Sunday, August 18, 2019

Yonder Mountain String Band at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 8-16-19 Concert Review

Yonder Mountain String Band performing "Just The Same"
At some point in the mid-1980s I learned about existence of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre through photos of the Grateful Dead performing there. I thought, holy shit, that place looks incredible. It seemed like the perfect venue to see the Dead play. Well, I never made it there to see the Grateful Dead. The last time they played at Red Rocks was the summer of 1987, several months before my first show. And when Jerry Garcia died in 1995, I stopped thinking about going there altogether. At least for a while. Then years later Yonder Mountain String Band began playing at that venue, and my interest in the spot rose again. But year after year one thing or another kept me from being able to make the trip. This year I was determined to go. As so finally, on August 16th of 2019 I visited Red Rocks.

And yes, the place is incredible. My girlfriend and I saw it from the road the day before the concert when we visited Dinosaur Ridge, and even at that distance it had a cool, even magical vibe. Then on the day of the show we got there early and parked in the south lot. The view in every direction was remarkable, and we knew we were in for a treat. It was a hike up to the venue from there, and along the way I posed for a photo in front of a John Denver statue. Doors opened a little after 5 p.m., and we had time for a drink or two before the opening set by KT Tunstall, who went on at 6 p.m. She performed solo, mostly on acoustic guitar, creating percussion loops by tapping on the guitar and clapping her hands and so on. She dedicated her second song, “Other Side Of The World,” to people who fall in love with someone who lives in a different place from them, and Theresa and I then felt an even stronger connection to the music and to the evening. For ten years we’ve been traveling back and forth across the country to see each other. KT Tunstall then asked the crowd if any of them had traveled a long way to get there. Theresa and I both raised our hands. That song, “It Took Me So Long To Get Here, But Here I Am,” was probably my favorite song of her set.

Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage at 7 p.m., coming out to John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back,” the song that was the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter. Ben then welcomed the audience: “Hello, Red Rocks. How the heck are ya?” Jacob and Allie had switched positions on the stage since the last time I saw the band, and it was Jacob who started the evening with a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Need To Know.” It was interesting that they kicked off the set with a rock tune, setting a certain tone, for they’d end up playing a few other rock tunes during the set, perhaps as a way of drawing in the John Butler fans in the audience (the concert was a double bill of Yonder Mountain and John Butler Trio). Anyway, it was an excellent rendition, with Jacob delivering some wonderful, fast-paced work on mandolin, and Allie basically setting her fiddle on fire with that bow. Fantastic stuff! If the goal was to draw in the audience, mission accomplished. Ben then followed that with “40 Miles From Denver,” a song that goes all the way back to the band’s first album. I had a feeling they might play this one, what with the show being so close to Denver and all. It was my first time in Denver (not counting all my layovers at that crazy airport), and this song definitely energized me. As Ben sang, “Life is better there,” I certainly felt that life was pretty damn good right where I was.

Dave then led the band in a seriously fun rendition of “Black Sheep,” the title track from the group’s 2015 studio release. By the way, there is a music video for this tune that is so simple and so silly that I can’t help but love it. Check it out when you have a moment. That was followed by one of my personal favorites, “Left Me In A Hole,” from the band’s first album, Elevation. Adam sang lead on this one, and delivered some excellent work on guitar. One of the set’s highlights for me. Ben then delivered a fast and delicious “Black Truck.” That song got an enthusiastic response, leading Ben to say to the crowd: “Well, cheers, everybody. It sounds like at the very least you can tolerate bluegrass music.” He introduced the band, then mentioned Jeff Austin’s passing, sending the next song, “Half Moon Rising,” out to his spirit. Adam sang lead on the first verse, and then Ben took over for the second verse. That was followed by “Just The Same” and then “Bad Taste.” The band then got back into the rock numbers with “Bored Again,” an instrumental number with a heavy, electric sound, and then a completely wild version of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop,” with Allie ripping things up with her stunning lead vocal performance. Seriously, she was on a whole other plane at that point.

“Nowhere Next” was another highlight, with lyrics that I always appreciate, and featuring an excellent bass and mandolin jam. They followed that with “Traffic Jam,” a song that never fails to excite the audience. This rendition began with a short bass solo, Ben even joking about getting the opportunity to do that at Red Rocks, and then featured a fantastic lead on guitar, which led to a nice spacey jam. Allie’s fiddle then exploded out of that, raising everything up several levels. It was an excellent version from start to finish, and I was little bummed when Ben announced that they had time for just one more song. He said they were going back to their high school roots, and they started “Fade To Black.” Yes, they ended their set with another rock song, this one by Metallica. I love the way they built it up, and by the end the band had the crowd completely under their spell and wanting more. But there was no encore.

Set List
  1. I Need To Know
  2. 40 Miles From Denver
  3. Black Sheep
  4. Left Me In A Hole
  5. Black Truck
  6. Half Moon Rising
  7. Just The Same
  8. Bad Taste
  9. Bored Again
  10. Misty Mountain Hop
  11. Nowhere Next
  12. Traffic Jam
  13. Fade To Black 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Black Sheep"
"Black Sheep"
"Left Me In A Hole"
"Half Moon Rising"
"Half Moon Rising"
"Just The Same"
"Misty Mountain Hop"
"Nowhere Next"
"Traffic Jam"
"Fade To Black"
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is located at 18300 W. Alameda Parkway in Morrison, Colorado. By the way, I did catch some of John Butler Trio’s set, but I was backstage drinking and catching up with folks at that point, and not paying enough attention to write about it.

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