About thirty minutes from the University of Colorado, up winding Boulder Canyon Road, sits the three-year-old Caribou Room, a 500-capacity state-of-the-art music venue in Nederland that hosts mostly local jam bands. The club also brings in groups friendly with that scene, such as the Rebirth Brass Band, bluegrass outfits and some ska acts. Colorado jam stalwarts the String Cheese Incident played a secret show at the Caribou, and some of the folks who run the place are connected to Leftover Salmon.
The Caribou Room has a warehouse feel, like a smaller version of Mezzanine in San Francisco, and a sustainability mission, with solar power providing 50 percent of its heat and 90 percent of its light, a goal of zero waste at shows, and a rear warehouse (holding top-shelf backline instruments and more) made from old shipping containers.
Musicians who’ve played the Caribou Room marvel at the world-class sound, the lighting, the sizable stage and the hardworking, talented sound engineers the venue hires. Still, many music lovers haven’t heard of the place. One wonders whether booking a wider selection of rock acts might attract a wider Colorado audience.
Wednesday, the deeply respected Joan Osborne — who made it big with “What if God Was One of Us” in 1995 and later attracted the jam-band crowd by touring with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead — played an intimate mid-week set at the Caribou Room, flanked by a keyboardist and guitarist.
Osborne is currently writing and recording a new record while promoting her 2017 album of Bob Dylan covers on the road. During her Caribou Room set, she sang strong, sweet and true on heartbreaking Dylan love songs such as “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Buckets of Rain”; her mesmerizing delivery was quite a contrast from what David Bowie famously called Dylan’s “voice like sand and glue” in his immortal “Song for Bob Dylan.”
Hearing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” for instance, from a woman's perspective was captivating and inspiring. Though Dylan is obviously one of the most important musical and literary figures in American history, his songs too often rely on female stereotypes — fragile princesses or empty vessels cloyed at and put on pedestals without being afforded what George R.R. Martin calls “the kiss of life.” To hear Osborne turn those tales around was stunning.
What’s more, on “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” a song suited for an old hippie town like Nederland, Osborne deftly carried the beat on a snare drum with brushes, and throughout the set she played the tambourine with extraordinary skill.
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Osborne and her band — Jack Petruzzelli on guitar and Keith Cotton on keyboards, both of whom repeatedly took tasteful, creative solos — brought some of the Dead’s psychedelic folk to more modern Dylan songs such as “Highwater.” They also excelled at something Dylan is certainly not famous for in concert: dynamics.
No matter the ridiculously high level of musicianship in the room Wednesday night, though, Osborne — who threw in some brand-new originals and, of course, her hit — brought the evening to a boil with a brilliant version of “Masters of War.”
The lines “Even Jesus would never forgive what you do” and “All the money you made will never buy back your soul” cut through the room, pre-empting an inspiring political diatribe by Osborne, who skillfully ended the rant on a positive note.
“These are some challenging times,” she told the crowd at the Caribou Room. “Music can help us keep connected to the joy of being alive.”