The Scene: It started out as a typical evening at The Botanic Gardens, for this summer at least. The wine flowed, cured meats and cheeses were consumed by the plateful, and of course there were giant grey clouds looming to the West. Though the threat of rain hung in the air (and even fell out of it from time to time), it didn’t dampen the spirits of the Gardens faithful who had come out in droves to catch the one and only Reverend Al Green and Denver’s own soul sister, Hazel Miller.
Opener: Hazel Miller Band. I’ve seen Hazel Miller countless times over the years, but somehow the only song I’ve heard her sing has been the National Anthem. A staple at The Pepsi Center, Miller often had the honors of opening Avalanche games during the several years I shared season tickets, so it was a treat to get to see her up close as she led her band through a mix of original tunes and covers during the course of their 40 minute set.
The old blues standard, “Wang Dang Doodle,” got the crowd into things early as they sang along with Miller to the “all night long” chorus of the song. Years ago I’d heard the Grateful Dead do a version of this tune, and while that was great, it was nice to hear a tight rendition that didn’t stray too far into the noodling Jam territory the Dead were famous for. After thanking Al Green for sharing his bill with her, Miller wrapped up the set with the Marvin Gaye tune “Got To Give It Up.”
As Miller said her goodbye’s, she was awarded with a standing ovation from the capacity crowd and it really seemed like no one wanted her to leave, but with the curfew looming, and the Reverend waiting in the wings, she called it a night.
Al Green: At about 8 o’clock, the Reverend Al Green came zooming down the hill on the back of a golf cart that deposited him just to the right of the stage. As he climbed the stairs, Gatorade in hand, Green smiled and waved to the adoring fans who snapped photos and cheered wildly. When he reached the center of the stage, before he even sang a note, Green picked up about 10 roses from a large bunch that sat on a table next to his microphone, and began throwing them out into the audience where swooning women jockeyed to catch them. It was a great way to kick off the show and the pit in front of the stage quickly filled to overflowing as fans of all ages swarmed to get down with The Reverend!
Right off the bat, Green’s band was firing on all cylinders as they laid down a funky groove that was punctuated by horn riffs and they hit a high note early when they dropped into “Take Me to the River.” Though many people know the Talking Heads version of the tune, it should be noted that Green actually wrote the song back in 1974 for his album Al Green Explores Your Mind.
After slowing things up a bit for the slow jam “For The Good Times,” (and to throw some more roses out to the adoring ladies) Green and his band launched into the Roy Orbison classic “Pretty Woman” and dedicated it to “all the beautiful women out here in Colorado!” Green was full of energy as he hammed it up on stage flanked by a pair of dancers and he was every bit the showman that his fans were expecting. When the song wound down, the good times and shenanigans took a back seat for a minute and everyone’s attention turned toward the victims of the movie theater shooting in Aurora. Green dedicated a stirring version of “Amazing Grace” to everyone touched by the tragedy and then brought the mood up a bit when he offered “Love & Happiness” to them all as they deal with the pain inflicted so senselessly.
A bit later in the set, Green and the band took us through a medley of classics when they touched on “My Girl,” “Dock Of The Bay,” and Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Though we only got a few bars of each tune, it was enough to keep the energy in the amphitheater at a fever pitch and Green kept spirits high as he wrapped the set with three of his best loved tunes. As he ran through “Tired Of Being Alone,” and “I’m Still In Love With You,” fatigue was evident as he doubled over to catch his breath between songs and as his signature tune “Let’s Stay Together” wound down, Green headed for the stairs and jumped back on the golf cart for the short ride up the hill.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that much energy at a show at The Botanic Gardens, and though the Reverend’s set only ran for just over 60 minutes, it was clear that he poured everything he had into the performance and the smiles on the faces of everyone as they cleaned up their picnics were proof that a good time was had by all.
Stage Presence: A+
Set / Light show: B-