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Keb Mo at etown. (photos by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

This summer’s line-up features something for everyone

By Dave Kirby

Under glowering skies, we had secured our seats and made ourselves that special kind of Red Rocks comfortable—perched precisely over our seat numbers, careful not to side-knee our neighbors, finding level spots to balance our drinks.

photo by shutterstock

We kept our rain jackets on, though. It was mid-May last year, the weather had been volatile the prior few days, and the rain-or-shine bill was Steely Dan and the crown prince of British rock, Steve Winwood. Standing in line some time before, we chatted with an astonishing number of out-of-staters, most of whom had never been to a Red Rocks show. This was an older crowd, a gray-goateed 50-something diaspora, some with teenage kids in tow, who were taking in that unique ambience of a live show at Red Rocks with some Colorado touring. The couple next to us had driven in from Minnesota, beaming at the prospect of a good show and ’70s-era icons.

As Steve Winwood was wrapping up a gentle rendition of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a stagehand came out to announce that, due to approaching “severe weather,” the facility was asking everyone to—I’m not kidding—return to their vehicles. Not happy news for the pikers who had parked in the lower-lower lot. Quizzical glances, then some rain started to fall. More rain. Heavier. Heavier still.

A vintage Red Rocks performance. (photo by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

Grabbing their belongings, the crowd was making its way toward the aisles when suddenly theoi meteoroi (the Greek gods of weather), unleashed a hailstorm of such apocalyptic ferocity that it knocked Rockies caps off heads, tattooed welts on open-sandaled feet, and stripped branches off the pine trees by the vendor stations. By the time it was over, there was 8 inches of hail on the ground.

The show went on. By halfway through Steely Dan’s set, the stars had come out, and a half-moon grinned with gentle reassurance. Our neighbors from Minnesota were still there. “It’s all part of the experience, isn’t it?” she said.

It certainly is.

Performances to Watch For

The folks at Planet Bluegrass, in Lyons, know a little about staring down the weather. The 500-year flood that roared down the Big Thompson and St. Vrain rivers in September 2013 had all but wiped the ranch off the map, but the 45th Annual RockyGrass Festival, scheduled for July 28-30, continues the enduring legacy of Colorado’s string-music eminence. Watch for Hot Rize alum Tim O’Brien and his band on Friday, Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer teaming up with Nashville singer/spoken word artist Odessa Settles on Saturday, and Del McCoury closing the festivities on Sunday.

Planet Bluegrass also hosts the Folks Festival Aug. 18-20, featuring renowned songwriter Peter Himmelman, the roots franchise Revivalists, and outstanding locally based songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov. As always, there will also be more intimate performances at the Pavilion, which was rebuilt after the flood.

NedFest returns Aug. 25-27—that funky, low-impact block party of an arts, gastro and musical festival staged yearly up in Nederland. String Cheese keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth is a semi-regular at NedFest, and he’s coming with his band this year. Oteil Burbridge, the utility-infielder bassist to innumerable jam and jazz bands, celebrates his birthday as well on the Friday bill. Expect the unexpected, and watch for more acts to be named soon. Don’t forget to leave your dog at home.

Ani Difranco (photos by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

Sustainability isn’t just a good idea, it’s the Prime Directive for the Technicolor group-hug Arise Festival, now in its fifth year up at the Sunrise Ranch outside Loveland from Aug. 4-6. Craft vendors and artisans from all over the West converge with people-watchers and festival regulars in one of the most celebrated gatherings in the region. The top of the bill this year includes the original Righteous Babe Ani DiFranco, the Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere, and former Yonder Mountain mandolinist/disrupter Jeff Austin and his band. Electronica, folk, hip-hop, string music and rock all contoured into an elegant yoga pose of limber-limbed euphoria, Arise is a family-friendly, all-smiles, consciousness-tickling convergence of goodness and fun. Bring your camera.

Closer to home, Boulder’s own street-concert series, Bands on the Bricks, marks its 20th anniversary this summer. The legendary Hazel Miller will be performing (watch for dates), and the indefatigable Chris Daniels makes a special appearance with his band to mark the 40th anniversary of the Pearl Street Mall. Keep an eye out for the weekly Wednesday lineup.

Jack DeJohnette (photos by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

When the Colorado Chautauqua Society opened its doors on July 4, 1898, a brochure proclaimed it “by all odds the most comprehensive intellectual retreat ever presented west of the Mississippi River.” The Chautauqua Summer Series has long been one of the prize jewels of Boulder’s arts and music scene, and this season’s roster continues the tradition of outstanding music.

Larry Grenadier (photos by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

Boulder’s own Hot Rize, recently reformed but still headed by Nick Forster, Pete Wernick and Tim O’Brien, rattles the auditorium timbers on June 1, followed by Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal on June 2. Five-time Grammy winner Mary Chapin Carpenter performs on July 24. Look for the indomitable Lucinda Williams on July 31, the Gipsy Kings on Aug. 29, and the rare and essential teaming of jazz greats Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Scofield and John Medeski on June 11.

Reese Wynans and Joe Bonamassa (photos by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

And as for Red Rocks—well, first off, it won’t rain. Some of our favorites on the bill this year include the simpatico pairing of Railroad Earth and the immortal Leftover Salmon July 14, the barrelhouse swagger of Tedeschi Trucks Band on July 29, and the outstanding Portland-based producer Emancipator and his Ensemble on Aug. 27. Blues-guitar monster Joe Bonamassa reawakens the dinosaurs on Aug. 23, likely with his large-horn-sectioned band. Also look for Front Range–based funk icons Motet teaming up with Jurassic 5 on June 2, and Portugal The Man on June 18.

Peter Frampton (photos by www. commons.wikimedia.org)

The classic-rock set (still shaking hail out of their hoodies from last May) have plenty to choose from as well this season. Foreigner hauls it out on Sept. 4, Chicago and the Doobie Brothers play on June 13, Paul Simon pays a visit June 28, Carlos Santana tears it up on July 10, and Steve Miller and Peter Frampton play on July 31.

And don’t forget Big Gigantic’s annual RowdyTown sensory fest beaming bass-heavy and brightly lit signals to puzzled alien observers on Sept. 29-30.

And if it rains a little, hang in there. It’s all part of the experience, and the sun and stars will come out. They always do.


Dave Kirby has been writing about music for various publications since 1978. He and his wife live in Boulder with their two dogs.