COLORADO RISING at 1STBANK CENTER | 10/27/13 By the time Dave Matthews took the stage last night during the Colorado Rising flood relief benefit show at 1STBANK Center, it was tough to spot any empty seats. Matthews had the capacity crowd on its feet during his entire set, but even his obvious star power didn't overshadow the overwhelmingly intimate and local feel of the evening. This show was clearly a community affair made up of Colorado musicians, all coming together for a highly worthy cause benefiting the people of their home state.
The mission of the evening was clear. A roster of guest emcees that included Governor John Hickenlooper and AEG Live Rocky Mountain President Chuck Morris, who both spoke of the continuing cleanup and recovery efforts in the wake of last month's floods. It was also clear in the event's lineup, which included Nathaniel Rateliff, DeVotchKa, the Fray, members of the Lumineers and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, all of whom spoke to the importance of the fundraising efforts during their sets. And they all spoke of their connections to Colorado.
Isaac Slade of the Fray casually announced, "We're from like four minutes away," before launching into "You Found Me." (Fun fact: In the early days, the Fray used to rehearse in a barn at 104th and Wadsworth, roughly four minutes or so away from 1STBANK.) Wesley Schultz of the Lumineers, meanwhile, made mention of the band's early days playing at the Meadowlark, and Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters declared, "We're from Colorado. We're very proud to come from Colorado." Even Matthews, who was born and raised in South Africa, spoke of his ties to the local community. "I'm excited to see old friends," he said.
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Nathaniel Rateliff's set was the shortest of the night with only three tunes. That short suite was still plenty powerful, though, with songs like "Still Trying" setting a heartfelt tone for the evening. Before introducing the next act, KBCO's Bret Saunders found a way to pay tribute to a fallen musical legend and Colorado at the same time, noting how Lou Reed loved Boulder, adding that Reed had married Laurie Anderson here in Colorado.
DeVotchKa followed that segue from Saunders with a slightly longer set of five songs. Frontman Nick Urata led the band through stripped-down and dynamic versions of songs like "Queen of the Surface Streets," "All the Sand in All the Sea" and "The Enemy Guns." Lyrical stretches offered a direct and eerie connection to the cause of the evening. As Urata sang of "walking to the mouth of hell," it was easy to summon images of devastation that followed the flooding. The overall mood was jubilant, however, as the crowd began to pour in and the venue started filling up in earnest.
The Fray took the stage as a trio, with frontman Isaac Slade addressing the crowd like an old friend. After delivering a bare-bones version of "You Found Me" featuring an acoustic guitar, a kick drum and a tambourine, Slade announced the band would try out a new song. He called out for John Hickenlooper's son Teddy to come on stage to hold a note on the piano for the band's a capella performance. Versions of "How to Save a Life" and "Love Don't Die" followed in the band's four-song set.
Governor Hickenlooper came onstage on crutches, and spoke directly to the cause before introducing Dave Matthews. He talked about the community, resiliency and the need that still exists since the floods hit 46 days ago. "We're all connected tonight," Hickenlooper declared. "You guys are the greatest music fans in the greatest music state in the world."
Dave Matthews followed with one of the longest and simplest sets of the evening. Armed only with a series of six-string acoustics, Matthews played an eight-song set that included stirring versions of "Don't Drink the Water," "So Damn Lucky" and "Crush." Before launching into an energetic version of John Denver's "Take Me to Tomorrow," he joked about the tune's upbeat pace.
"Maybe he was having a lot of coffee that day," he guessed about Denver's inspiration for the song. That wasn't the only gag in Matthews's asides, as he riffed about Halloween costumes and bum chords. Still, his love for Colorado was clear in his tribute to the community: "There are a lot of people here tonight that we've been friends with for a long time," he noted.
Chuck Morris delivered the segue between Matthews's set and an eight-song performance by the Lumineers, and he again hammered the importance of community, insisting that it was no feat to find bands that would play the benefit for free. The Lumineers seemed more than happy to be at the charity event during their passionate set. The band played as a trio, with guitarist/vocalis Wesley Schultz, cellist Neyla Pekarek and drummer Jeremiah Fraites offering folksy versions of the band's biggest hits. The act kicked off with versions of "Flowers in Your Hair," "Classy Girls" and "Ho Hey."
Before launching into "Slow It Down," Schultz pointed to a stretch of lyrics that summed up the spirit of the fundraiser. The words about street toughs who "smashed in my car window" but "didn't touch the stereo" spoke to the resilience of the community. Schultz added, "You can't stop this music. I feel like this is about." That was clear enough during the band's performance of "Stubborn Love" -- Schultz broke a string at the beginning of the tune, but soldiered through the tune with vocal accompaniment from the crowd.
Big Head Todd's final set of the evening offered a bluesier feel than the first five acts, and Mohr's undeniable skill as a blues guitarist was on full display. Switching between electric and acoustic slide, Mohr wailed with a passion as he delivered lines about broken hearts and cold highways. The band also included tunes from its forthcoming release, Black Beehive, including the titular tribute to Amy Winehouse.
Big Head Todd's set also included some impressive cameos: Hazel Miller belted out passionate vocal accompaniment on "It's Alright" at the beginning of the performance, Leftover Salmon's Drew Emmitt played mandolin for the last songs of the evening, a suite of covers specifically focused on the mission and purpose of the evening.
The end run kicked off with a cover of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks," an extended blues jam fueled by Emmitt's speedy run. A cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia" featured lyrics about "wading through the waste stormy winter" and "scraping that shit off your shoes." It felt like a rallying cry, as did the final song of the night, a cover of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way."
As Mohr, Emmitt and the rest of the band powered through a high-volume version of the tune recorded in Nederland, the mood was determined. Those in the crowd who had stayed until the end screamed and sang along, yelling that the "Rocky Mountain way is better than the way we had." It was a mood of triumph that no flood could dampen.
Personal Bias: I was a bit disappointed that Rateliff's set was so short.
Random Note: Governor Hickenlooper introduced Dave Matthews, insisting that he'd offered to name a mountain after the South Africa-born songwriter. Matthews demurred, Hickenlooper said, suggesting he'd accept the namesake of a tree in Colorado. No plans for the Dave Matthews tree have been finalized.
By The Way: At one point, Hickenlooper also emerged to announce that the guys from One Republic had texted. Though they're currently on tour, they said they really would have liked to play the tribute show.
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