Lettuce is a funk band that formed when its members were at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1992, though most of the musicians are proud New Yorkers. However, when Lettuce drummer and hip-hop producer Adam Deitch moved to Denver about a year ago, his colleagues were keen to follow. Guitarist Adam Smirnoff arrived in October, and he couldn't be happier.
“I’m loving the good life,” Smirnoff says. “I moved specifically from Harlem to Denver. It’s quite a change. I’m really enjoying it. I got a dog. Everyone’s in search of the good life out here. The weather’s beautiful, the air’s incredible, the people are really friendly and nice. People talk about traffic here, but I guess they’re not from New York. Being a friend of mine for so long, Deitch was calling me all the time, being like, ‘Hey, man, you should move out here. You can get a dog again.’ I said I’d check it out. I came out and loved it, and that’s that. I toured for most of the year, so this past month has been the most significant time I’ve spent here.”
The bandmembers have been playing local gigs in small venues since arriving, at places like Cervantes' and with musicians like the members of the Motet. Lettuce is already part of the furniture, and this week, they'll headline Red Rocks for the third consecutive year.
“We played the Fillmore in the fall on tour, and I drove to that gig. That was my first local gig [as a Denverite],” Smirnoff says. “Red Rocks, though — it’s always an honor to play the greatest venue in the United States of America. There’s something spiritual about that place, [when] you’re in the audience watching a show, and especially when you’re on the stage playing a show, looking out on that view. There’s some really cool stuff — like there are times when the moon is directly in between the two big red rocks.”
And it’s not only Red Rocks and our other great venues that attracted Smirnoff and Lettuce to Denver. “Denver has some of the best music listeners in the world,” Smirnoff says. “I have rarely met more appreciative and knowledgeable fans of music in general. It seems like it’s a part of the thriving culture here. There are more and more musicians moving here daily. Friends that I speak to in other cities are really contemplating coming here because of how wonderful this place is.”
It’s been two and a half decades since the band started and played house parties at college, but the evolution over those years has been dramatic, especially over the past four years.
“I consider the growth in the past four years to be extremely significant when compared to all the other years before that,” Smirnoff says. “When a lot of us were at Berklee, a lot of our dreams were to play with some big-name people, and a lot of us went out and did that, including Deitch, who played with Wyclef Jean, John Scofield and the Average White Band. Myself, who toured with Robert Randolph for years and did the Lady Gaga gig – I think we all had these ideas that that was gonna be our life. It turns out that this is actually our path, what we were chosen for and what we were meant for. I think we all really feel that spiritually together, and now we’re trying to reach for the sky.”
Lettuce put out the Mt. Crushmore album at the end of 2016, a sister record to 2015’s Crush, as it contains songs from the same sessions. It’s more of Crush. It’s a testament to the rich vein of form that the musicians are in right now that they didn’t want to trash the studio leftovers.
“A lot of us felt the need to release that stuff, and we’ve been playing a lot of it live,” Smirnoff says. “Some of our fans had asked where they could hear that stuff, so the reaction has been really great. Especially in Japan, which is the trip that we recently got back from. I got to go to Tower Records and actually see the pictures of us and the promotion for the record out there, which was really, really cool.”
Crush was also the first record that Lettuce released on its own Lettuce Records label, something that Smirnoff puts down to the ever-changing nature of the industry.
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“It’s a lot more in the artists' hands, if the artists can manage all the intricacies of financially putting it out and promoting it,” he says. “It just seems like Lettuce has its own fan base that’s going to get the records. I don’t know how much a label would really help us with that at this point. So we’re trying to do band-to-fans directly. Cut out the middle man, which was really Frank Zappa’s concept initially.”
These are musicians who like to be in control of their own destiny, and why not? They’ve been doing this band thing on their own terms up to this point, and they’re doing just fine. We get to witness it at Red Rocks yet again, and it’s bound to be a special show, with guests such as John Scofield and Ghostface Killah joining the party.
“Look for some collaborations, and look for us flying by the seat of our pants at times,” Smirnoff says. “It should be a fun trip, man.”
Lettuce, with special guests Ghostface Killah, George Porter Jr., John Scofield, Marcus King and Cyril Neville, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13, Red Rocks, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison, 720-865-2494.