The Avett Brothers Bring All The Feels to Three Nights at Red Rocks

There was just too much good music to be found in Denver last weekend, and the icing on the cake just happened to be The Avett Brothers returning to Red Rocks for their third consecutive year of three nights in Morrison. Since their founding in 2001, The Avett Brothers have slowly built a diehard fanbase across the US, perfecting the art of folk blended rock-n-roll that eloquently captures the base truths of life, love, loss and dreams. As if their loyal fanbase needed more reason to flock to these shows, the 3-day stint featured an array of incredible artists set to warm up the crowd. This year, the support acts were as diverse as could be: world-folk-rock Nahko and Medicine for the People opened Thursday’s show, the burgeoning guitar legend Gary Clark Jr. played Friday, and J Mascis, the solo project of Dinosaur (Jr.) frontman closed the weekend on Saturday.

We attended Friday night’s performance and were overjoyed when Gary Clark Jr. quietly entered the stage with his four piece band and hit us with the powerful chords of “Bright Lights.” The Austin native mixes blues roots with contemporary soul and has been respectfully compared to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan - we certainly don’t disagree. This performance highlighted his incredible gift to produce raw guitar solos. When paired with his unmistakable voice, any set with him is worth seeing, but the majesty of Red Rocks only added to the effect on Friday. Performing tracks from his 2012 freshman release Blak and Blu, along with 2015’s release The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, fans were treated to favorites like “BYOB,” “Our Love”, “Shake”, and the rock-n-roll closer “Numb”, chalked full of smashing guitar solos and roaring vocals.

One of the most unique aspects of the The Avett Brothers performances at Red Rocks is they play a different set each night. With over a decade of material they have plenty to pick from, allowing fans a deep look into their discography alongside the hits throughout 80+ songs over the course of three days. Opening Friday’s 28-song setlist was the song “Down With the Shine”, and fans roared with delight and sang along as the sounds of banjo plucking filled the air. Little children adorned with glowsticks and kid-sized band tees played throughout the venue while their parents sang along to “Murder in the City”, “Shame”, and the title track of the group’s release from earlier this year, True Sadness. The album was released in June and produced by Rick Ruben (legendary producer and co-founder of Columbia Records.) True to the group’s autobiographical lyrics, this album brings new life to personal experiences and tales of heartbreak through their signature-style poetic lyrics. The band's most current lineup consists of brothers Scott Avett and Seth Avett playing the banjo and guitar, Bob Crawford on stand-up bass, Joe Kwon on cello, Tania Elizabeth on violin, Paul Defiglia on keyboard/organ and Mike Marsh on drums. 

The group's passion for this specific venue resonated from the stage over the course of the evening, with both Scott and Seth stopping to chat with the crowd, make jokes, and admire the breathtaking views. Halfway through the performance, the band welcomed father Jim Avett to the stage to join in on “Standing in The Need of Prayer”, “Take My Hand Precious Lord”, and “Peace in the Valley”, a wonderful tribute to the family aspect of the group. The show ended with the high energy song “Slight Figure of Speech”, followed by a 2-song encore of “The Race is On”, and “The Perfect Space” from 2009’s highly acclaimed album I and Love and You. The Avetts excel at making you feel all the feels back-to-back-to-back. A show full of love, joy, loss, and everything in between, their music certainly highlights the life experience in a raw, vulnerable, genuine fashion; it’s no surprise their fans are dedicated. With another successful year on the books, we eagerly await next summer’s weekend with the Avett's atop the red peaks of Morrison.

 - photo credit and words by Andrew Rios and Maddie Casey

 

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Three Nights of String Cheese Brings Powerful Guests, Powerful Jams to Red Rocks

This past weekend the String Cheese Incident (SCI) took over Red Rocks for what's become an annual three-night event. This venue has become a home base for the Colorado band, allowing them to bring a variety of musicians to open up and sit in on their electrifying performances. This year, SCI brought out friends TAUK, Kamasi Washington and Hot Rize for each of their three shows. We were lucky enough to cover Saturday night with the sensational jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington.

photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280

When we heard Kamasi Washington was opening this Saturday we knew we couldn't miss it. The Los Angeles born-and-raised saxophonist/composer has been making waves in music after having collaborated with all sorts of artists like Herbie Hancock, Nas, Snoop Dogg, and, Thundercat. Most recently he conducted the strings section as well as holding down the saxophone for Kendrick Lamar’s latest album To Pimp A Butterfly. He was also selected to lead this years Super Jam at Bonnaroo along side local favorites Nathaniel Ratliff and the Night Sweats. His style of jazz has opened up a new window to reach out to new audiences who might not understand the complexities of the genre. Washington released a massive three hour long album last year appropriately named The Epic that was given excellent reviews from top critics.

photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280

For those who know and love String Cheese Incident, this show was an incredible showcase. Some of our favorites moments of the night were during songs like “Restless Wind”, “Best Feeling”, “Colorado Bluebird Sky”, “Sirens” and “Desert Dawn”. As we anticipated, Kamasi Washington sat in with the band during their rendition of John Coltrane’s “Impressions”, which carried into “I Want To Take You Higher” featuring Colorado’s very own Sheryl Renee.  Washington also sat in during the second set for songs like “45th of November” and “Bumpin’ Reel." The visual spectacle that SCI showcases alongside their music was nothing short of amazing; reminiscent of a dimensional portal zooming into multiple views and perspectives of the artists playing on stage.

photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280

The encore might have been one of the best we’ve seen in a while as Sheryl Renee and her powerful voice returned to stage for a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s mega hit “Dreams”. The end of the night was upon us as the house lights came on, when suddenly Red Rocks transformed into a massive impromptu dance party with band and crew together on stage. String Cheese and friends left us wth some heartfelt parting words from the great Lionel Richie, “Party, Karambo, Fiesta, Forever!” 

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Music | Umphrey's McGee Host a Rockin' 4th of July Weekend at Red Rocks

There were a lot of great events in Denver over the 4th of July weekend, but Umphrey’s McGee’s double header at Red Rocks was by far one of the best in town. Over the course of two nights, they shared the stage – and packed the house – with the psychedelic sounds of Sinkane, Dweezil Zappa, The Main Squeeze, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.

photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280

There may have been multiple openers, but Dweezil Zappa’s brilliant performance was hands-down our favorite, despite the unfortunate reminder of the feud surrounding the Zappa family. The Zappa Family Trust has recently forced Dweezil to abandon his established touring name “Zappa Plays Zappa” which he’s used for over a decade. In a mix of retaliation-meets-comedy, the familiar monicker has been replaced by “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants” and he did just that. He and his band took us back through the decades by playing over 50 covers ranging from Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” dispersed through familiar renditions of Frank Zappa classics.

Umphrey’s McGee definitely showed the love as they opened up the first set of the weekend with the rock ’n’ roll meets gospel tune “Glory.”  Next they played one of their classic songs “In The Kitchen”, featuring a jam of Johnny Cash’s “Cocain Blue’s” mixed into theballad. Controversy aside, Dweezil sat in with the band, playing guitar during “Utopian Fir” and staying for vocals on his father’s nursery rhyme-inspired song “Muffin Man”.

"Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F**k He Wants". (photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280)

There was a nice surprise during set break as a fireworks display serendipitously popped up behind the stage like it was meant for the show. As the grand finale was in full force, Umphrey’s made their epic return to stage. The second set came in hot with “Bridgeless”, leading into “2x2” which featured a “Star Bangled Banner” tease as well as Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” As if that wasn't enough, lighting designer Jefferson Waful’s full and vibrant light display added to the electrifying visual experience. His imaginative use of every color in the spectrum along with perfect timing make him one of the best lighting designers in the industry – great enough for fans of the group to know him by name. Did we mention he directed Umphrey’s McGee’s rock documentary “Reel to Real?” 

Our favorite part of the night was when the disco-era, funk driven sounds of “Booth Love” erupted from stage. They then transitioned into “Miss Tinkles Overture”, a tune created out of an inside joke about keyboardist Joel Cummins accidentally peeing on his pillow in the back of the tour van during the group’s early years. Ultra5280 last saw Umphrey’s McGee when we rang in the new year with them at the 1stBank Center, and celebrating with them again during this 4th of July weekend was truly an amazing experience. We’re anxious for their next tour announcement, curious to see when they’ll be returning to Colorado. You know our team will be there, sharing that “Umph Love!”

CLICK HERE FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM UMPHREY'S McGEE AT RED ROCKS

Gramatik Shakes up Red Rocks | Plenty of Surprises, None of the Snow

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success” - Nikola Tesla

The thrill a performer feels when the crowd goes wild at a SOLD OUT Red Rocks as they play a song they created has got to be one of the greatest feelings this world has to offer. It certainly seemed this way based on the reactions from stage when Gramatik returned to Red Rocks. The weather was perfect with no clouds in sight, and it felt like we were hit with surprise after surprise up until the very last minute of the show.

photo credit: Andrew Rios

photo credit: Andrew Rios

We arrived at the venue to the beats of Geek x VRV, who made their first appearance at Red Rocks this past Friday. This electronic duo from Paris, France has been making explosive progress in the past year leading up to this show. Consisting of Axel Rondeau and Vincent Teoule, this duo has catapulted into the spotlight, opening gigs for heavyweights like Pretty Lights, Gramatik, Dillon Francis, and Griz. Make sure to keep an eye out for the next time they come through town again, they’re definitely worth the time if you're looking for a good electronic show. 

Next on the scene was Filipino music producer Antonio Cuna – better known by his stage name Sweater Beats. He did a great job keeping the crowd pumped during his Red Rocks debut with songs like “Cloud City” and “Do It For Me”. Cuna also played an awesome remix of “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies that had everyone singing along with their hands in the air.

We didn't question why Gramatik would add Hippie Sabotage to the already stacked lineup of openers for the evening. When most people think of trap music, they think of colossal, drop-filled beats with aggressive energy that forces everyone to dance – brothers Kevin and Jeff Saurer from Sacramento CA create just that! Jeff Saurer stayed behind the turn tables for most of the set while Kevin Saurer made his way into the first few rows to rage with the fans. Taking selfies, dowsing the crowd with water bottles, and even hitting a pipe one of the kids had, the duo interacted with the audience much more than most electronic acts would (we think that was pretty cool of them). Their remix of Tove Lo’s song “Stay High” was a perfect way to bring their set to a close as it was a little slower than the rest of their songs, but it was the one crowd obviously wanted to hear most.

photo credit: Andrew Rios

Gramatik finally jumped on stage around 9:30 and he dove right into the music in full force. He had Chicago’s own Colin Grimm aka ProbCause (who is featured on “Epigram”) join him on stage to rap for the song “Back To The Future." This rapper from Evanston meshes intelligent lyrics at an incredible speed with perfect timing. Gramatik also had guitarist Andrew Block playing alongside him throughout the show, laying down killer guitar solos that you don't often see at electronic shows these days. A few songs into the set, Jašarević announced he was going to play a new song: No one could have foreseen the magnitude of the song we were about to hear. We’re still not sure of the song title, but we do know that its a massive collaboration with the insanely talented blues musician Gary Clark Jr., and Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine! WHAT?! 

The show continued to get even better throughout the evening. Hit after hit, drop after drop, Gramatik's funky soulful beats had us nonstop dancing and even laughing out loud at times. Around 11pm, with about an hour left of show to play, Jašarević announced that he had some friends joining him on stage. A platform holding a drum kit rolled onto stage while a couple guys wielding saxophones jump behind the DJ booth – the audience went bonkers! It was none other than Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salkin of Big Gigantic, and Grant Kwiecinski who is known by the stage name GRiZ. This ensemble of creatives appropriately named "Big GrizMatik" completely stole the show. The last time Big GrizMatik appeared onstage in Colorado was on New Years Eve at Decadence 2013-2014. That was certainly one crazy show, but nothing in the world compares to Red Rocks. These performers have only shared the stage a mere handful of times, so the audience knew this was a momentous occasion. They all had just left Summer Camp Music Festival, where they had also joined each other onstage. Towards the end of the set, Big Grizmatik played a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. The last and final surprise they had for us that evening still has us shaking our heads in awe. After the group took their family photo, Jašarević told the crowd, “See you all at Vertex!”

Wait, no wait, your kidding...he didn't just say what I think he did...did he?

Music | Funk on The Rocks 2016 feat. CHROMEO, Jamie XX, Four Tet, and WhatSoNot | June 2, 2016

Chromeo during Funk On The Rocks (photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280)

Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo made a stop in Colorado last Thursday for their third installment of “Funk on the Rocks”. This year they had Jamie XX co-headlining the show along with What So Not and Four Tet. The evening kicked off with What So Not, an electronic musical production lead by DJ and producer Chris Emerson. His set had more of an exciting, hard hitting dubstep feel that injected a healthy dose of hype to what was to come for the rest of the evening. What So Not made waves in 2014 when he teamed up with RL Grimes to put together a song called “Tell Me”, and when he performed it live at Red Rocks it definitely brought out the crowds energy.

Kieran Hebden, an english electronic musician better known by the stage name Four Tet, played more of a mellow set, keeping a soft abstract beat that let everyone relax and enjoy time with friends before the two headliners. Jamie XX opened his appearance at Red Rocks with a bang! During the chorus of one of his more more popular songs “Loud Places”, his giant disco ball was hit with lights illuminating the whole stage with him as a mysterious silhouette. Well done Jamie! 

Jaime XX's disco ball lighting up the night (photo credit: Andrew Rios/Ultra5280)

When Chromeo took the stage, they were accompanied by heavy guitar riffs from lead vocalist and Dave “Dave 1” Macklovitch. Heavy white beams of light shone upon his chrome guitar reflecting the light back into the venue as he dove into the first song of their set. Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel held down the keyboards, synthesizer and talk box which he used on a few occasions to hype up the crowd. These two performers met in Montreal at the age of 15, and 10 years later they’re still touring extensively while making new music. The two jokingly consider themselves the only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture.They ran through all their hit songs with overwhelming crowd participation and it was clear to see why these guys carry such a following. We loved our evening at “Funk on The Rocks”, and are keeping fingers crossed we’ll be able to get funky next year.

-Andrew