Images from the Railbenders at the Oriental Theater. Photos by John Moore, The Denver Post.
By John Moore
“Are there really that many songs about whiskey?” someone asked at the Railbenders’ packed benefit concert at the Oriental Theater on Friday night. That’s like asking Slim Cessna if there really are that many songs about Satan.
And the Railbenders played dam-gum-near every one of ’em, from their breakout hit “Whiskey Rain” to “Another Whiskey Saturday Night,” as Denver’s favorite country rockers and more than 700 rowdies stomped the floor and raised some cash Jan. 18 for the Cash Scanlon Phillips Healing Garden. That will be a new, 900-square foot respite for parents of severely ill or terminal children at the Children’s Hospital.
Leading the fundraising efforts are Page Phillips and Tess Scanlon-Phillips, whose 4-month-old son, Cash, died last year of spinal muscular atrophy on the day after Mother’s Day. (You can read their heartbreaking/heartwarming story here in The Denver Post).
The benefit concert brought out an eclectic generational mix of 700-plus family friends and well-wishers, Children’s Hospital employees, kids, hardcore honkytonkers (elbows a-wielding) and even a fair number of local-theater hep-cats like Johnette Toye and Brian Freeland. No wonder the Oriental wasn’t big enough for the lot of them.
After an opening set by local bluegrassers Long Road Home, Jim Dalton and his ’Bender buddies blazed through a solid repertoire of tearjerkers and (bleep)-kickers covering hits and covers like “Ring of Fire” that turned the front section into a weird kind of twirling, square-dancing mosh pit. The crowd roared, of course, for every local reference. With titles like “O.D.’d in Denver” (the Hank Williams Jr. song?) and “I-70 Westbound,” the Railbenders are nothing if not a Denver band.
The easygoing Dalton told a great anecdote about how Hillbilly Hellcats’ “Drinkin’ Buddies” (and a ’Benders favorite) has now been covered by a German band called the Mellowcups, and they’ve posted it as a YouTube video. The buddies? Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, George Dickel and Jim Beam (hey – another song about whiskey!) Seriously: You gotta check this video out:
And if you want to hear the Benders’ own version, here’s their take:
“Driving Back to Denver” worked the crowd into a handclapping frenzy before a smoking encore, during which Tyson Murray put away his standing bass in favor of the more electric variety. With Tony Nascar on lead guitar, Dalton on rhythm and Murray on bass, the boys ripped through a cover of ZZ Top’s “La Grange” that almost single-handedly melted the snow outside (with held from Graham Haworth on drums). They finished the evening with a more sedate “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Early returns indicated the benefit (which included a silent auction of sports tickets, artwork, restaurant meals, outdoor activities and more) surpassed its goal of raising the final $10,000 of the $30,000 needed to get the garden built. For information on how you can contribute, call 303-550-4310 or visit the team cash blog
The evening was emceed by GerRee Hinshaw, longtime host of the Bug Theatre’s popular monthly Freak Train. (You can next get your Freak-on at 8 p.m. Jan. 27 at 3654 Navajo St., $5. Her co-hosts will be the cast of Uncorked Productions’ “Closer.” If you’ve never ridden the Freak Train -– get on board, freak. It’s alternatingly inspiring, and horrifying. And the beer is free.
John Moore is the theater critic for The Denver Post.