Taking a macroscopic perspective to the live music experience, one evident fact rings true: it seems to be going on every day of the year. Although many plan for days, weeks, and months in advance to make it to the special event that has caught their attention, sometimes the last minute, improvised outing proves to contain a great reward and surprise.
On December 31st, I stood outside of The Mission Ballroom waiting to get inside for the annual String Cheese Incident festivities and as I waited for the doors to open, I thought of those who had helped pave the way in the last 365 days in my continued pursuit of photographically capturing the live moment. As I remembered the bands, the publicists, the road managers, I texted everyone that came across my mind and wished them well on this special night and thanked them for their part in making my life what it is.
As I reflected on the fact that we don’t get through this life alone, I recalled a special night at Ophelia’s this past spring where I had the opportunity to cover Jillian and Bill Nershi. The evening turned into a family affair as their daughter Lauren sat in, covering for Billy who had lost his voice. As I recapped the Elvis glasses, the toasting from the stage, the look of love displayed from parents to progeny in the shared moment, I reflected on how the opportunity had come to be. I remembered requesting the photo pass and then being told to reach out to Billy’s road manager Ross for the green light. I recall firing up the old text machine and quickly got the response in the affirmative that I could cover the show. Although I love shooting the big stages, often what gets me going after decades of chasing this dream is capturing the intimate venues where I am the only photographer and the feeling of work stress is replaced with familiarity and freedom. Arriving early to the downtown speakeasy, I shot a text the road manager, inquiring about a group photo and a few minutes later Ross responds stating that the band is passing but are looking forward to the show and the moments captured. At this point I ask Ross for his email so that I can send some images over for the good Nershi people afterwards to use and a couple minutes later my phone dings. I look down to see that the email address is for a name I clearly recognize and I get excited because this guy is a stellar player who has shared the sonic energy with some of the best and brightest: Ross James.
Reliving that evening on a mind reel standing outside The Mission, I promptly sent a message to Mr. James, wishing him a happy new year and thanking him for his kindness. A few minutes later, the buzz of my pocket prompted investigation and there was Ross wishing me in kind and inviting me out to cover his latest collaborative effort with Eric Krasno and Alex Koford in downtown Denver. Well, no one says no to an invite like that and without a second thought I typed out Sign Me Up!
Exiting The Mission, I made straight for my car, cameras still strapped to my chest, and drove a couple of miles to Knew Conscious, a members only lounge, bar, and music venue. As I hit the front door, I was relieved to hear only conversation, indicating that I hadn’t missed much. I was greeted by two gentlemen dressed in three-piece suits and wide smiles. I stated my business and explained that I should be on the list. Always expecting the bump in the road, I stood relieved when the concierge scrolled the list, found my name, wished me well, and pulled back the velvet curtain, pointing me towards the green room, granting me entrance into the inner sanctum of this new experience.
Still riding the high on The Cheese, I felt like I was glowing and made my way down front and passed the backstage guard with a smile and a handful of cameras. This gentleman only nodded and waved me through. Breaking through a second set of curtains, I run right into the trio I was about to photograph and it was apparent, their pre-set meeting. Not wanting to bother, I made eye contact with Ross, reminded him my name and intent, thanked him for the hook up, wished them all well, and quickly turned my happy ass around and staked out a place on the front row, giddy as a school kid.
It must be stated here that I had no idea what the theme of the collaboration was going to be. I literally was going off the invite text alone and the promise of the players. In times past, I have remarked that catching a one off or infrequent collaboration can sometimes be wrought with error, even in light of the best musicians so expectations weren’t high. That stated, I am a big fan of Ross’ playing and Krasno often takes the cake, and as far as Koford is concerned, I knew he was a notable player, but was one I had never had the opportunity to see. All this combined made me hopeful that what was about to happen would be tasty and well worth the effort. Plus, how often does one get to go from one event to another in two separate years in one evening?
With only a few minutes passing between my backstage moment and my current state on the front row, crouched in between the floor monitors, the trio took to the stage to a sparse but excited crowd. Krasno took a moment to thank everyone for coming out for a late-night set and hoped everyone enjoyed the rest of the evening. With that, the group jumped into Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free”. The three nailed it note for note and the soloing was energetic and electric. Kosford clamored with intent on the kit and the band sounded substantially well-rehearsed. As the Jimi tune hit the climax, out of nowhere Ross rained down thunder, launching into “Shakedown Street '' to the delight of the audience. With this one, the new year day dance party was on and in this tiny venue, we were all getting treated to an unexpected wonder. The Band of Gypsys’ “Them Change” came up next in the rotation and continued to melt faces. At this point, I had to pinch myself because this group seriously sounded oh so good and my inner child was doing cartwheels of joy getting to capture this potentially lost moment in time.
When Jimi turned Dead once again, I finally recognized the thread and thanked my lucky stars that I had reached out to the gracious Ross James. Segueing into “New Minglewood Blues”, the night rolled on. The crowd finally filled in and dancing room finally became standing room only as the band just added arrow after arrow to the setlist, transitioning from “Little Wing” to “Ramble On Rose” to “Voodoo Child”. The foxiest of “Foxy Lady(s)” led to a firestorm of amazement shifting into “Scarlet Begonias” then through “Fire” and “Third Stone From the Sun” before closing the run with Scarlet’s standard pairing “Fire On the Mountain”. Taking a breath and thanking the crowd again, the band introduced themselves and the name of this latest collaboration as Jimi’s Dead, an obviously appropriate title. “The Wind Cries Mary” shifted into an upbeat “They Love Each Other” and the band continued to show no signs of fatigue even though we were inching closer to the dawn. To close the set, and what a set it was, Krasno led the room through “Hey Joe” eventually throttling up into “Help On The Way”. Koford handled vocal duties on this one and the subsequent “Slipknot” that followed was well worth the price of admission alone. “Slipknot” finally gave way to “Manic Depression” and at its close, the band brought everyone in to sing along on “Franklin’s Tower”. Thanking Knew Conscious and the patrons who were willing to stay up all night, the band rewarded those left standing with a “Purple Haze / Turn on Your Lovelight” double encore that filled the room with energy and light from the inside out.
Walking past the curtain to the green room one last time, my face exhausted with joy, I turned to the three wise men and thanked them one by one for the new year gift given. Finally ready to rest, I made my way through the hall, out into the winter morning, and drove home, realizing that this night was only day one of the next 365, and that 2023 was already off to a great start.