Mile High Music Festival: Ricardo BacaBy Ricardo Baca | July 21st, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Photo by Laurie Scavo.
The music was varied, the festival experience was pleasant, the weather was hot and the things that are usually the most trying experiences at a music festival — parking, entrance lines and finding your way around — were (for the most part) painless.
The first-year festival, which wrapped up Sunday with Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer and others, was Colorado’s entry to a world that has been dominated by the Europeans and the savvy promoters behind Coachella and Bonnaroo. And with a crowd of more than 40,000 on Saturday alone, things got a big bang of a start.
Photo by Laurie Scavo.
Tom Petty shows haven’t varied much over the past five years — an oddly active time for Petty, who turns 58 this year. He and his Heartbreakers are as tight as they’ve ever been, and fans don’t mind that their shows are made up of a revolving roster of light-rock songs that have ruled jukeboxes for three decades.
“I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Falling” came early in the set, with Petty — wearing an embroidered jacket with skull and cross patches on his shoulder — leading his group through the sing-along choruses. The massive crowd joined in, and for a few hours at the end of a very long and hot day, Petty was their messiah — looking the part, even with long, straight hair, a bushy beard and a serious countenance.
The first part of Petty’s set was strong, but the day’s brightest star was Josh Ritter, a rising singer-songwriter who captivated a quarter-full tent in the early afternoon with his intense lyricism and undeniable melodies.
Photo by John Moore.
Drawing heavily from his latest, “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter,” the artist looked like a young Wayne Coyne — dressed in a sharp suit with long, curly hair surrounding his big smile. He and his four-piece band opened with “Mind’s Eye” and moved quickly to his own “To the Dogs or Whoever” — a song that is Ritter’s equivalent to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
Another Saturday stand-out was Andrew Bird, the cooing indie rocker known for his chamber pop records and shows full of live looping and sampling. Rooted by the potent rhythm of producer/drummer Martin Dosh, Bird’s jiggy “Fiery Crash” stood out with its ample attitude and big, weighty beats. The familiar “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” was equally winning.
Photo by Noah Rabinowitz.
But I had a thought halfway through the artist’s set: Bird — who rocks violin, guitar, xylophone and a Theremin-like whistle during the course of a set — is the chamber pop equivalent to Queens of the Stone Age in that, while he may not always write the most consistent songs from start to finish, he does have a way with a hook. You’ll never find a lackluster QOTSA guitar riff, and you’ll be equally hard-pressed to find a Bird lick that isn’t as compelling as it is lush.
The Mile High Music Festival thrives on mass-appeal — drawing in tens of thousands on Saturday with radio station KBCO broadcasting/pimping live all day. But that lineup doesn’t always make for the most interesting music.
O.A.R.’s early evening set was bland yet well received, with a late-set “Living in the End” energizing the crowd. Michael Franti and Spearhead threw a sizable pre-Petty crowd into a frenzy — although little has changed about their music, which is an uninventive hybrid of the electronic, reggae and jam genres.
Photo by Laurie Scavo.
Spoon, a notoriously great album band and poor live band, sounded better than average as they worked their way through indie pop gems including “I Turn My Camera On.” Lupe Fiasco gave a right-proper evening performance, turning one of the festival tents into a throbbing dance club.
The festival’s infrastructure was stronger and more consistent than the lineup. The traffic wasn’t obnoxiously bad for those of us who arrived before 3 p.m. After that, others reported waits around 30-45 minutes to get parked and settled. (That’s nothing compared with current Coachella waits.) The Denver Post initially reported Friday that there would be only 5,000 parking spaces on the festival grounds, but the promoters had secured adjacent lots with parking for another 15,000 spaces.
And kudos to them, because they needed it. And they’ll need it even more today, which will see even more people on the grounds.
One disappointment about the festival is the scheduling. The best five-stage music festivals have something to offer at all times. But there were multiple times on Saturday when we were left looking at our schedules and watches — wishing for something else to see and do and listen to.
Ricardo Baca is the pop music critic for The Denver Post.
Laurie Scavo is a Denver-based photographer and regular Reverb contributor.
Here’s a look at Day 1 of the Mile High Music Festival through the lens of Laurie Scavo.