Last year, Graham Nash announced an extensive 27-stop coast-to-coast tour that would bring the living legend all across the United States to deliver multi-generational songs for those looking for inspiration and insight from the renowned artist. Detailing a program that would see him visit intimate venues with seated audience experiences, fans everywhere were excited to have an opportunity to take in personal stories and hear the songs that have for many been a personal soundtrack. Making good on most of the promised tour, October 13th would be the day that the hopes of audiences in southern California, Arizona, and Colorado would be dashed, as a member of Nash’s touring party was stricken with COVID and the end of the tour would have to be rescheduled.
Being a man of veracity and an endless touring force, within a month of the cancellation, Nash not only announced another extensive tour for 2023, beginning in April and carrying on into July but to sweeten the deal even more, the unveiling of his latest studio creation Now. Of course, among those cities announced, those stops who had missed out at the end of 2022 were back on for the end of June.
As Colorado gets the lion's share of music from around the world, the Centennial State received four dates on the books, including Boulder, Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, and Breckenridge and this past Sunday, Washington’s in FoCo transformed from concert venue to living room experience and Graham Nash was at its center.
As expected, all those who had sold out the venue last fall held onto their tickets for this special night and although there were people out front working the line for an extra, nary one was to be found. The majority of the house was a seated affair with standing room populating only a few sections in the balcony area, the total for the warm and welcoming space: 400.
Presented on a Sunday, doors opened at six with a start time of seven, and the first set started right on time. Walking onto a stage framed in candles, lit in purple and amber hues, and under a warm welcome full of cheers and applause, Graham bore a gracious grin. Joined by former Crosby, Stills, and Nash keyboardist Todd Caldwell and longtime collaborator Shane Fontayne, the trio took a moment to connect with the room before getting to the music. Stepping to the microphone, Graham welcomed everyone in, “Good evening, Fort Collins. We have a lot of music for you tonight. I do have a slight cold but I am going to give it my absolute best.”
“Wasted On The Way” was the opening tune and sounded fresh and bright, Graham handling the rhythm while Fontayne put the accents to the familiar creation, Caldwell wrapping the moment in warmth while the three hit the harmonies with perfection.
Dedicating the next piece to ‘my oldest friend in the world’, Graham sent “Bus Stop” out to co-founder of The Hollies’ Allan Clarke, explaining that the two had started the band in December of 1962 and had shared a friendship since the age of six. Originally produced on The Hollies’ 1966 Bus Stop album and sung by Clarke, the audience applauded the choice emphatically, many crying out like they were experiencing “Beatlemania”. The sixties pop feel came off as genuine and didn’t feel rehashed or tired in the slightest.
Pausing for another injection and a bit of comedy, of errors, that is, Graham began to foreshadow the next tune: “1966, I think, I was still in The Hollies and uh….” Graham pauses for a moment as Fontayne stops Graham mid-sentence. Continuing on, “Oh you want to do that?”, responding to whatever Fontayne had updated the frontman on. Laughing, Graham continued, “I f&#ked up! I should read the list more carefully!”, generating a wave of laughter throughout the room.
Pausing for a moment of composure, Graham took to a serious tone, “I know it has kinda disappeared from the headlines, but the tragedy that is going on in Ukraine just keeps getting forgotten as the next tragedy of the school shooting comes up then the next tragedy after that. But there are still people dying as we speak in the Ukraine and for those people who have lost their lives, we are going to do these couple of songs.”
The two-part ode to the fallen began with the somber “Find the Cost of Freedom”. Originally written by Stephen Stills and released in 1970 as the B-side to the Kent State outrage piece “Ohio”, this one had the peace-loving people reflecting on the importance of keeping it positive and uniting against the darkness in the world for a better tomorrow. With vocals at the forefront supported by haunting guitar and droning organ swell, this choice was moving and showcased well-rehearsed singing and how, after eighty-one years, Graham still has the pipes to give it his all. Transitioning into “Military Madness”, Graham welcomed the audience to join in on the “No More War” chant at the end and even changed one of the lyrics to read I hope Putin discovers / what’s driving the people wild, unifying the crowd in recognition.
Pulling from CSNY’s Four Way Street album and originally penned by Graham, “Right Between The Eyes” was the next choice. Soft and lilting, Caldwell’s organ infusion was the delicate background to Fontayne’s subtle, well-placed notes. Graham out front on the singing and acoustic rhythm was nothing short of perfect.
Spotlighting his bandmates, Graham spoke:
I’d like to take a moment to introduce these two fantastic people that I am playing with. First of all, on my left, is a man who was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas. That’s right, that’s exactly where Buddy Holly came from. He just co-produced my new record that’s out. Please give a really warm round of applause to my friend, Todd Caldwell.
On my right, a man I have been making music with for about fifteen years now. I really love the way these two guys….They want the song to live. They’re not just waiting for their solos so that they can rock. I love that about both of these people. Shane used to play the lead guitar with Lone Justice. Great band, really. He played lead guitar with Sting. Also, a great band. And for a couple of years there, he played lead guitar with Bruce Springsteen. This is Shane Fontayne, everybody.
Following the crowd’s gratitude for the equality of talent, Graham presented the next track, “Here’s a little song from my new record about an argument. It’s not easy living with someone. I am sure you all know that. You have to compromise where you never thought you could. My wife Amy and I were arguing one day about something and I wrote this song for her. This one is called ‘Love of Mine’.” Sweet and serene, this piece captures yet again the sensibility that is at the heart of this impassioned wordsmith. From lyric to musicianship, Graham showed resoundingly that everything he exudes is deep and full of vitality, and adding harmonica to the mix, proved that his talent shines through on so many levels.
Pulling again from the new release, “Better Life” was described as an extension of “Teach Your Children” and co-written with George Merrill who was credited with many of Whitney Houston’s hits. Filled with the Hammond / Leslie effect and inspirational content, this one put the vocals right out front and spoke to making a better life and leaving it for the kids and the future. At its close, under much adoration from the audience, Graham stated with a smile, “Thank you very much. That’s a great response to a song you never heard”, resulting in chuckling from both sides of the stage.
Taking it back to the old school and pulling from Crosby Stills and Nash’s 1969 self-titled first album, “Marrakesh Express” took the room on a ride through the coastal countryside of Africa. Caldwell pumping vibrato keys and Fontayne with ethereal slide, the train’s fire glowed and lit the hearts and faces of its passengers.
Touching on the topic of David Crosby, Graham spoke about his dear friend:
When David died, it was insane for everyone of course, particularly for his wife Janet and his son Django. The truth is, and I know David would laugh at this, we expected him to go years ago. But he made it to 81, that’s fantastic. The world lost an incredible musician. I swear to God, I will remember him every single day for the rest of my life. Here is a song David and I did in 1971 in San Francisco. It is a choral piece that he wrote called ‘Critical Mass’ and it will be followed by my song for the great whales called ‘Wind on the Water’.
Originally, the two compositions fell under the main title “To The Last Whale” from the 1975 release from the Crosby and Nash collaboration titled Wind On The Water. With the close of the introduction, Crosby’s voice piped in over the PA of Washington’s and a moment of reverence swept over the seated, observant parishioners, hanging on every note of the angelic voice, clear and moving, from the great beyond and nary a word was spoken as we all reflected on Graham’s loss, our loss, and the loss to the musical world and the future. Where Crosby’s “Critical Mass” descended from the heavens, Graham’s “Wind On The Water'' moved in from the depths, echoing with whale calls and the moan of oceanic solitude, sparse yet connected, Graham breaching the tune on an upright piano, eyes closed for much of the movement, visibly touched at the moment to the connection between the experience and loss of his lifelong brother. The crowd equally moved and took to their feet to recognize the gift and memory of ‘The Croz’ at the end of the service.
Turning the page to his fellow countrymen, Graham thanked the crowd and started up The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”. This one had everyone singing along and had that special kind of weirdness that lovers of this time period of music truly appreciate, breathing celebration back into the room.
Closing out the first set, the trio broke out one of CSN’s most popular tunes ever, “Love The One You’re With”. With that familiar organ line with an attitude and the human connecting content, Graham encouraged everyone to sing along and everyone did with joy and enthusiasm. The tail end carried a great build-up that just continued to melt the heart and generate goosebumps throughout the crowd, sending everyone out into intermission with the desire to connect and glow with each other.
Set two started with Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and by the end of the heart-wrenching version, many eyes were wet with sweet tears. For anyone who knows the history of Graham and Joni, this rollercoaster relationship of two of the most creative people ever to be born has resulted in many, many inspiring pieces of music that swing the spectrum of love and tragedy and the torment and reward that is so ingrained in what it means to feel and to be alive. “Sleep Song” from Graham’s 1971 first solo venture Songs For Beginners, continued the Joni story and has been described as written about when the two finally parted romantic ways for the last time, connected forever, but no longer intertwined.
“Unequal Love” from CSN’s 1994 release After The Storm kept the emotional theme flowing and Graham’s proficiency on the harmonica showed that this instrument can be elegant and nurturing. The pronounced backup harmonies were once again out front with nowhere to hide, delivered to perfection as the three voices became one.
Introduced as co-written and produced with Fontayne on This Path Tonight, Graham’s 2016 album, “Golden Days”, filled with that retrospective perspective, detail the author’s early days of being a minion to the moment with bandmates and eventually shifting into the transitions of time, instances slipping away with speed while simultaneously creeping imperceivably towards the end. This one had Graham and Fontayne singing the lyrics as a duo and showed how much each brings out of the other. Stephen Stills’ “Four and Twenty” followed and kept this section of the set on the lighter side of things. Well executed, at its end, Graham stated humbly, “What a song.”
“Cathedral” was introduced as ‘probably the one song I can remember that I wrote on acid’. Graham continued, detailing his psychedelic adventure, including a stop at Stonehenge and Winchester Cathedral, the storyteller speaking of being overcome with strangeness, as he looked down in his enlightened state, finding himself standing on the grave of a soldier who had passed away on his birthdate in 1799 and realizing at the moment he had no idea who he was. Returning to the piano, Graham delivered the haunting tale, Fontayne accenting the ghostly vehicle, the two transitioning the tune from foggy grounds to being tossed about in discombobulation.
Returning into repose, set two concluded with the affection of the familiar, closing with the warm embrace of two Crosby, Stills, and Nash classics: “Just A Song Before I Go” and a great parting rendition of “Our House”. Before moving into the closer, Graham paused to reflect on his eternal muse once again, celebrating how great Joni’s health is doing and giving a shout-out to Brandi Carlisle for making the dream of Joni’s recent return to the stage a reality, a sentiment that the crowd was happy to oblige. After a rousing “Our House”, Graham, Fontayne, and Caldwell thanked the crowd and left the stage under an unending call for more.
Taking a few minutes for the crowd to declare their admiration, the trifecta of talent returned to the stage to deliver a double encore for the appreciative room. In recognition of Buddy Holly and redirecting everyone’s attention to the aforementioned origin of Todd Caldwell, part one of the encore was Holly’s “Everyday”, the three voices surrounding a single microphone centerstage, Fontayne on acoustic, the other two focused solely on the vocal component. Shutting it all down without a great final singalong, this evening’s choice was “Teach Your Children”. With everyone joining in from the first word, the band was geeking on the participation and the room felt as connected, the line between performer and listener, dissolved under the unifying anthem.
The evening was wonderfully curated and balanced, capturing the new alongside the well-known, all of it sounding natural and spirited. Certainly, an impressive characteristic was how full the performance sounded devoid of bass and drums, and in that simplicity, stripped down and bare, all of it translated as so much more defined and polished, making the experience more art than show. The Fontayne and Caldwell contribution was nothing short of equal to the caliber of Graham. These musicians are seasoned and playing from the inside out, reaching to create rather than react, and giving it their all in the moment.
Graham Nash has been making the magic happen longer than many have been alive and his presence on stage was one of health and vitality. His demeanor, recall, and skill illustrate an artist without boundaries who still has plenty in the tank. Handing out a new album, a book of photography, and a list of tour dates without end, it will be a long time before this man among men, a man on a mission of peace and love, hangs up his calling and succumbs to sufferings to the mortal coil.
As always, on behalf of myself and Grateful Web, I want to thank Washington’s and The Bohemian Foundation, specifically Kevin, Greta, Ruby, Chris, and Erin, for making me always feel welcome and for incessantly bringing great music to northern Colorado in a safe and comfortable space.