Photos: Higher Ground Music Festival, 8/25/12

Nestled between abandoned mines, a cemetery and a towering nosebleed-worthy hill overlooking Central City, the inaugural Higher Ground Music Festival could have hardly taken place in a more atypical locale. But with forty-ish Colorado bands playing to a mostly local crowd of campers and Denver daytrippers, the fans here were likely used to hearing rock music al fresco. We are home to Red Rocks, after all. Continue reading to see the highlights from Higher Ground through the polished lens of Eric Gruneisen.

BEST SCENE OF THE DAY: Despite the choice local lineup and the fact that Higher Ground's organizers pretty much executed everything perfectly -- from the mix of vendors (how can you go wrong with beer, sweet tea-flavored vodka and barbecue) to the logistics, the staging and abundance of port-o-potties to the inexpensive admission (tickets started at just $20) -- the turnout wasn't quite as big as expected.

Meanwhile, a sweet little Nubian goat ambled through the audience. One Badger Farms, based near Longmont, rents out their livestock for parties (and, oddly enough, rock concerts, too); they brought along a llama and pig, as well. With farm critters meandering amid bare chested guys, heavily tattooed rockers and hippie girls -- plus the campers' tents sitting next to a neglected old graveyard overlooking the venue -- the scene was reminiscent of a Tom Robbins novel.

BEST BANTER OF THE DAY: RED STiNGER frontman Tim Stinger got all huckstery during his band's set, shouting into the mike, "ARE YOU READY TO FUCKIN' RAAAWWWWK?" RED STiNGER was in the 6:15 to 7 p.m. time slot, and as the evening air got cooler, Stinger noted, "The sun's going down... It's time to get dark." Immediately after, the band launched into another round of nihilistic anthems.

BEST SETS OF THE DAY: The Hate performed one of the day's best sets. The Denver trio, which released its new album at the hi-dive this past June, blew through its songs quickly, cranking up the Marshall stacks and playing heartfelt, grimy punk songs.

And then there was Hearts in Space...Oh, the joy! Even before three random strangers mentioned how good this band was, I was hooked. This Denver group -- six skinny young guys, five of whom wore glasses, and one of whom's job was solely to play tambourine -- provided one of the most memorable local music experiences of recent memory.

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The band played transcendent, timeless pop, the sort of melodies that the Kinks were writing decades ago, and which hold up still today. The crowd, which up to this point had been sort of meandering between stages, vendors and livestock, gathered around for this set. If Colorado rock music has any great single hope, Hearts in Space is it.

Continue reading for tons more pictures from day two of Higher Ground.

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