Every year, more and more music manufactured on laptops, full of bleeps and bloops, consumes Red Rocks. The last night in September, however, the famed concert venue experienced something different. Crooning poet Gregory Alan Isakov offered a quiet look at the soul through music that matched the chilly blue night in its moodiness.
Isakov is no phony, and his earnestness is no ruse. Crafting music as thoughtful as his takes work. His lyrics aren’t just filled with feeling. They’re smart.
When he confessed to the Red Rocks crowd that he never imagined being able to play at the venue unless he was like Sting, he seemed to genuinely mean it. When he wondered how singing sad songs about space ever earned him a spot on that stage in front of 9,000 some fans, it was an honest question.
The answer is hopeful. Even in this noisy word, where music is becoming evermore standardized, people can still embrace subtlety, even poetry.
Colorado concerts have long been played in a cloud of pot smoke, but from where I sat there was just one whiff last night. Isakov’s fans, who only rose to their feet during a single song toward the end of the night, were there to bask in the glow of his voice and words that were at once grounded in the mundane and the ephemeral.
Patty Griffin, a classic yet under-appreciated singer-songwriter with a glorious voice, served as the perfect opener – though in a better world she would headline Red Rocks on her own. Her songs are born from the roots music of the United States: gospel, country, blues and folk. Her instrumentation is minimalist, and her voice carried her set. Some in the crowd yacked through much of her performance. But at times she captured even the chatterbugs.
Few talked during Isakov’s set. How could they? He’s so quiet the audience had to listen.
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Isakov used the show to promote his upcoming album, Evening Machines. His new songs don’t deviate much from his old ones. He has a style all his own that he has perfected. He writes complex tunes with occasional swells loaded with lyrics that are deeply personal yet open enough to allow listeners to explore their own musings.
He played popular songs like “Big Black Car” and “Dandelion Wine” from This Empty Northern Hemisphere and new numbers from Evening Machines like “Chemicals.” These songs chart a course between the earth and the heavens and the outer-space possibilities for which humans yearn. His words evoke lonely drives on a gravel road at three in the morning when hallucinations brought on by exhaustion come out to dance.
“We love you hard, Colorado,” Isakov said. And a certain type – those who aren't addicted to the kitchy, multi-sensory immersive experiences touted as the latest and greatest thing – love him hard, too.
There isn't a trace of rage or politics in his music. Isakov is a subtle artist giving something the world could use more of: a little quiet.