Electric Dead Grass | Knew Conscious | 2/5/23

Article Contributed by Jake Cudek | Published on Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Following a great night of Phil and Friends at The Mission Ballroom Saturday night, the icing on the cake would be the afterparty taking place down the road at the exclusive social club Knew Conscious. Billed as Electric Dead Grass, this collaboration promised to bring together the powerhouse talent of the inexplicable force that is Ross James, banjo fury Andy Thorn, thundering cheshire Mark Levy, and Octo-handed deity channeler Garrett Sayers for a performance that blended exactly what the name intended. Now before we get to the sweet delight that would carry on into the wee hours of the morning, the unique and special dynamics of this venue must be addressed.

Ross James, Mark Levy and Andy Thorn | Denver, CO

According to their mission statement, Knew Conscious is defined as “a non-profit, membership-based music venue, art gallery and social club, for artists, by artists, supporting inspiration through collective creative expression”. Although similar ventures tout many of these same dynamics, the vibe going on inside these walls certainly lives up to this credo and is nothing short of alive, warm, and inviting, creating an environment where the inner world often reaches outer space.

Mark Levy | Knew Conscious

Housed in an unassuming single-story building at Lawrence and Broadway just north of Downtown Denver, this simple brick-and-mortar edifice opens up on the inside to the unexpected. Passing through the entryway, attendees are met by a host of professional and courteous concierges who genuinely seem to care about all who enter. Offering direction and a complimentary coat check, these Conscious guides are the beginning of the journey inward and appear more than content to help patrons on their way. When they are satisfied that they have addressed any need, visitors are then directed down a velvet lined hallway and enter the first of the venue’s two distinct rooms.

Ross James & Andy Thorn | Electric Dead Grass

The lounge, a rectangular space with interspersed couches and high-top tables, provides a relaxed place to socialize away from the performance portion of the club. Psychedelic art lines the walls and hardwood floors and exposed brick finish out the room. Capped with high ceilings, it feels as though there is more than enough breathing room, even when the place starts to fill up. At the opposite end from the entrance lies a pass through leading into the musical side of things. The decor here is much the same, with an open floor layout near the stage and more tables towards the back. A libations counter splits the room and its central location helps in serving both those who wish to envelop themselves in music and dance, while also considering those who would rather sit, converse, and take in the aural affair from afar.

Andy Thorn & Garrett Sayers | Knew Conscious

From a staff perspective, the hospitality demonstrated by the concierges that serve as the face of this locale continues on to the back of the house. From bartender to security, to manager and owner, each person employed is representing their best selves and loving every moment of what they are doing. Outwardly, anyone associated with KW carries a smile and is accessible, armed with an proactive outlook and desire to make this place the best it can be. All of these dynamics combined make Knew Conscious the premier place in Denver to catch magic and in the early hours of Sunday, those lucky enough to pass through its hallowed doors did just that.

Electric Dead Grass | Denver, CO

Leaving straight from The Mission Ballroom and arriving a little past midnight, Knew Conscious was sparsely populated, but it didn’t take long for the Phil Lesh and Billy Strings concert crowds to come rapping at the door. When the time finally came to get it all started, the band got it going with a rousing and unique rendition of “Rosalee McFall”. From the get-go, all players were on point, tight, and visibly happy to be playing to the crowd that was slowly building. Between Ross James’ vocal power of conviction and Andy Thorn’s sweet rolling melodies, the crowd was warmed from the inside out. Supporting, but certainly no afterthought in the least, Garrett Sayers presence was certainly felt from the start, laying out the low end and shaking the bones of those shaking their own. Driving the skins and stirring the soup, Mark Levy completed the recipe for this tasty delight and, by the look on his face, he was enjoying himself just as much as those out front.

Ross James | Electric Dead Grass | Knew Conscious

After a brief inquiry into the condition of the crowd, Andy stated that the next song “is about a pig” and with that the quartet got into “Pig in a Pen”. With Ross shredding and Andy chasing, this fun number reached some great heights and even provided Garrett an opportunity for a quick bass solo that was far from being short on notes and packed enough that at the close of the tune, both Ross and Andy simultaneously gave a shout out to the bass extraordinaire, which received a reciprocal recognition from the audience.

Billy Failing and Andy Thorn | Knew Conscious

Andy continued, “If any of our picker’s friends are out there, they can come up whenever they feel like it really. Let’s get some of our buddies up here. We don’t want to keep them up too late so we are going to get right at it.” On cue, a dark figure entered from backstage and with that Andy welcomed, “Billy Failing on the banjo!” A moment later, a second guest appeared, this time fiddler shredder and cosmonaut Alex Hargreaves took his post with violin to chin and nodded to the others that he was ready to go. These guests lit the room on fire and everyone in the know Knew that this evening was going to be one of those special ones that live in the ethos of the music community as myth and legend.

Alex Hargreaves | Denver, CO

Electric Dead Grass | Denver, CO

“Jack-a-roe” was the tune of choice to bring the guests into the fold and being the gentlemen they are, the host gave over the first solos to Alex and Billy, respectively. Ross handled vocals for this one and for the first half, the traditional number stayed within its usual context, but somewhere at its midpoint, about five minutes in, the group loosened and gave itself over to the jam, filling the space with a mixture of space, time, and the echo of the abstract. Now with a slower rhythm, Ross turned the team back to the vocals and sang another stanza at the pared down cadence. As he drifted through line after line, singing with intention, he finally reached the end of the section and drove down four heavy notes like nails and brought the pace back up to its original time, allowing for one more ecstatic jam before the final set of lyrics and the big finish left many in the crowd laughing with delight and merriment.

Billy Failing | Knew Conscious

Electric Dead Grass | Knew Conscious

With a band full of smiles and raised eyebrows, Andy kept the energy flowing and led the room through a great rendition of “Catfish John”. Billy Failing got first dibs on the solo and nary a hip was still throughout his southerly jaunt. Andy jumped in next on the electric banjo and threw in some weird for good measure, the two kindred spirits smiling and laughing in unity. Ross jumped in next and rocked the house with some great distortion before giving it over to Alex who brought it back to the traditional with some great sawing. Garrett got yet another opportunity to lay out an extended and tasty solo that had both hands and all fingers moving like spiders up and down the fretboard, making it look oh so easy. At the end, Andy stated, “That was f*#king perfect! Give it up for Billy and Alex here. Thank you for staying up late”, sentiments the crowd outwardly supported.

Billy Failing, Mark Levy and Andy Thorn

Electric Dead Grass with special guests Billy Failing and Alex Hargreaves

Ross James | Knew Conscious

“Althea” got going with an intro that was hinted at “Jack Straw” and showcased Alex leading the way, his fiddle sounding more horn than string. Ross again handled vocal duties and took the first solo, employing a watery effect, the dual banjos supporting the meandering river of plenitude. Getting another chance at the spotlight, Alex hit an extended outing, full of bright fills and climbs that warmed listeners from the inside out. The conclusion centered on Andy and Billy going at each other, reaching dizzying heights and finally shutting it down with a belly full of cheer.

Billy Failing, Andy Thorn, & Alex Hargreaves

With Billy and Alex finally leaving the stage at half past one in the morning, Andy recognized,” Give it up for Billy Failing on the banjo, Alex Hargreaves on the fiddle. These guys just did a three-night run and they are out here jamming with us!”

“Brown-Eyed Women” kept the feel-good times going and was warmly welcomed by a now very full room. Andy got going with an impressive solo in the middle and rolled out line after line, sending many into a dancing frenzy as the rest of the band smiled, laughed, and egged him on.

Ross James, Billy Strings and Andy Thorn

Billy Strings and Andy Thorn | Denver, CO

Finishing yet another hot take, Ross took over the microphone, “Well, we got another friend who is going to join us here” and with that none other than Billy Strings walked on stage. Smiling with that infectious smile he carries, he looked down on the front row, raised his eyebrows, turned to his band mates and got things going with “Big River”. With Ross singing and the whole of the group beaming, everyone knew that KW was the place to be. Strings got first take on the instrumental and looked more than happy to be playing on this tiny stage. Andy rounded things out next followed by a shredfest from Ross that had Billy visibly enjoying himself and loving every moment.

Billy Strings & Andy Thorn | Knew Conscious

Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo” was the next venture of choice with Andy handling the vocals. Andy offered up the first solo to Billy and that good ol’ boy delivered. Tender and full of emotion, Billy’s phrasing just opened the heart of the room. Andy’s banjo came in a strong second and kept the joy cup overflowing. Getting in on the action, Ross put to work the wah pedal and spiced things up. Billy back at the helm, added his own flavor with some flamenco-styled lines before laying into a flat-picking tear. Engaging some minor chords and setting the structure on tilt, Andy jumped into the oddity and Billy and Andy exchanged note for note, line for line simultaneously, trying to top each other and waiting to see who was going to blink first. When they finally broke, laughing at each other, the room erupted. Andy called on the bass and drums next to get some spotlight time before the whole of the group shut the fifteen-minute version down.

Electric Dead Grass with Billy Strings | Denver, CO

Billy Strings | Denver, Colorado - photos by Jake Cudek

Check out more photos from the show.


Electric Dead Grass with Billy Strings | Knew Conscious