Live review: Mile High Music Festival - Day 1 wrap-up @ Dick's Sporting Goods Park - Reverb - Reverb

Live review: Mile High Music Festival — Day 1 wrap-up @ Dick's Sporting Goods Park

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Tool performs against a macabre visual backdrop on the first night of the Mile High Music Festival. Photo by Mark Osler.

Now that the dust has cleared and tents have been taken down, we can look back with some clarity on the smaller-than-anticipated (but still relatively big) event that was the second annual Mile High Music Festival, which took place Saturday and Sunday on the soccer fields surrounding Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. Headliners Tool, the Fray and Widespread Panic were joined by a generally dance-friendly assortment of local and national acts, including Incubus, Gomez, DeVotchKa, 3OH!3, Gov’t Mule, Thievery Corporation and many more.

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If you missed our liveblog coverage from Reverb’s John Hendrickson and Daniel Petty, scroll through the past several posts for their reviews, interviews and photos. In coming installments, we’ll have a couple more video interviews, one with Front Range folkie Gregory Alan Isakov and the other with atmospheric rockers the Duke Spirit.

We’ve also got dozens of new photos and reviews from Pulitzer Prize winner and Reverb contributor Mark Osler, Tina Hagerling, Candace Horgan and others. Also be sure to check out Denver Post pop music critic Ricardo Baca’s take on the first night of the festival, and reports from Hendrickson and Reverb co-editor John Wenzel on the festival’s second night.

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Photo by Tina Hagerling

Check out Candace Horgan’s Day 1 review:

As I wandered around the grounds early Saturday, I reflected that whoever organized it seemed to have taken a page from the Austin City Limits Music Festival, another festival with multiple stages featuring great acts. There were tents set up for shade, a food area, and even a water tower where you could cool off from the hot sun. However, the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods hasn’t seen the damage that the one in Austin has, and one is, in fact, artificial, so there was significantly less dust clogging my lungs.

Traffic was minimal once you got past Quebec and I-70, and parking was a breeze. The whole festival seemed to be very well organized and structured.

The first act I wandered into was Rocco Deluca and the Burden, who were playing in the Rhapsody tent. Rocco’s fiery guitar leads energized the crowd, though the mix was somewhat muddy and the vocals a little hard to decipher. You could feel the thump of the kick drum on “Save Yourself,” while “I Trust You to Kill Me,” was a fantastic dark, dirty blues. From there I caught the tail end of Matt Nathanson’s set on the Main Stage West, as he bopped into a medley that included ’80s classics like “Blister in the Sun” and “Kids in America” while delving into his tightly-crafted pop hits.

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Photo by Tina Hagerling

The first must see act of the weekend for me took the stage in the Rhapsody tent at three. Ani DiFranco immediately elicited an enthusiastic response with “Little Plastic Castle” and “Manhole,” two older songs. A reworked “Fuel,” which trended more towards funk than its original mellow folk, sounded excellent. Ani played several new songs, and did not shy from politics on “November 4, 2008,” about the election of President Obama, in which she sings “Oh, President Obama, it’s an honor just to say it, I used to hide my passport now I want to display it.”

DiFranco, who played the Pete Seeger birthday tribute concert at Madison Square Garden, also played her take on the old worker’s song “Which Side Are You On,” with reworked contemporary lyrics that ripped things like Reaganomics. DiFranco ended her set with “Both Hands,” with many in the audience singing along, and was one of the few artists called back for an encore, delivering a tender “32 Flavors.”

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Photo by Tina Hagerling

Big Head Todd and the Monsters’ straight-ahead rock was quite far-removed from DiFranco’s punk-folk, but seemed a great way to relax on the Main Stage East in the hot summer sun. Todd Park Mohr and company played much of the same set that they did at Red Rocks in June, hitting their polished version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Rosalita” and a rocking “Conquistador.” The mix however, was too bass-heavy and muddy; standing by the front rail, it felt like the subs would blow, as each note bassist Rob Squires’ hit thumped into my body and seemed to shake my bones. Mohr played a lot of the material from “Sister Sweetly,” including the title track and a searing “Circle” late in the set.

In the late afternoon, it was time to indulge my musical ADD. First up were the Greyboy Allstars, who had a good-sized crowd on the Firstbank Stage, located on the pavement, for their dinnertime set, as Karl Denson’s sax twined nicely with guitarist Elgin Park for a funk-filled set heavy on instrumentals. Breaking away from their set after 30 minutes, I headed back to Main Stage West to catch some of Incubus. Lead singer Brandon Boyd sported a “Make Believe Not War” T-shirt, while guitarist Mike Einziger’s energy shone on “Oil and Water.”

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Photo by Mark Osler

After enjoying some of Incubus, it was off the G. Love and Special Sauce in the Rhapsody tent. G. Love is one of those performers whose appeal has always puzzled me, because there seems nothing earth-shaking about his music. He’s got a good groove going, and the tent was full of people dancing on tunes like “Booty Call,” but that was about all I could stand before I headed over to catch Ben Harper.

Ben took the Main Stage East with his band Relentless7, a more aggressive, punk-tinged band than the Innocent Criminals. I’ve been a fan of Harper for years, so it was a little disappointing that he concentrated almost solely on material his two most recent CDs, like the opening “Number With No Name” and a good “Shimmer and Shine.” Harper made few attempts to engage the crowd with banter, concentrating on music, throwing in some covers like a blistering “Good Times, Bad Times” and a soulful “Red House.” Looking out west from the stage to a beautiful fire-pink sunset, Harper ended his set with “Serve Your Soul.”

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Photo by Mark Osler.

While I’d intended to check out some of Tool’s set, I decided to rest my ears and preserve my spot for Widespread Panic’s late night closing set. Panic took the stage at 10:50 p.m. and played for over three straight hours. The sound from the PA was probably the best all day at the festival. Guitarist Jimmy Herring got off to a rough start when his amp head caught on fire, but after his guitar tech Eric Pretto got a new head up, Jimmy found a great tone on “Impossible,” while keyboard player John “JoJo” Hermann added a spicy keyboard solo on “Pigeons.”

Panic’s set had many highlights, including a strong “Arleen” and “Climb to Safety” at around the time when they would normally have taken a set break. The only real down moments came from some of the material from their last CD “Free Somehow.” Neither “Dark Day Program” nor “Flicker” really caught fire.

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Photo by Mark Osler

“Surprise Valley” had a small drum solo in the middle which didn’t detract from John Bell’s soulful singing, while bass player David Schools started “Second Skin” with a great dark bass line. The band capped their set with a hot “Solid Rock,” with Herring taking an extended solo. – Candace Horgan

Check out all of Tina Hagerling’s Day 1 photo essay:

Gomez

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Ani DiFranco

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Big Head Todd and the Monsters

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Incubus

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The Black Keys

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Tool

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Brian Carney’s Day 1 photo essay:

Needtobreathe

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Lyrics Born

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Rob Drabkin

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The Northern Way (formerly Set Forth)

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band the defCATS.

Tina Hagerling is a Denver-based freelance photographer and web designer. See more of her work here.

Mark Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.

Brian Carney is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.

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