Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mile High Music Festival

Multi-day music festivals have been popping up all over the country in recent years.  Bonnaroo and Coachella are the two biggies, while Lollapalooza has reconfigured itself from a touring festival to a huge weekend fest in Chicago's Grant Park.  Here in Colorado, we've seen a couple of big name fests establish themselves in the past couple of years (of course we've had the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for years, but that's another story).  The indie-oriented Monolith Festival will take over Red Rocks in September and this past weekend was the Mile High Music Festival at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.  I was there Saturday and here's my report.

I'll be honest, most of the acts on the bill aren't exactly my cup of tea.  Too mainstream and not enough innovation.  There were, however, a couple favorites of mine who did deliver (more on them below).  The festival grounds are set up on the practice soccer fields and lots just outside the stadium at the Dick's complex.  They cover a huge amount of ground, enough for two main stages at opposite ends, two tent stages holding a couple thousand, and another smaller outdoor stage.  Yes there was a lot of open space too.  Other than food vendors and a few crafts vendors there weren't any events or activities.  The music was the main thing happening, which is a good thing, but if there was a point where there were no bands you wanted to see playing, there was pretty much nothing to do.  The sun was beating down hard all day and there were several tents sent up for shelter and the exciting activity of sitting under a tent.

My friend Eric and I walked in mid-day, just as Lyrics Born was performing a spirited set of live band hip-hop on the Firstbank Stage.  He was definitely the most entertaining of the acts I wasn't that familiar with, but as it was seriously hot out there, we decided to move around some.  I heard bits and pieces of sets by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Incubus and Greyboy All-Stars.  I caught about a half-hour of G. Love and Special Sauce, mainly because they were playing in a tent.  As the hour of 7:00 began to approach we headed over to the Westword Tent for one of the bands I was actually looking forward to, The Black Keys.  The tent was packed all the way through and we were lucky to get a nice spot by the soundboard.  The duo of Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) churned out a fantastic hour-plus set of high-energy blues-rock.  The crowd was energetic and appreciative, while the band played with dynamic enthusiasm.  For just two guys they make a helluva racket.

Next it was time to find a spot on the grass in front of the massive West Main Stage for the evening's headliner, Tool.  At first glance, Tool might seem out of place on this lineup, with Incubus being the only other band approaching hard rock.  But Tool's appeal crosses many genre lines, attracting prog, jam and experimental fans as well.  Like Radiohead, they are a band that has achieved massive popularity while keeping their independent spirit and creative energy intact.  A Tool show is always a spectacle and they had their full compliment of lights, videos, backdrops and lasers.  Strong versions of "Stinkfist" and "Schism" came early in the set.  The highlight was when Patrick from The Black Keys joined in for an extended rendition of "Lateralus."  My one complaint is that they only played for about an hour and 15 minutes.  A festival headliner should play for at least two hours, in my opinion, and they were scheduled to play for about that time anyway.  Everything they did play was great, I just wish there were more of it.

After Tool, a good portion of the crowd headed towards the exits.  All that was left was Widespread Panic's late night set.  I'm sure all the 'Spreadheads had a blast but if you weren't a fan there was really no reason to stick around.  Over all, Mile High proved to be a fun, if hot, fest with a laid back atmosphere.  In the future, I'd like to see a little more diverse and adventurous lineup (The Pitchfork Music Festival was the same weekend, so many of the top indie bands were most likely there).  I don't think it will ever rival the big fests but will hopefully turn in to a strong tradition on the Denver music scene.

-- Adam R.

1 comment:

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