Exactly 365 days after Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats released their self-titled debut album, the band stands before a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater. They’ve just finished playing the final chords of their hit “S.O.B,” and the resulting fever pitch of adoration and roars of approval cascading down the tiered benches from fans appear to almost embarrass the musicians on stage.
“I never thought we’d be here with all of you,” a wide-eyed Rateliff had said earlier during the show, perhaps more to himself than anyone else.
But what was clear from the very beginning of the night was that this concert represented more than a sum of its parts: an album-release anniversary, the band’s first time headlining Red Rocks, and an all-around terrific performance before a hometown crowd. It also was Denver’s chance to thank and celebrate Rateliff and his band for its tremendous rise to success.
Within the last year, the local musicians have achieved a level of stardom that most artists only dream of, including three nationally televised performances on late-night talk shows and an NPR Tiny Desk concert. Indeed, the band’s foot-stomping brand of bluesy, hard-edged soul appears to have tingled a nerve; tour dates and fans continue to proliferate around the world as the Colorado musicians relentlessly make the rounds.
But while it certainly appears that Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats have arrived in the big leagues, they have also not forgotten where they come from. And it is perhaps their steadfast representation of Denver, as well as their hardworking philosophy, that has brought such pride to the Mile High City. After all, these guys didn’t just come out of nowhere; Rateliff and his right-hand collaborator Joseph Pope have been honing their songwriting and showmanship for more than a decade since the two moved to Denver from Missouri.
Back then, Red Rocks was merely an aspiration. Before Sunday’s show, Rateliff told Westword that he had always wanted to headline a show at the amphitheater. “It [now] feels like everything’s gone full circle from where we started,” he said, adding that Sunday’s show would mark the band’s “triumphant return” after nearly nonstop touring for more than a year.
And triumphant it was.
Rateliff and crew even had some surprises in store as first-time Red Rocks headliners, including a number of guest-musician cameos. In one particularly tender moment, local singer-songwriter Julie Davis joined Rateliff on stage to sing heartfelt and stripped-down renditions of his solo songs “Early Spring Till” and “You Should’ve Seen the Other Guy.”
The Night Sweats were also joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the legendary New Orleans jazz collective that’s been playing music out of the French Quarter since the early 1960s. Adding additional brass punch to the already terrific Night Sweats horn section, the New Orleans musicians assisted the Night Sweats in pulling off a dramatic entrance into the amphitheater by playing a muddy and bluesy funeral march. The group also returned at the very end of the concert for a rousing cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party,” which was a perfect way to cap off the evening.
"Having a Party" is ultimately what Sunday's performance felt like — not just for those dancing and clapping in the audience, but in celebration of Denver's hometown heroes.
To see the action yourself, head over to the website TourGigs, where Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' August 21 performance was live-streamed and will be available for viewing for the next thirty days.