Naughty by Nature, Redman, Roman Ramirez play a secret show in Denver - Reverb

Naughty by Nature, Redman and Roman Ramirez at a free, semi-secret Denver show

Naughty By Nature at the Sundance Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Anjel Photography and the group's Facebook page.

Naughty by Nature, Redman and Roman Ramirez played a free, semi-secret Denver show on Thursday. Naughty By Nature at the Sundance Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Anjel Photography and the group’s Facebook page.

By Erik Myers

Northern Denver was treated to a free show Thursday night when Redman, Roman Ramirez of Sublime with Rome and Naughty by Nature brought the Exdo Event Center “back the to ’90s,” as put by Treach of the classic hip-hop trio. The event, Free4All Vol. 3, which was announced a few days prior, was presented by Denver graphics and printing firm InkMonstr, alongside a slew of co-sponsors who were happy to pass out goodies. Redman was the host, opening the evening with one full song followed by his half of “Da Rockwilder” before abruptly dropping into his hosting duties, reading off a sponsor list before introducing a series of snowboarding videos.

The crowd was young and vibrant, a testament to Naughty by Nature’s staying power, but also to the power of “free.” Eager to get my hands on an Armada beanie, I blindly handed my driver’s license to a Camel Snus girl who then ran it through a fancy scanner for what I hope was just legal reasons before offering a mini-cup of dip in addition.

I regretted turning away the numbing substance the moment I saw the acoustic guitar in Rome Ramirez’s hand as he walked on stage. Sitting from a stool, guitar strapped snugly, he closed his eyes and began a low tempo version of “Wrong Way,” which felt thin without it’s ska rhythm. For the uninitiated, Sublime with Rome was founded in 2010, 14 years after original Sublime vocalist Brad Nowell died of a heroin overdose. Plenty of people have made a buck performing the music of the dead, but they’re usually smart enough to stay away from acoustic covers. Dull as Rome was, I stopped sneering when he introduced “Hung Up” from his 2012 solo effort “Dedication EP.”

“This is a song about being engaged to a bitch who left you for your best friend,” he explained, and before the song itself brought me back to reality, I felt for the guy.

Redman stepped up for a spirited DJ set afterward, firing off singles from rap’s golden era of the early ’90s and quickly injecting life into the now 300-strong crowd. Circles formed around break dancers and one equally entertaining dude doing wheelies in his wheelchair.

Naughty by Nature finally took the stage just after midnight to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” before diving cleanly into “O.P.P.” The New Jersey group were the seasoned professionals I’d hoped for. They didn’t pretend to be anyone but themselves on stage, even embracing the fact that time has passed them by. “Do y’all miss the ’90s?” Treach asked at the set’s midpoint, a photo of him and the band posing with Michael Jackson displayed on the big screen behind him. It was an invite into an extended medley of ’90s songs, an unexpected diversion that soured as soon as “Sweet Child O’ Mind” hit the speakers. The gimmick was cut before the room’s mood died and the trio launched into a few final tracks, wrapping with “Hip Hop Hooray” and a promise to return. Good timing.

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Electronic blogger Erik Myers is a Denver-based writer and new contributor to Reverb. Follow him on Twitter.