On a daunting overcast day at one of the nation’s most beautiful venues, nothing could put a cloud on the positivity that radiates from all angles of the band that calls themselves Elephant Revival. And in true form, they invited many friends as guests to play along with them on this evening at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The stage was ornate, and had evidence of aerial cloths and a drum circle formed in the top middle of the stage.
It was sunny when I arrived, and the first performer to take the stage was a male duet with guitars almost hiding behind many of the instruments. The crowd heard his cheerful voice welcome everyone, but at first, they were hard to see. Suddenly, they played one of the most beautiful renditions of the song most famously known as “Peggy-O” that I have ever heard. It was quiet, clear, and a perfect match for the afternoon as people filed into their seats. The song was originally called “The Bonnie Lass o’ Fyvie” and is a Scottish folk song about a broken romance between a soldier and a woman. The guitar player on this night was Steve Poltz, who is a singer/songwriter from Canada, and he is most famous for his song sung with Jewel entitled “You Were Meant for Me.” It was a great way to start the large amount of music we were to hear on this night.
Mandolin Orange was the first full set of the day, and I really enjoyed this set. They started off with a majestic acapella opening. Their gorgeous vocals resonated throughout the rocks in the canyon. Two members of this band stood out to me the most throughout the show, and then I found out that usually, it is just the two of them, but they brought out a full band. But mandolin player and singer Andrew Marlin says it best about their newest album Blindfaller, “We talked about the feel of each song and pointed out loosely who will be taking solos, but it was mostly a lot of fresh takes, a lot of eye contact, and a lot of nods and weird winks.” The “we” that he was referring to was him and multi-instrumentalist, Emily Frantz. This compatibility was evident on stage between these two. Their voices are enchanting, and their musical talent followed suit. Midway through their set they inspired us with “Wildfire.” It was about this time that their North Carolina roots became apparent. The pure, honest, still soul in Marlin’s voice is next level to me. This song is angelic.
The end of the set was comprised of a song that they described as a song written about the natural world and that there was no better place to play it in. It is called “Echo,” and this band knew how to appeal to a Colorado crowd. It is so refreshing when musicians connect to what is important. It makes their music so much more prevalent in a sea full of bands and musicians that are trying to make their way. The wind kicked up quite a bit towards the end of the set, and a few of the bluegrass tunes that they wanted to play were audibled at the line. But one of my favorites prevailed. It was the Stanley Brother’s “Long Journey Home” introduced to me by Phish. I have loved that song since 1996 when I first heard it live. It is these types of crossovers that keep music and songs alive and evolving through time. I thoroughly enjoyed Mandolin Orange.
During the band change over, the clouds became ominous and rolled in thick. Security guards started putting on ponchos, and as the sky grew darker, the rain started trickling down. This was when The Oh Hellos took the stage. First of all, there were very many of them, almost two for every instrument. On the other hand, they are another duo that plays with more musicians when they perform live. They are led by siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath. But this set was a little different than the first. It was aggressive, abrasive, and often disjointed. After having a few technical issues with the guitar, they seemed to get into their flow a little bit more, but what happened at the end kind of put a damper on the set. Most of the set was played in the pouring rain, but after their last song ended, the banjo player smashed his banjo on the stage several times even going towards the crowd while smashing pieces everywhere. I am not sure if it was out of anger and frustration or due to happiness in a Jimi Hendrix type fashion, but it did not seem to fit with the harmony of the day at all. After the rain and the awkward ending, the crowd was really excited to see the main event.
To brighten up the evening just as he initiated the excitement in the first place, Steve Poltz appeared one more time to sing a rally crying song about our despised president whose name I do not even like to mention. The name of the song is entitled “Hey God, I’ll Trade You Donald Trump for Leonard Cohen.” This song is funny, inspiring, and had us in stitches. The crowd was cheering and laughing abundantly. This song is a must listen. After this and a terrific Native American drum solo, which blessed and introduced Elephant Revival, the anxious audience was primed and ready.
The band entered the stage with such grace, confidence, and humble wisdom to their hometown crowd there to support their journey. Their performance on this night had it all. After a few flowing songs new and old, Elephant Revival welcomed the Mayflower Orchestra, which is a small section of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for a tune or two. From there, the players and audience surprised cello, washboard, djembe player and singer Bonnie Paine with our rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Bonnie and violinist Bridget Law looked wonderful as always, and they played even better. The two of them are captivating to watch. It was even more special to be able to watch a song or two with Bridget’s sweetheart, and producer of the ARISE Music Festival and guitarist, Tierro Lee. He was in awe of his lady, and praised her musical prowess while referencing her ability to figure out whatever song that she wants nearly on command. The two of them make the perfect couple, and Law was fierce and pitch perfect on the night.
When that was over, the lights and magic of the evening kicked up for a surprise with the Fractal Tribe performers. This group is comprised of aerialists, dancers, fire, and other musicians. They always enhance any performance that they work on. “Flight Patterns Weather” is about a flock of birds that rally and make a storm around a lost animal at sea. The earthy track inspires connectivity to the universe and the Great Sprit. It is humbling to hear this very purposeful music. Just then, they went into the title track off of their new album called “Pedals.” Here again, the listener is captivated by tones that resemble the four directions and the balance, which occurs so often in a natural setting.
There was yet another surprise in store for us. The band played a three minute video of their newest song. But surprises were not over yet. This transcendental folk band out of Nederland, CO played one of the greatest versions of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” that I have ever heard. It was dark, but light and the fellas stood out to me on this one. Darren Garvey (percussion), and all of the string players, Daniel Rodriguez, and Charlie and Dango Rose teamed up to add power to the set that they formed into a swirling natural world of inspiration. And to think that it was nearly a year ago that the band narrowly escaped a bus fire in South Carolina, which cost them many instruments and belongings. The heavens were looking out for them, as they were for this fortunate audience on this night. This show from top to bottom was a lovely experience that will be remembered for all that was in attendance.