Photos by Tim Dwenger
The Scene: Last Saturday night at Red Rocks could have been the most perfect night on The Rocks all season. The beautiful late summer day gave way to evening that was just on the right side of chilly and while we got about 5 minutes of light drizzle, we were rewarded with an amazing lightning show out on the plains during Trombone Shorty’s set. From early in the evening the steps were filled with music fans of all ages. There were veteran rockers on hand to witness Grace Potter’s 70’s leaning Rock stylings; there were Mom’s and daughters pulled into the fold by Potter’s catchy hooks and obvious girl power; there were hipsters with an open ear for opener Lake Street Dive and their Jazzy brand of Folk-Pop; one thing was for sure, everyone knew this was a monster triple bill.
Lake Street Dive: At the stroke of 6:30, Lake Street Dive emerged and wasted no time diving into an incredible set of music that showcased lead singer Rachel Price’s powerful voice on tunes like the opener “Bobby Tanqueray” and the title track to their break-out album Bad Self Portraits. From the moment they stepped on-stage it was clear that all four members of the band were awed by the sheer majesty of Red Rocks and Price commented on how happy they were to be there more than once.
As Lake Street made their way through their 40 minute set it was clear that they were making new fans with each passing song. The Rocks were filling up and more and more people were getting up to dance alongside longtime fans who were singing along with every word. When their set came to an end more than 8,000 people were on their feet cheering in a full-on standing ovation that must have left the Brooklyn based band giddy with excitement! Can’t wait for their next appearance at Red Rocks!
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue: After brief break, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue came out firing on all cylinders. Blaring horns, pounding drums and screaming guitars got the darkening Rocks moving to an edgy New Orleans sound that is nothing if not infectious. Only two songs into the set something happened that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen at Red Rocks, the power went out . . . just for a second . . . but it put the PA and some of the stage sound out of commission for few minutes. Rather than stand around and wait for things to get moving again, Andrews and his two horn players drew on their Second Line experience and came out to the lip of the stage blowing for all they were worth. As I was on the rail shooting from just a few feet away, the show didn’t miss a beat for me, but I heard from friends up in row 20 that they couldn’t hear much more than the Trombone. That said, the audience showered their appreciation on the band and when the sound came back everyone returned to their stations and the raging, horn laced Funk-Rock assault resumed at full-steam-ahead.
As lightning danced out on the plains, Trombone Shorty kept up the pace and kept the audience dancing for this entire hour-long set. I personally get a little tired of his sound after a few tunes, so I climbed to the top of The Rocks to enjoy Mother Nature’s light show as the show raged on below.
Grace Potter & The Noctournals: The first time I ever saw Grace Potter was at Red Rocks, but she wasn’t on the mainstage, she was up on a temporary stage at the top of the Amphitheater before a Dave Matthews Band show. Given that as an introduction to this sultry songstress, it was quite a change when Grace Potter came dancing out of the backstage area and the nearly capacity crowd went crazy. I mean every aging rocker, mom, daughter, hipster and even some hippies lost their minds for this woman. Potter beamed up at the rocks, flirtatiously caught some eyes in the first few rows, and then got to work wowing the crowd with her hit “Medicine.” By the time the first song was over there was no doubt that Potter has the medicine that everyone wants and she went on to prove it time and time again as the night went on.
Her diverse, two hour set, veered from Country influenced rock sing-alongs like “Here’s To The Meantime” to dark and spacey psychedelic jams like that swirled around her Hammond B-3 swells as Potter proved that The Noctournals were up for just about anything and deftly moved from Organ to Flying V to acoustic guitar. The whole show was an impressive statement that she does in fact belong headlining the famed venue in Morrison (something I admit I doubted before this show) but a highlight of the show came when the unmistakable bass line of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” echoed off the rocks. Potter’s treatment of this song is nothing short of magical and there’s no doubt that Grace Slick would be proud.
The band wrapped up their main set with “Stop The Bus” but chose to forgo the traditional “disappear backstage for 5 minutes ‘encore break'” in favor of serving up an extra-long encore for the rabid crowd. Bookended by a pair of covers in The Stones’ “Wild Horses” (which featured Rachael Price singing with Potter) and Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher,” the band led the crowd through a sing-along on “Paris (Ooh La La)” while also dropping the soaring “The Lion The Beast The Beat” alongside “Nothing But The Water I” and “II.” It was an electrifying performance and one that convinced me that she had successfully made the transition from the tiny stage up-top to the mainstage at Red Rocks that she will surely grace many more times in the future.
Stage Presence: A+
Set/Light Show: B