Carolina Chocolate Drops & Elephant Revival – July 24th – Denver Botanic Gardens

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The Scene: Colorado music lovers have a lot to be thankful for. Mostly it’s for the fact we have choices. A lot of them. The amount of live music here can be staggering. Not only do we have a lot of music, we also have some of the most beautiful settings to experience it. Red Rocks, Telluride, Mishawaka, State Bridge and of course, Denver Botanic Gardens. The amphitheatre within the Botanic Gardens is like a bowl of grassy goodness surrounding the stage and, as Denverites spread blankets on the grass and brie onto bread as bottles were uncorked, a cities resident’s smiled together. The storm earlier in the day had concert goers fearing Colorado’s famed quickly changing weather, but not a drop fell from the time gates opened until the last note was played.

The calm of the surrounding Gardens, the breeze and the colors of the Colorado sky all mixed with sounds that had their own historical value. The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Elephant Revival co-headlined the night, with Nederland based Elephant Revival providing the soundtrack to the darker hours. Elephant Revival’s performance at Denver Botanic Gardens was a special moment for the band, while the Carolina Chocolate drops held a dark yet important and spirited history up to our faces.

Carolina Chocolate Drops: Rooted in the tobacco, sweat and history infused soil of Durham, North Carolina, Carolina Chocolate Drops are as much ambassadors of American folklore and history as they are a band. A traveling history lesson set to music. As the Carolina Chocolate Drops performed traditional “negro” string and jug band tunes, they explained their origins. They talked about the blackface era of entertainment and the fact that the banjo was originally an instrument played by slaves before being adopted by hill dwelling white folk. The music most of us associate with the Appalachian mountains, or the hills of Kentucky, originated from the developments made on the banjo by African Americans.

The amount of historical information coming from the stage was vast, but fit in amongst songs like “Old Corn Liquor” and the traditional version of “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad,” a song The Grateful Dead and Robert Hunter reinterpreted, but did not fully create on their own. Songs from other lands were brought to the stage as well, and powerful statements of independence like “No Man’s Mamma” were thrown from it. Everything that happened on stage seemed like it was coming from another time. The only sign it was 2013 was a band members use of the term “my bad” on stage. Besides that, it was a flurry of enthralling authenticity and a mirror into a past no one needs to hide from.

Elephant Revival: Since their debut self-titled release in 2008, Elephant Revival has been enchanting audiences with their Transcendental Folk and honeysuckle sweet demeanor. What started of as a little band hidden in the hills of Nederland has now grown into a band with national reach. Carolina Chocolate Drops hold a well deserved Grammy, but Elephant Revival held Denver Botanic Gardens in the palm of their outstretched hand. The assumption could be made that a majority of the crowd came to see Carolina Chocolate Drops, considering their Grammy win, but based on the enthusiasm of the audience, I would say that every Carolina Chocolate Drops fan was turned into an Elephant Revival fan, and vice versa. Whomever the main draw was, both bands pulled the audience in and it was a milestone moment for hometown Elephant Revival. We at Listen Up Denver! have loved watching this band blossom and watching them under the twilight skies while their angelic voices floated above the gardens was a special moment for us. This band is soaring high off the mountain and it don’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows once this band takes flight. Bridget Law’s humble expression of gratitude for being on that stage, as a woman born and raised in Denver, teared more than a few eyes. Elephant Revival will melt the coldest heart and have them dancing barefoot staring back at the sky.

The three albums Elephant Revival has released are a strong body of work, and the band seems to have just really gotten into their groove. Readers will happy to know a new album is on the way. Songs from their first album, like “Ring Around The Moon,” have had time to gently absorb into the souls of fans but for a first time listener, like some in the audience, Elephant Revival is a powerful smack of originality and grace. At least based on the facial expressions under the moonlight. The metaphysical “Cosmic Pulse” beat through everyone and the vocals of the hauntingly beautiful “Raven Song” lingered in the night air. Elephant Revival represents the essence of Colorado. Their strings, their dress, their spiritually leaning lyrics and their smiles all take part in presenting the joy that comes from living in the shadows of the Rockies.

Energy: A
Musicianship: A
Sound: B+
Stage Presence: A-
Set/Light Show: B

Overall: A-

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Who Is Brian Turk

Brian Turk grew up in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains, near Woodstock, NY. He comes from a family of music lovers, audiopliles, Dead Heads and avid concert goers.The musical magic that can only be created in the Catsklills, both past and present, is what Brian cosiders the epicenter of his music addiction. The music of The Band, and most recently The Levon Helm Band, is the soundtrack of home for him. Brian's mother took him to his first concert at 5years old...it was Johnny Cash and Roseanne Cash at Jones Beach Amphitheatre. For Brian, music is a family affair. He feels the same way about live music...we all convene to celebrate together. Brian's writing life started when he wrote his favorite author, southern fiction writer Clyde Edgerton, a fan letter at age 13. When most kids were idolizing baseball players and television, he was worshipping writers and musicians. The two became friends and Clyde shared his craft with Brian. The next year Brian attended Duke University's Young Writers Camp. This is the extent, of what Brian considers, his “formal” training in writing. From then on his goal was to capture snapshots of life through words. Brian has been involved with live music in various facets over the years, and combined with his enthusiasm and love for Denver's music scene, he creates a vivid description of what he sees and hears. If you see him out at a show, dancing with a notebook in hand, say hello.