Mile High Music Festival set reviews: Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Amos Lee, The Samples, The Constellations

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, 1:30 p.m., Bison Tent

Blame it on the early hour, chalk it up to the inconvenient location of the Bison Tent on the far eastern end of the complex. Maybe it boils down to the fundamental feel of the open-air stage, a forum that doesn't exactly lend for immediate intimacy with the performers.

Whatever the culprit, I realize that some factor must be at play as I arrive at the Bison tent after traversing the length of the Dick's Sporting Goods complex for Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's set at 1:30.

The crowd seems scant, the audience seems reserved and the energy of the entire performance just feels a bit dampened.

The sense comes from my experiences at other shows. The group's had a good summer in terms of publicity and public exposure. The band's performamces at the Westword Music Showcase and the Post's Underground Music Festival featured capacity crowds, widespread dance sessions and a constant sense of movement.

As the band delivered their blend of syncopated beats and insistent vocals on tunes like "Ornament," however, the effect felt different. The tent was only a third full, and much of the audience was lazing on the lawn or sitting in portable chairs for the performance. At past shows, the appeal has always been in the contagious effect of singer Hayley Helmericks' energy, Kit Peltzel and Andrew Warner's dual drum lines and guitarist Doug Spencer's resonant guitar work.

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All of those elements were in full force here -- indeed, the airy stage allowed the beats to ring more resonantly and Hemericks' vocals to sound out more expansively. But the usual feel of a tribal dance session, of a collective and expansive experience shoved in the confines of a venue that's too small to fit its full force, was markedly absent.

It made the performance feel muted, and left me longing for SRRS shows I'd seen in cramped dive bars on South Broadway.

Amos Lee, 2:15 p.m., Elk Tent

Hearing a sultry soul soundtrack ring from a soccer field in the middle of the afternoon is downright bizarre.

Neither the setting nor the hour stopped Lee from delivering his brand of seductive soul, a sound pulled from 1970s giants like Barry White and Isaac Hayes. Lee had the backing of an expert ensemble, a group that sounded as if it could have been comfortable playing behind Marvin Gaye.

The effective was transportive. The harsh daylight and the outdoor environment seemed to melt away with Lee's silky strains. As he crooned about seduction, about hopping into the shower with his beloved, it seemed he was singing straight out of a velvet-lined lounge or, more appropriately, a bedroom outfitted with a PA system.

The effect was not lost on the passing crowd. The Elk Tent quickly reached its capacity, and the audience seemed to sing along collectively to a rendition of Boyz II Men's "If I Ever Fall In Love."

Lee finished his set with a move straight out of the playbook of the soul masters: the band laid down a closing theme and he sung a final tune, bidding farewell to the audience with a stirring amount of passion.

The theatricality of it all made the set seem larger than its immediate setting, and it left the packed tent crowing for more.

The Samples, 3 p.m., Wolf Stage

A performance from the Samples seems almost definitive for an outdoor music festival in Colorado.

The member of the Boulder ensemble are more than veterans of the local scene -- their commercial success helped carved a national niche for Colorado music, it helped define the sound and form of the local scene for decades. As much as local music has evolved and shifted since the Samples debuted in the late '80s, they still seem to claim an unshakable part of Colorado's musical legacy.

That being said, I found my attention wandering during their performance on one of the festival's main stages. As the group offered performances of songs like "Summertime" and "Waited Up," I spotted several audience members who looked as if they've been around for the band's entire career faithfully singing along. But the band's reggae-informed rhythms and Sean Kelly's plaintive vocals failed to make any deep impression or make me pause in my walk toward the eastern end of the park.

It's a soundtrack I've heard since I was 10 -- the group has always been in the background of my knowledge of local music. Their local legacy was on my mind as I crossed the lawn, and it made my uninspired reaction all the more notable.

The set played like background music, an element that isn't necessarily negative in the context of a music festival. Still, I heard too many echoes of '90s easy rock, too many echoes of Sting solo work and Bruce Hornsby to be genuinely impressed.

Mentally noting the important role the group played in the history of Colorado music, I moved past the packs of fans singing along and continued to the Bison Tent.

The Constellations, 3:15 p.m., Bison Tent

The Constellations have enough variety in their instrumentation to cover a wide array of sounds.

The Georgia-based octet includes a percussionist, a keyboard player, two backup singers, a bass, a guitar and Elijah Jones, an energetic and enthusiastic lead vocalist. The crew drew on their separate skills to offer a diverse set, one that included a cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and solid versions of original songs like "Felicia."

The success of the band's fusion of rock, funk and hip-hop was mixed. The songs sounded solid, the instrumentation was consistently driving, but the overall effect seemed a bit shallow. Jones' vocal approach seemed to growling and narrow to do justice to the David Bowie songs. His delivery on the group's original material offered interesting moments -- his performance of "Felicia" featured a nice mix of hip-hop velocity and pop-inspired pauses.

Nevertheless, the group didn't offer much on depth. The rock structures were familiar, and the lyrics didn't offer any stirring or profound moments. The songs of staying in a bar until sunrise, of really wanting to meet a girl were dross appropriate for a Southern rock group, but they didn't really make any long lasting impression.

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