The Scene: Well if you haven’t heard by now, let me be the first to tell you . . . Friday night at Red Rocks was WET! Wet, wet, wet! Early in the first set, a storm that had been threatening for a while descended on the venue and didn’t let up for nearly two hours. Though the Red Rocks staff encouraged people to go back to their cars for shelter, the bathrooms (and anywhere else with a roof for that matter) were packed with sodden fans, and people huddled together in beer tents and under just about any overhang they could find as water fell from the sky in sheets.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had access to the backstage guest area so I was fortunate enough to ride out the storm there, but I had friends who were not so lucky and to hear them tell their stories you’d think they rode out Hurricane Katrina on the street outside the Superdome. Lightning flashed all around the venue as we were deafened by thunder claps and water cascaded down the stairs like waterfalls. [Editor’s Note: see this great video shot by Darrell Vail] It was truly a deluge but, about 10 o’clock, the storm passed and we got word that the band would be taking the stage to finish out the show. The stands filled up quickly and about 10:20 the boys took the stage and delivered a great performance for those that stuck it out.
String Cheese Incident: Just a few minutes before 8, String Cheese Incident walked out on stage as a dense black thunderhead took aim at the amphitheatre from the South. Opening with Weather Report’s “Birdland” was an appropriate choice for the evening as I’m sure the band and the crew had their eyes and ears fixed on weather reports moments before taking the stage. Oblivious, the crowd ate it up as Ship Rock largely blocked their view of the approaching storm that was raging up the front range. The band sandwiched Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass classic “Wheel Hoss” in the middle of the Jazz tune in the way that only they can, and as the skies darkened they kicked into Hollingsworth’s “Rain.” Wow, was this a prophetic song choice. As they sang “Let the rain come, set me free. Rain come, wash me clean. Rain come, set me free,” the heavens opened and one of the all time classic Red Rocks rainstorms descended on us all. It was one of those moments that all String Cheese fans present will remember forever as the band seemed to literally take control of the weather and summon the rain . . . and boy, did it rain.
After nearly two hours the storm broke and it was finally time for more music. The boys took the stage to a tremendous roar from the surprisingly large crowd and tore into the first “Restless Wind” of 2012. More roars went up when the line “autumn chill cuts the air,” struck a chord with many soaking wet fans. From there, the guys kept up with the “wet and windy” theme of the evening as they launched into “Water” to the delight of the thousands of us who had just had so much water wash over us and the oh-so-appropriate lyrics “you can’t be happy playing in the sun if you fear the rain,” from “Turn This Around” again brought huge cheers.
It was great to see the band building the evenings events so effectively into the set, and they didn’t stop there as they kicked off a run of songs that seemed to say “there isn’t much you can do about it, so don’t fight it,” with the Hollingsworth tune “Way That It Goes.” At this point in the set, I think most of the crowd had pretty much left the storm behind them and we were all just feeding off the energy that SCI was pumping off the stage. “So Far From Home” and “It Is What It Is” stuck to the theme of toughing out the storm and after an excursion into the Irish laced and electronica influenced marvel that is “Bumpin’ Reel” we got the song I had been calling all night long, “Black Clouds.” Black clouds had indeed rolled up the valley just hours before and with thunder clappin’ in the treetops, sparks shooting out into the night, and of course, the fires raging in the woodlands, there wasn’t a more appropriate song in the SCI catalog to close out the set with, and nobody on The Rocks missed it’s significance.
After a brief break the band returned with their new single “Can’t Wait Another Day” and, as lightning flashed out on the plains, they treated us to an extended run from “Little Hands” into “I Know You Rider,” that was exploding with energy and featured playing that rivaled anything I’ve heard from this band in years. Sure, we had to endure some “cool Colorado rain” on Friday night, but the boys rewarded our patience with a creative and energetic set that left us all thrilled we had waited out the deluge.
As if to say “thank you” one more time, the band came back to the stage a second time and Nershi led the band through a great version of Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)” that was the perfect ending to a one-of-a-kind evening at Red Rocks.
Set 1: Birdland > Wheel Hoss > Birdland, Rain
Set 2: Restless Wind, Water > Search, Turn This Around > Breathe > Turn This Around, Way That It Goes, So Far From Home, It Is What It Is > Bumpin’ Reel > Black Clouds
Encore: Can’t Wait Another Day, Little Hands > I Know You Rider
Encore 2: The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)
Stage Presence: A
Set / Light show: A