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2010 Mile High Music Festival, Day 1 — stories, slideshows and more

Surf-rocker Jack Johnson headlined Day 1 of the massive Mile High Music Festival yesterday, a well-run by musically unadventurous event that culminates with today’s performances. Photo by Joe McCabe, denverpost.com/reverb.
Surf-rocker Jack Johnson headlined Day 1 of the massive Mile High Music Festival yesterday, a well-run by musically unadventurous event that culminates with today’s performances. Photo by Joe McCabe, denverpost.com/reverb.

By Ricardo Baca

The 3-year-old Mile High Music Festival seems to have reached its stride. As the festival opened Saturday, everything flowed with an impressive sense of confidence and, yes, musicality.

Traffic moved along softly, for the most part. Lines were manageable. Bands were on time and amiable. Fans were good-natured. Even the weather was lovely, with cloud cover and a gentle breeze that visited from time to time on a very hot day.

Mile High has found its true sense of place and self.

Day 1 Slideshows:

View Reverb shooter Joe McCabe’s pics from Mile High Day 1, including Jack Johnson and Steve Miller.

View Denise Chambers’ pics from Day 1, including some Denver acts, Nas and Cypress Hill.

View Kyle Wagner’s pics from Day 1, including the parade of colorfully-dressed attendees.

View Lara Wenzel’s pics from Day 1, including scene-setting shots of Mile High’s artwork and people.

View Daniel Petty’s pics from the Day 1, including Rusted Root and more Jack Johnson.

View Julio Enriquez’s pics from Day 1, including Snake Rattle Rattle Snake and the Beta Beach.

French indie rockers Phoenix owned the Bison Tent stage at the far east end of Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Photo by Julio Enriquez, denverpost.com/reverb.
French indie rockers Phoenix owned the Bison Tent stage at the far east end of Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Photo by Julio Enriquez, denverpost.com/reverb.

Review continued from above…

It’s America’s straightforward, no-frills, mainstream-friendly music festival. While other fests have their mammoth indie rock-in-arenas headliners, Mile High is content catering to the Everyman. The average Mile High fan listens to festival-sponsor KBCO and buys CDs on amazon.com.

Jack Johnson headlined the festival on Saturday, and the gigantic crowd that took in the chill-out Hawaii singer-songwriter’s set was all about his acoustic musings. As he opened his long festival set with his most recent single, “You and Your Heart,” Johnson swayed the festival crowd with his easy charm, his breezy voice and his plaintive musical philosophy.

Johnson and tonight’s headliner, Dave Matthews Band, are the ideal frontmen for Mile High. In fact they’re almost too ideal.

Dave Matthews Band headlines Mile High tonight for the second time — in only three years. It doesn’t look good for a festival to bring a headliner back so soon, but if you understand Colorado’s live music economy, you understand why Denver-based promoter AEG Live Rocky Mountains, the brain behind Mile High, brought the DMB back so soon.

AEG has locked down the Colorado aesthetic with this year’s Mile High. When we rolled into the festival on Saturday, Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley were laying into “Hate Me Now,” a classic track that drops the epic “Carmina Burana” as its background. Their unique mix of reggae and conscious hip-hop had a way of bringing in the audience — some of whom were obviously unfamiliar with their work.

Cypress Hill, the ’90s rap one-hit wonders who made their living off the obnoxious, if catchy, hit “Insane in the Membrane,” captivated a late-afternoon crowd with its pot-related antics and big-beat production. Colorado’s new-found marijuana culture might have had an impact on the group’s set. Or not. Either way, it was clear that this band has achieved something of an unexplained comeback.

Some sets missed the festival benchmark. One-man band Keller Williams threw down a modest set that failed to capture a large festival audience, and he capped it off with a mediocre cover of a played-out song: Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” Slightly Stoopid’s insipid set of pop-reggae was too long and weak. And while nobody could dispute Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s talent, their set failed to bring in the pre-Jack Johnson masses.

The day’s best set belonged to French indie heroes Phoenix, who opened with “Lisztomania” and closed with an elongated “1901,” filling in the middle with a bunch of goodness that spanned their impressive catalog, which includes one of last year’s best records, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”

The day’s surprise stand-out was the Steve Miller Band. The oldies-but-goodies are a fantastic band, still, but who knew they could hold their own alongside all the youngsters? They did and more, opening with “Jet Airliner” and “Take the Money and Run.”

The day’s hero was Johnson — the low-key songwriter who somehow found himself a festival headliner. Johnson’s latest, “To the Sea,” is a smart, punchy record that dodges some of the stereotypes of his previous work. It’s melodic and likable, yeah, but it’s also lovely and intelligent. And it gives the haters – those who diss his music and that of the Mile High Music Festival aesthetic – something to ponder.

The Mile High Music Festival closes tonight with headliners Dave Matthews Band, My Morning Jacket and Weezer. For more information: tickethorse.com. — Ricardo Baca

More Mile High Music Festival coverage on the next page…