Day 2 of Mile High Music Festival had, as one apparently tripped-out dude at the Fray show told me, “much better energy than the first day.” Maybe, but the grounds were considerably less crowded than on Day 1, when prog-metal masters Tool headlined. Of course, strong performances from locals Paper Bird, DeVotchKa, 3OH!3 and a headlining set from the Fray didn’t hurt, but it was also clear the festival had failed to draw the kind of crowds that justified its (ahem) wide-spread geographical layout.
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 this installment, we’ve got a couple more video interviews with Day 1 artists — one with Front Range folkie Gregory Alan Isakov and the other with atmospheric rockers the Duke Spirit.
Gregory Alan Isakov
The Duke Spirit
We’ve also got brand new photo essays from Reverb contributing photographers Brian Carney, Mark Osler and Tina Hagerling, as well as a detailed write-up from one of our heartiest festival contributors, just below.
Mile High Music Festival, Day 2
by Candace Horgan
It seemed I’d barely had time to drive home and sleep after Widespread Panic’s very late set on Saturday before I was up again and driving to Commerce City for day two. On Sunday, determined to catch Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons’ early set, I got there just as Electric Touch started the day off with a blast of aggressive pop-punk that seemed out of place in the sparse crowd on a relatively lazy Sunday afternoon.
With a decent cloud cover overhead, the heat wasn’t quite as blistering, but perhaps many attendees were tired from Saturday’s long, heat-crushed day of music. For me, Sunday was going to be more about the Westword tent, whereas Saturday was more about the Rhapsody tent, before heading over to Main Stage East for the final two acts.
Jerry Joseph, who often sits in with Widespread Panic and has written several songs that the band plays regularly, got things going with blistering set of dirty, edgy blues. Joseph has a great sound, but it does sometimes seem that his songs run into one another so much they can be a little hard to tell apart. It was interesting, however, to hear Joseph play “Second Skin,” which Widespread had performed the night before. Joseph’s version is edgier than Panic’s more dreamlike version, and Joseph followed with a fantastic “Speedwater.”
After listening to Joseph’s classic-rock tinged blues, I headed over to the Rhapsody tent to listen to the Wailers’ set. It was classic reggae, including hits like “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Jamming” and “Is This Love?” — all played at an insistent tempo. It’s almost amusing to see a bunch of white people reacting to Jamaicans exhorting Jah, however, and reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s humorous observation in “Witches Abroad” about people preferring wisdom from further away.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering among the various stages, checking out different artists about whom I was curious but hadn’t really listened to. While I’ve heard some people complain that this year’s festival was too focused on jam artists, Sunday’s afternoon sets belied that claim.
Erin McCarley showed some polished pop chops at a quiet Firstbank Stage performance with tunes like “Sleep Walking.” Jet, sounding like a cross between AC/DC and Alice Cooper, got their hard rock on with “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and “She’s a Genius.”
Guster, a band I’d never seen live, was definitely on my must-hit list, and they didn’t disappoint. Their alt/indie/pop sound, mixed with trippy guitar lines, spiraled out into a packed Westword tent. Ryan Miller joked early about being hit by “15 pounds of marijuana smoke, so here’s a song for you stoners,” before playing “One Man Wrecking Crew.” Guster’s humor was on display when they riffed on “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” which they started from the guitar solo, before getting the cow bell going.
Gogol Bordello’s performance on the Main Stage West could be heard at times during Guster’s set, so I went to check them out. The band does for gypsy-punk what Flogging Molly does for Celtic-punk. Gogol’s mix was a little off, as it was hard to decipher the words, but they did rock out on “Educate Thy Neighbor.”
I had intended to continue my musical ADD by going first to John Butler, then Buddy Guy, then DeVotchKa. However, after 10 minutes of John Butler, I scrapped Buddy Guy and had to stay for Butler’s entire set, which he jokingly described as a “dog being raped in an train station.”
Butler’s brilliant acoustic guitar playing mesmerized a packed audience at the Firstbank Stage. Whether ripping through long instrumentals or singing tunes like “Daniella,” Butler wowed. Drummer Nicky Bomba joined in for half of Butler’s set, and Butler constantly switched instruments, playing brilliant percussive 12-string guitar on some songs, switching to slide for “Wrong Way Going Down a One Way Road,” and even playing banjo on “Better Than,” which had much more punch stripped down than it does on the CD. Butler ended his set with a frenzied “Funky Tonight.”
After enjoying Butler’s guitar brilliance, I headed over to the Westword tent to catch DeVotchKa, a band I’ll admit to never having seen or heard before. I was excited to hear them, but their set fell a little flat, and the crowd seemed to be removed a bit from the band. My friend observed that they’d be perfect on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Tom Hagerman borrowed an accordion from Gogol Bordello for a few songs, including a track on which frontman Nick Urata played theremin. One highlight of their set was a fierce version of “The Enemy Guns.”
From there, it was back over to the Firstbank Stage for another guitar wizard, slide player Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I remember being blown away by Robert Randolph when he played the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2002, and not much has changed. Randolph got going early with brilliant pedal steel playing on “The March,” which has always reminded of the late Duane Allman, and played a fierce instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Randolph’s sister Lenesha also got in on the Jackson tribute, singing “Man in the Mirror.”
After quietly enjoying Randolph’s guitar playing, it was time to head over to the Main Stage East for more brilliant guitar to close the festival. First up was Gov’t Mule, fronted by Warren Haynes, who simply oozes soul with every note he plays. A rainstorm seemed to threaten for most of Mule’s set, but ultimately spiraled off to the south while Haynes worked his magic early on a soulful “When Doves Cry,” playing one verse before ripping into the tender “Beautifully Broken.” Haynes and company blazed a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot,” and closed their set with the always well received “Soulshine.”
While the Fray’s set, which I skipped, was winding down, Widespread Panic finally took the stage after a 25-minute delay to close out the festival, immediately finding a groove on the first song, “From the Cradle.” The band had an edgier, heavier sound early in the set, especially on “Dyin’ Man” and “Sleeping Man,” the latter of which sounded too choppy, but Panic really took flight with “Walkin’ (for Your Love),” with guitarist Jimmy Herring finding the perfect bouncy groove while John “JoJo” Hermann added happy piano rolls over it.
Bassist David Schools started “Barstools and Dreamers” with a dark bass solo before Herring locked in on the intro solo, while John Bell’s voice shined. Gov’t Mule keyboard player Danny Louis sat in with Hermann on “Holden Oversoul,” then David Lindley joined drummers Todd Nance and Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz on an exceptionally long drum solo that seemed to kill the momentum.
Panic has always experimented with heavier sounds, and been willing to cover heavier songs, so they made up for the drum solo by launching into a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots.” Herring perfectly echoed Tony Iommi’s guitar lines, but Bell flubbed the lyrics a couple of times.
The band ended their three-hour set with an upbeat “Ain’t Life Grand” and a dreamy “End of the Show.” The audience managed to coax them back for an encore, a bouncy “Blackout Blues,” sung slyly by Hermann. — Candace Horgan
Check out Brian Carney’s photo essay of the Fray’s set:
Tina Hagerling’s Day 2 photo essay:
Mark Osler’s Day 2 photo essay:
Also be sure to check out Denver Post pop music critic Ricardo Baca’s take on the first night of the festival, our big Day 1 wrap-up post, and short articles from John Hendrickson and Reverb co-editor John Wenzel on the festival’s second day.
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Brian Carney is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Mark Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.
Tina Hagerling is a Denver-based freelance photographer and web designer. See more of her work here.
Daniel Petty is a multimedia and online reporter for The Denver Post.