Yonder, Railroad & The Stringdusters at Red Rocks 8.20.11
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Words & Photos By J-man
Red Rocks... Possibly the most beautiful and desired venue in all of America. It's a magical place, built on sacred ground. Its sound, panoramic views, and often elevated music makes it one of the United States' premier venues. On Saturday, August 20th, Red Rocks welcomed the bluegrass train. Three of the top string bands on the bluegrass/jam/festival scene made a pit stop to sell out our little amphitheater: Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth and The Infamous Stringdusters.
Amidst rumors of an additional 500 tickets being released, the lot was saturated with young faces looking for an extra. I have never been to a show with so many folks searching for tickets. The lot came alive around 3:00 PM. Easy-ups went up, coolers came out, and the party began. The scene at Red Rocks' lot is almost always surreal. As if it didn't already appear as if you were on another planet, all of the folks that turned out brought their A-game and costumes. There is no lot party in the country like Red Rocks' multiple lot parties.
Inside the venue, things were shaping up for showtime. The low parts of the Amphitheatre had filled in as Nicholas Stock and I took to the pit. Being the Summer Camp Counselor, Nicholas is a bit of a celebrity, getting stopped frequently for conversation or a quick picture with an adoring fan. We made it to the photo pit just minutes prior to the Infamous Stringdusters taking the stage. The energy was high and people were excited!
Infamous Stringdusters Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on August 20, 2011.
The Stringdusters came out smiling, looking up at the glorious view in front of them. It was interesting to meet banjo player/MusicMarauders contributor Chris Pandolfi under such circumstances, but as he set up his video camera and flip camera (on his banjo), he shouted "Hey Justin! How are you, man?" It caught me off guard as we had never met, but it certainly put a smile on my face.
The band began and the crowd, immediately loving the music, danced carelessly. We ran around in the pit like chickens with our heads cut off, but we and the other photographers were only able to occupy the pit for the first three songs. The music was incredible and it gave me goosebumps.
The Infamous Stringdusters' instrumentation is second to none. Their tight knit, bright sound created some of the most uplifting and genuine music that has ever graced my ears. Apparently I wasn't the only one who felt this way as the nearly half-filled crowd was going absolutely crazy. Not only did folks know their songs, but you could tell they had a substantial group of fans in attendance.
It was great to see a band of the caliber of the Stringdusters with each member performing at the same level. There was indeed no weak link and no missed notes. It was pure, complex and beautiful. I say with great confidence that their set was one of those "listen all of the way through" type of sets. I was completely blown away.
Infamous Stringdusters Opening Set: Fork In The Road, Black Rock, Get It While You Can, Ain't No Way Of Knowing, Hitchhiker, Walking On The Moon, It Don't Mean Nothing, How Far I'd Fall For You, In God's Country, Can't Put Out The Fire, Steam Powered Aereo Plane, Rain
It would be hard for any band to follow The Stringdusters, but Railroad Earth was up for the challenge. Now I know that Colorado folks love Railroad Earth, but I was truly impressed with the volume of their fanbase that night. They hit the stage to a massive roar, triggering smiles from the band as they gazed up at the crowd.
Railroad Earth Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on August 20, 2011.
The set started strong with a great rendition of "Smiling Like a Buddah." The stage was set and Railroad followed suit with bright instrumentation, sweet melodies and incredible vibes. Much like the Stringdusters, Railroad brought consistent playing. For the crowd, RRE was love at first site. Folks were twirling, blowing bubbles and dancing with friends. It was truly a beautiful occasion.
The band's chemistry and the depth of their jams really impressed me as did Todd Sheaffer's songwriting. Railroad Earth has done a great job of finding their identity and seperating themselves from the typical jam sound of the scene. It is apparent that the arrangement of their music and direction of their jams is handled intelligently and with care. At times their music was Celtic, at times bluegrassy, and at others took on a jam/rock persona.
Red Rocks was near capacity as the lights came on about halfway through RRE's set, adding to the experience. The music began to become spacey as fiddle player Tim Carbone took over and Red Rocks erupted in musical ecstasy. John Skehan (mandolin) and Andy Goessling (who plays just about everything) stepped into the forefront, passing around some massive solos. The jam became menacing before resolving itself. For that brief moment, RRE took me to space.
The set finished strong with a couple of favorites including "Bird in a House." I was impressed. Railroad Earth played one of the best sets that I had ever seen them play. It felt magical, it felt right, and it would be tough to follow.
Looking up from the photo pit at a sold out Red Rocks took my breath away. The energy was the highest that I had felt in a long time, and coming off of two killer sets by two great bands, it was Yonder Mountain String Band's turn to take the stage...
Yonder Mountain String Band Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on August 20, 2011.
With the entrance of Yonder came a massive roar from the crowd! I was excited to see what they would bring to the table. The set started a lot slower than I had anticipated it would. They started with a softer sounding "What The Night Brings", an odd choice for a Red Rocks set opener. The first thing that was clear to me right off the bat was that the level of musicianship was significantly lower than that of the evening's openers.
The set continued to kind of putz along and was littered with sloppy rhythm-based musicianship. The crowd seemed lost early on, but Yonder has a strong fanbase and their fans stuck with them. The music casually picked up in energy, but the solos varied little. I found myself bored with the simple, directionless jams.
Before set break, I found myself leaving Red Rocks unimpressed with what I had heard from Yonder. I had heard two sets of great music between The Infamous Stringdusters and Railroad Earth and to follow it up with two sets from a far less impressive band seemed a waste. In Yonder's defense, according to some friends who had remained, their second set picked up a bit. As well, the recording reflects the same, but it was not enough to keep me.
I had a blast that evening and the outcome, both in events and music, were about what I expected. I look forward to a similar event next year, but I hope they look into shuffling the order or the actual lineup itself.
J-man's Photo Gallery Part One From Red Rocks
J-man's Photo Gallery Part Two From Red Rocks