There were many reasons this story could not have taken place. First one being that BoomBox is not normally a band I would pick up on, but last year I was given the opportunity to interview the duo. (Editor’s Note: Read Interview Here) Having never listened to their music, I played nothing but BoomBox for the two days prior to the telephone call with Zion and Russ. I dug it on a serious level immediately and that conversation is what really drew me into the BoomBox world. The passion and enthusiasm while speaking about their music and a specific story they shared made me realize there was more to BoomBox than I experienced on their studio recordings the two days prior. Sure, we can say that about tons of bands; how the live show can’t compare to an album, but there was more to it for me with BoomBox because of the electronic/DJ elements. A few weeks after the interview I went to the sold-out show at The Ogden Theatre and it was nothing short of amazing. With the knowledge I gained from the interview and a live show under my belt, I was beginning to understand it all a bit more. Being someone who didn’t listen to much music with an electronic presence, I was having a hard time understanding what was recorded, what was played live, what was looped, and understanding the whole BoomBox process in the studio and on the stage. The one thing I did understand is that it made me dance. Almost involuntarily.
Another reason this night could not have happened is because I am normally not the most spontaneous man. Making a day before decision, without an email confirmation of my credentials for the show, does not fit with my normal worrier style. I like knowing things are lined up. On top of that I was pretty shot from a late night at Dirty Dozen Brass Band the night before, the weather had the potential to get nasty, I had never been to State Bridge, there was no cell phone reception there, and, well, many other excuses. I got an email from someone in the BoomBox camp, which said “No service out there at all, so heads up that you won’t hear from me. Just trust you’ll be on the list. I’ll figure it out when we get there.” Now, it is amazing how her word choice of “trust” made me think about my general outlook, and I realized I needed to declare this my “summer of spontaneity” and get my ass to one of the two nights of BomBoox’s annual State Bridge run. Soon after that I realized a friend recently took a position at the venue, so I called up to the office to touch base. With that taken care of I threw the rest of my excuses out the window, rallied a couple others for the journey, and set out for State Bridge in the Listen Up Denver! Mobile.
The ride from Denver to Bond, Colorado caused three men to ooh and ah for nearly three hours, roll windows up and down according to weather conditions, and realize that each of us went through the same decision making process and each needed this night for our own reasons. Upon pulling up to the general store/box office, all signs were pointing to it being the right decision. The tents went up quick, we got a prime spot for the Listen up Denver! Mobile, and scored ourselves artist passes!
Walking around the property outside the venue gate, I felt an energy I easily identified. Growing up in the Catskill Mountains of New York, I read a lot about Native American history and culture when I was young, as our hills were rich with history as well. Seeing the teepees and yurts behind the stage at the foot of a jagged rock face, and smelling cool Colorado rain in the air, I felt as if many moccasins had gathered on these grounds to dance and offer prayers to the sky long before white faces had ever walked the land. This feeling came at 7:30 pm. No music had even started yet, and I was picking up on some seriously good vibes. I don’t carry crystals, or have any new age tendencies, nor am I inclined to talk about the metaphysical but I can’t run from the fact something was pulling me to that stage. And no, no hallucinogens were taken at any point during this trip…just in case that’s what you were thinking.
Walking into the venue to see opener Bonfire Dub, my first statement was: “It’s perfect!” The giant terraced stone slabs, the fire pit, the stage backdrop that accepted light projections but also allowed you to see through to the rock face a few hundred feet behind it. Between that screen and that rock face were two other important characters in this story, the river and a well worn set of active railroad tracks. History was oozing from this place, and the experience was as quintessentially Colorado as it gets.
The name Bonfire Dub, especially when on a bill with BoomBox, may make you think they have electronic elements, but they are straight up roots Reggae with a spiritually uplifting positivity and the ability to settle into a heavy groove. The recent addition of Elephant Revival fiddle player Bridget Law has allowed the band to explore and added a hint of the hills to their island vibe. Moog synthesizers, thick bass, pounding percussion courtesy of Mark Levy of The Congress, sweet lyrics, clean and authentic guitar riffs and now the angelic presence of Law on vocals and fiddle…there is nothing Dub about this band in the electronic Dubstep sense. They did lock into some truly authentic Reggae Dub grooves, which originated over half a century before Skrillex ever brought a laptop to an arena. It almost pains me to think that a lot of people automatically associate the term Dub with Dubstep nowadays but conversations I have had and witnessed are making it startlingly apparent. Listen to King Tubby kids!
The colors of the Colorado summer night mixed with the lights shining on the stage and around the venue, a the train rumbled by and the crowd began to swell along with the energy. Ramona womaned the turntables and manhandled a DJ set I experienced mostly from a yurt nearby. The set was hot, but since I was outside the venue a majority of the time, and it wasn’t my main focus, I don’t feel qualified to tell you more except she is the real deal. The term DJ gets thrown around a lot, and is used by many I would never give the honor to, but Ramona can lay it down proper. (Editor’s Note: Listen to her set from last year’s State Bridge run here.)
When the two members of BoomBox manned their stations on stage, it was as if a surge of electricity ran through the venue. Literally and figuratively. Yes, the crowd was excited but the beautiful intensity of the lights and sound system were catalysts as well. The stage sits on a massive slab of rock about 4 or 5 feet tall from my estimate, and subwoofers are lined up against the rock at the front of the stage. Now, I don’t know how the venue is constructed, or the geological qualities of the site, but I have a theory about the insane bass response in the venue. Not many outdoor venues can provide thick, tight bass. I would assume that not far under that patch of grass in front of that stage is bedrock, which travels through the venue and surrounding property. That stone slab the stage sits on absorbs the bass from the subs, and redistributes it directly to the soles of your feet. Combined with the stunning design of the ampitheatre, State Bridge can provide some mind blowing sound. BoomBox has a hell of an audio engineer as well and the combination of the two, along with the insane light show, was like…Boom.
I danced side-stage a majority of the set gazing out onto the faces of the crowd as they absorbed the music but also walked around the venue in intervals in order to experience the energy and sound from all perspectives. I was here to not only throw down but to understand BoomBox more and my perch side-stage gave me the perspective I needed for that…BoomBox’s.
Staring out into the crowd, watching the light illuminate their dancing, I felt the tribal spirit of the land and the music. People seemed to be tuned to the same frequency and there was direct communication between BoomBox and the crowd. It was as if there was only one way to dance to the songs, like our bodies had built in receptors for the specific tones and grooves that allowed everyone to dance in unison. Feet shuffling on the ground and hearts beating joined the symphony of sounds. Heads nodded in sync. Smiles grew so large I thought peoples faces would tear.
The entire set was a seamless flow of sound that, like all BoomBox shows, was not premeditated. Not having a setlist allows the pair to gauge the audience who are an integral part of steering the night. For the audience, BoomBox is their instrument. For Boombox, they have their store-bought gear, but they can also conduct the rhythm of the audience as well. All of us were surrounded by the bowl like amphitheater which was like another instrument. All of the subs sitting on a slab of bedrock absorbed the sounds like a pianos vibration plate, and pumped the music into the earth. Sound was absorbed by feet, roots and stones, which in turn process, amplify or conduct. Music breathed out of everything and everyone. Everything was unified. BoomBox and State Bridge merged into one.
BoomBox started the seamless set with what we all “Wanted” and I nearly shouted “I’m Ready” right before they put me in my Irie place with “Natty Dread.” After a take on “Montereo” the night took an unexpected turn. Both Zion and Russ left their posts and took seats behind drum kits that were facing each other. This was only my second time seeing BoomBox, but judging by the reaction of the crowd and a friend next to me side stage, I was about to see something special. The two faced each other and began beating the skins, playing off of each other, communicating in the most basic and primal way, by drumming. No wires. No looping. No gizmos. Just two men drumming eye-to-eye. Drums and rock are the roots of BoomBox and they dug deep. I previously mentioned having a hard time knowing what was played live and what was electronic. Not this time, and not from 8 feet away.
Things exploded again once “Showboat” left the dock and by now my face was beaming with a “Kool Aid Smile.” We trekked through the “Sahara,” then stumbled upon some “Tough Love” “In The Forest” before coming across the Temple of Boom…”Stereo.” “Stereo” is the song that drew me into the BoomBox world. Hearing that building intro coming out from my speakers the first time, I felt as if I was being presented with something monumental. The repeated “ladies and gentlemen” before the official introduction and drop of the song put a shit eating grin on my face when I was listening to it alone in my living room for the first time last year-so just think how I felt sidestage, looking out on the crowd as they sang along to the BoomBox anthem. I definitely would have to put this song on my list of favorites from any time period or genre. Some may call that a classic.The intensity of the night had my head spinning “Round and Round,” but I didn’t have a care in the world once they ended the set with a frighteningly fun “Mr. Boogie Man.”
The night didn’t end there, and as a matter of fact it felt like that’s when the journey truly began. A beautiful friend led me by the hand and told me there was something I needed to experience under the moonlight. She took me under the railroad bridge, which in some spots you can’t even stand under, and I was instructed to crouch down a bit, place the crown of my head onto one of the beams under the bridge and wait for a few minutes. We breathed deeply, taking the night in, and then began feeling a rumble. The train rumbled a foot or two above our heads and we allowed that vibration to travel through our bodies and into the ground below our feet. After all the cars had passed, we took our deep breathing to the riverside, and laid on our backs staring at the stars. Next I was led to the cabins that Zion and Russ were staying at and we watched the sunrise as I got to talk with the artists who just gave the soundtrack to the story you are reading and I was pulled deeper into the world of BoomBox. The first night of my summer of spontaneity went flawlessly!