Despite the ominous, all-day threat of rain, the skies were clear and the temperature was high as partiers piled into Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre for KS 107.5’s annual Summer Jam on Friday, June 6. Shows like Summer Jam, where artists are given short amounts of time to pack in a high powered performance, always start on time.
We arrived early to catch Denver’s own Trev Rich taking to the stage flanked by DJ Squizzy Taylor. Trev’s set was succinct and rehearsed. His radio single, “Good Vibes,” was a hit with the audience and he appeared happily overwhelmed by the big stage and growing crowd. The show was sold out so patrons were eager to get inside and seated. Trev’s performance brought the local element full circle and audience was adoring.
Sage the Gemini was up next and at a time where the heat was so hot, most attempted to cool off with beers and what little shade could be found at the venue. From the lawn, chants of “Tech N9ne!” from the Strange Muzik frontman’s zealous fans were raining down on all within earshot.
August Alsina, who has a bit more of an attitude problem than most rising R&B superstars should, was impersonal and quick. His radio hit “I Love This Shit” went over well with the crowd and his vocals were warm and pitch-perfect. He wore a hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeved shirt. At one point, he put a huge bandanna over his head, shielding himself from the crowd even more. He has a solemn style that didn’t quite fit the gorgeous, sunny day but nonetheless, those who were seated loved it.
By the time Kid Ink took the stage, the party was on and in full force. He stripped off his shirt and went into his “My Own Lane” movement. The Chris Brown-assisted “Show Me” was a hit, so much so that the MC jumped off the stage and ran through the rows of fans for dramatic effect. Kid Ink has a radio-listening crowd, so he had the audience in the palm of his hand with even the most basic instructions (“Put your hands up!”).
As I’m not the biggest Kid Ink fan, we took the last five minutes of his set to hydrate with water before the hotness that is Iggy Azalea took the stage.
There are two types of people in this world; those who like Iggy Azalea and those who don’t. Granted, the Australian rap princess who is T.I.’s protégée likely couldn’t care less. The crowd reception was lukewarm at best. Wearing an orchid purple get-up that showed off her tightly shaped hips and abs, Iggy went into her hits like “Murda Bizness,” and “Fancy.”
Her dancers were wearing high-waisted leotards that offered very little range of motion during Iggy’s high-paced songs. Again, you either like Iggy, or you don’t. If you do, you likely spent her entire 20-minute set fawning over her shape and posterior.
Juicy J, the man who can’t say no to ratchet pussy, was in perfect shape and top-notch rhythm as he took the stage. Saying he loves Denver so much he wants to move here, the Three 6 Mafia legend almost stole the show. He performed “Stay Fly” like the song was brand new, and the dance party was on. “Dark Horse” was almost better without Katy Perry, with Juicy flailing around a cup of liquor and his gold chains. “Bandz a Make Her Dance” is still the song that might get your girlfriend up on a chair to shake what her mama gave her with no problems. Juicy knows how easy it is to turn the crowd up and he did so with ease and gusto before leaving the stage with, “if you got some weed, meet me backstage.”
Finally, the sun went down in a beautiful sunset that made the perfect entrance for Tech N9ne. We’d heard earlier that day that his mom passed away Friday morning so no one knew what to expect from N9ne. What we got, though, was one of the most powerful performances we’ve ever seen from the Kansas City native. He brought out Krizz Kaliko who backed him up on “Fragile,” and performed a mini set of his own. It was quite different seeing Tech in this kind of scaled back arena but as usual, he was charismatic, personable and hilarious.
By the time “Areola” started to play, there were topless women who were trying to clamor onto the stage. Tech took it all in stride, though, before launching into “I’m a Playa,” which was, besides “Fragile,” the crowd favorite. Giving salute to his mother and going out in a blaze of fast-paced rhymes and pyrotechnics, N9ne had the crowd cheering deafeningly by the end of his set.
Kendrick Lamar was the real star of the night and clearly the one for which all had been waiting. No, he did not do his verse from “Control,” but kept it real humble in a jean outfit and a modest cap. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard 22,000 people screaming “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe!” in unison. Kendrick kept a high smirk on his face throughout his set, seemingly just enjoying the moment.
When the first strains of “m.A.A.d city” came through the speakers the audience went absolutely crazy. So much so that Lamar let the first couple of lines ride out through the excitement before having his DJ run the track back. “Poetic Justice,” the song for the ladies, was undeniably perfect sounding under the night sky and Kendrick stalked the stage like a lion stalks his prey. Not only did he rock the stage for 45 minutes with no hype man, he seemed to get a signal from offstage to watch the clock.
Enjoying himself with the fullness that was Denver’s crowd, he was reluctant to go but left the stage with a simple, “Denver, I love you.”
Ru Johnson is an arts and culture music writer living in Denver. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.