cheese's PA system is as Red Rocks echoed with crisp Grateful Dead music prior to the group taking the stage. The Deadheads were easy to spot as they swayed ecstatically and air-noodled to what sounded to be '78 version of "Scarlet" > "Fire," followed by a tasty "Jack Straw" and an "Eyes of the World." I heard a few people mutter, "This is the best music I've heard all day." Funny stuff.
SCI :: 07.03, Red Rocks
But SCI proved that they are a musical force all their own. Lasers, psychedelic visuals, smoke, fire, dancers, and mimes all added to their tight sound and helped blow minds. By the time they brought out various musical guests from several of the day's previous acts to end the show with a fun version of "I Know You Rider," among a handful of other nuggets, I was looking at a packed natural amphitheater full of broadly smiling faces. BIG definitely rocked... er, big time.
For more images of the BIG Red Rocks event click over to GOING BIG.
Check out JamBase's BIG Summer Classic Mini-Site!
Words by: Nick Hutchinson
Images by: Tony Stack
JamBase | BIG, CO
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