Photos by Kit Chalberg
The Scene: In Colorado, and especially at Red Rocks Ampitheatre, when we say “Rain or Shine” that is exactly what we mean. On Saturday night we got more than our fair share of the former while waiting for Brandi Carlile’s return to the storied venue. The previously forecasted “monsoon” rains put on quite a show, before the show—leading to flash flooding, washed out roads and some serious lightening. In recent pop lingo the word “epic” has lost nearly all of its meaning—but, there really isn’t any other way to describe the rain but “epic” and I don’t mean epic in terms of your friend’s new, “super sweet” iPhone app; I mean epic in terms of once-in-a-lifetime. But, don’t take my word for it, you can ask the nearly one-hundred loyal fans standing on the east stairs with several inches of red water flowing over their feet, or the veteran Red Rocks’ employees who shared that the rain was unlike anything witnessed in the last two decades.
Openers: The storm delayed the show’s start for over an hour but as the Red Rocks’ crew hastily removed black plastic bags from equipment and mopped up the soaked stage, thousands of fans made their way into the Ampitheatre. A light rain continued throughout opener the Lone Bellow’s set and into parts of second-billed Blind Pilot’s 45-minute set.
Brandi Carlile: During the set change, as if right on cue, the clouds faded to the east and the moon peeked over the back of the venue. Carlile, the brother’s Hanseroth and the rest of band took the stage to a roaring and energized crowd. The band opened with “Hard Way Home,” from 2012’s Bear Creek. Before starting into the hard-rocking “Raise Hell,” Brandi recognized the dedication of the enduring crowd, “Thank you for not leaving,” she said—although given Brandi’s loyal and quickly growing fan base, there was no chance of anyone leaving.
Much of set featured songs from Carlile’s latest album Bear Creek, including “A Promise I Can’t Keep,” “100” and “Keep Your Heart Young.” Carlile sat at the piano before starting into “That Wasn’t Me,” and shared a story about the song. The silent crowd took in the story as though they were listening to their Grandma talk about the good ‘ole days. “I play at a women’s prison every Christmas,” shared Carlile, “…it’s not glamorous like Johnny Cash. I usually end up playing Alanis Morissette covers. These women are some of freest people that I know, because they are away from whatever got them here. This song is for them.”
The set also included three covers, with a couple of them unexpected. Carlile has been playing Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” for years and rightfully so. Carlile and crew cover the classic as well as anyone. But unexpectedly, about halfway through the set, the band left the stage and Carlile walked to the front with an electric Gibson and broke into the familiar riff of Radiohead’s “Creep.” She powered through the song in true gritty, alt-rock fashion, as the crowd sang along to the chorus. Carlile and the full-band also took on Fleetwood Mac’s classic “The Chain.” The cover featured a head-shaking, improvised guitar solo by touring multi-instrumentalist Gibb Droll, and perfect three-part harmonies by Carlile and the Hanseroth twins.
Towards the end of the nearly two-hour set, Carile decided to pay-it-forward by bringing openers the Lone Bellow to the stage to play their song “Bleeding Out.” Carlile explained, “When you open at Red Rocks you get rained on, and it can be hot! Because of the rain, the Lone Bellow didn’t get to play all their songs. So, we are going to do this one with them.” Both bands filled the Red Rocks stage and rocked through the folk-rock-gospel song. Along with their inspiring opening set, the invitation to the stage cemented the Lone Bellow in the minds of fans, and surely created some new ones. The show wrapped up with two encores. For the first, Carlile turned back the clock to 2007 to play “Cannonball” and for the second she invited her sister Tiffany on stage to sing “Calling All Angels.”
The set was just part of the strong showing by Carlile and band. Throughout the set Carlile’s playful and youthful style engaged the crowd. During several songs Carlile hopped around with her Collings six-string like a kid at a carnival, barely containing her overflowing energy. Along with her infectious smile and stage presence, the highlight of any Brandi Carlile show is undoubtedly her voice. There are only a handful of voices in all of music—past and present—that can fill Red Rocks like Carlile. She has the unique ability to go from rock powerhouse, to yodeling country singer, to sensitive singer songwriter with flawless execution.
Saturday was Carlile’s second head-lining show at Red Rocks in as many years. Towards the end of the set Carlile asked the crowd, “You think we should do this every year?” Expectedly, the crowd responded with resounding affirmation. Given the success of the last two shows, it seems that making the yearly trip to Red Rocks is a given—and I don’t expect a little more rain will bother anyone.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: B