Concert Reviews

Gregory Alan Isakov Completely Mesmerized the Audience at Red Rocks

“Let’s put all these words away…”

“Let’s put all these words away…”

“Let’s put all these words away...”

With each repetition of the line, Gregory Alan Isakov’s singing became softer and softer, until finally the words were but a whisper, the last syllables fading without a trace into the windy and shimmering nighttime sky.

Unlike at many Red Rocks shows, the conclusion of Isakov’s encore was not met with an immediate eruption of cheers and whistling, but instead with what was perhaps the most magical moment of the evening, however brief: complete silence.

Awestruck, the audience was almost left blinking in confusion, like a spell had been lifted and only now did they realize it was all over. Cheers quickly replaced the silence. But what remained was a shared sense of having experienced something profound, as if witnessing the folk singer-songwriter’s first headlining performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater on Sunday night had bonded us together.

Indeed, having attended a fair number of Red Rocks shows, I’d never seen such a rapt audience; Gregory Alan Isakov’s hold over the crowd became apparent early on during his set. Following excellent opening performances by the Shook Twins (who later joined Isakov on stage) and Ani DiFranco (whose earthy voice and furious fingerpicking guitar work elicited enthusiastic foot-stomping), Isakov was hardly without company while crooning to the crowd.
Touring in support of his latest release, Gregory Alan Isakov With the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, he supplemented his own folk band with the nine-piece Ghost Orchestra, which includes some members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

As it turns out, the “Ghost Orchestra” was aptly named, adding a haunting quality to many of Isakov’s slower and more emotional songs like “Unwritable Girl” and “That Moon Song.” On other songs, like the newly released “Liars,” the orchestra’s string and brass textures provided extra punch, elevating the music, and the crowd along with it, to sweeping heights.

There certainly was no evidence of any disjuncture on stage, even though Isakov has said multiple times that playing with an orchestra can be a challenge; when Westword recently visited Isakov’s farm in Boulder and learned about his passion for heirloom seeds and his herd of long-haired Katahdin sheep (which he calls the “T-Swift Pack”), Isakov divulged to writer Edgar Kunz that during his first orchestral performances on tour, “I was just trying to keep my shit together.”

On Sunday night, however, it was hard to imagine Isakov without the lush orchestral accompaniment to his music, the arrangements for which were co-written by DeVotchKa’s Tom Hagerman, who was also present on the Red Rocks stage.

Other highlights included a brief appearance by local music virtuoso Julie Davis (of Bluebook), whose subtlety and poise always deepens the emotional core of the songs she’s performing.

“This is the best night ever,” Isakov remarked at one point between songs, surrounded on stage not only by friends and talented musicians, but also illuminated globes that created a dreamlike atmosphere.
When the reverie finally ended with Isakov’s last “Let’s put all these words away,” I found myself wondering: how had he mesmerized the audience so effectively? Even at orchestra performances I’ve attended at the amphitheater, I’d never seen crowd members so engrossed and respectful of each other and the performer. And certainly there weren’t the intoxicated shenanigans that characterize other types of Red Rocks shows. So was this audience just more mature for some reason? Or perhaps more prepared to give themselves over to the performer?

After some reflection, I don’t believe the crowd was really that atypical.

I think that Gregory Alan Isakov just gave us something that was truly special.