Ben Folds and the CSO Lead Another Unforgettable Night at Red Rocks

As settings go, this one's tough to beat.EXPAND
As settings go, this one's tough to beat.
Brandon Marshall

Most artists performing at Red Rocks comment on the elevation, but not Ben Folds. Instead, he grumbled over the weekend about the unusual humidity and how it made his hair horrible. “I need to go back down and get some oxygen on it,” he added with a grin, earning quite a few laughs from the audience.

Despite the exhaustive heat and the unfortunate state of his hair, Folds charmed the crowded amphitheater, as did Ingrid Michaelson, who went on before him. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra performed alongside both singers, adding a certain elegance and depth to the music.

Bringing a full orchestra to the stage definitely changes the feel of a concert. It seemed to sober things up, as the audience remained silent and seated for most of the show, with faces focused intently on Michaelson and then Folds.

“Can I say, ‘Holy crap’ in front of an orchestra?,” Michaelson wanted to know when she began her set; later she mused that her “angry, Avril Lavigne-esque song” would probably sound much classier with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra behind it. It certainly did. The orchestra, led by director Scott O’Neil, created an intense, dramatic backdrop for her voice. With Michaelson’s incredible vocal range and the sounds of the orchestra echoing together through the amphitheater, it’s no wonder the crowd sat silent and absorbed. When Michaelson and two others in her band sang the three-part-harmony song “The Chain” with the orchestra behind them, the audience was utterly hypnotized.

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When Folds’ turn came, he entertained the crowd with detailed stories behind his songs. He also responded to an audience member screaming for him to “rock this bitch!,” inventing a brand new song on the spot (something he does whenever he hears that phrase on stage). He composed a specific part for each section of the orchestra to go along with some lyrics about the audience and the venue that he made up with impressive speed. The harmony he composed for the orchestra somehow worked beautifully and his spontaneous song, titled “Rock This Bitch,” was a roaring success.

Folds sang the praises of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, putting together a speech in the middle of his performance to remind the audience of the importance of a good orchestra. “There are two kinds of cities in the world – one that has a symphony orchestra, and the other that is crap,” he declared. Despite the fact that sitting for the entirety of the concert made me jealous of a nearby couple who thought to bring along seat cushions, Denver should be proud to fall under the first category.

The importance of the orchestra at this performance was not lost on the crowd. There was something magical about sitting beneath the towering rocks, watching the sun melt over the horizon and hearing the sounds of the symphony drift over the scene. Michaelson and her band played beautifully, and Folds’s piano skills wowed the audience, but adding in the soaring orchestra brought their performances to another level.

I had never been to a concert at Red Rocks before, and I am sure that any other first-timer would agree that Sunday night was a fantastic first experience. In fact, after experiencing the beauty of the venue, the talent of the orchestra, and the impressive vocals of both Michaelson and Folds all at once, I worry that seeing a concert anywhere else besides Red Rocks will only be a letdown.


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