Dancin’ In The Streets: Red, White & True Blue

Quixote's True Blue
Denver, CO

Words, Photos & Video By Nicholas Stock

Tuesday July 3rd, 2012:

After three years in absentia, the Dancin’ In The Streets Music Festival made its triumphant return to Denver. It’s no secret that the high cost of putting on the inaugural festival, as well as the low turnout cost Jay dearly. It was the impetus for him to let go of Cervantes and the downsize to Sancho’s and Quixote’s. Over the past few years Quixote’s has become a hub of live music and is the home of the greatest patio in Denver. It is also the new home of the Dancin’ In The Streets. The entire scope of the event was more doable and smart. Closing off the 2100 block of Lawrence Street with a nicely equipped stage and an Oskar Blues beer truck bookending the block was the perfect setup. Vendors and Live Painters dotted the sidewalks and both the main stage and patio stage of Quixote’s acted as auxiliary performance spaces for the event. Quite simply it all worked and the masses turned out on both days to show their support.

I arrived, as WhiteWater Ramble was finishing up their opening set on the 3rd. I have to say that after Adam Galblum departed from the band I was left with reservations. However the inclusion of Ben Blechman on fiddle certainly impressed me. As a band they’ve always had it in them to be a powerful bluegrass experience, but honestly they have failed to rise to the top over recent years. Their show at Dancin’ In The Streets showed they are ready for a new chapter.

Up next was Grant Farm on the patio. Under the direction of Tyler Grant, Grant Farm has continued to wow audiences on the Front Range and beyond.

Grant Farm Live at Owsley Stage, Dancin' In The Streets on July 3, 2012.

One Set: Green Grant, I Come From The Country, (Ain't No) Nuthin' Gonna Stop This Train, High Country Ladies, Engineer (w/Andy Griffith Theme), Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun, The Hippie Guitar, Green Thumb, The Times Have Changed, ?, Tell Me, Tell Me, My Old Engine, San Ber'dino

Their attention to songwriting and detail while playing are the reason why they continue to shine. One of the Highlights from their set included “(Ain’t No) Nothing Gonna Stop This Train,” which is more of an affirmation about the band than a song title. There was also a group whistling of the Andy Griffith Theme Song in honor of the actor’s death that was a nice moment for everyone involved.

There was some overlap with Grant Farm and Melvin Seals and Jerry Garcia Band, but around 6:00 pm I headed out to the main stage. Melvin Seals is a monster on the keys but during the beginning of his set he felt a little more subdued in the mix. Even during “Johnny Too Bad” he just seemed very light, however during “Sugaree” he exploded on the organ. Dave Hebert on guitar had incredibly accurate tone and was an absolute pleasure to watch play. I was also surprised to see Jimmy Tebeau on bass, I’ve know Jimmy since my freshman year of college as a member of Dead cover band The Schwag. He drives the bus, and it was a great chance to get reconnected with him. The show also featured a massive Deal that was enough to get the crowd dancing in the streets.

Next on the docket was California’s Poor Man’s Whiskey. Famous for covering Pink Floyd with their down home version of Dark Side of The Moon, their original music is a classic blend of rock and bluegrass. Musically they are incredibly talented and the vocals of Josh Brough are tinted with a warm vibrancy that is truly inviting. They were a great touch and I caught them for a while before heading back to the Main Stage for Greensky Bluegrass.

Greensky is one of the premiere young bluegrass acts out there. Along the lines of Head For The Hills, these boys from Michigan bring the heat with every performance. A classic string band lineup with all of the bases covered their inclusion in the festival was a big draw for the crowd, which had swelled to around 1600 people by this point. Their show was a bit laid back, but they busted out some great tunes to keep the audience engaged. “Bottle Dry” and “Broke Mountain Breakdown” were a ton of fun. They ended their set with a bluegrass version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

During Greensky’s set I headed into the patio for a bit to see Todd Shaeffer and Friends. The Friends included Railroad Earth’s Andrew Altman on bass and Great American Taxi’s Chris Sheldon on a banjo drum contraption. This was a folk-infused experience that seemed like a toned down version of RRE. Todd is an impeccable guitarist and gentle vocalist, however this show just seemed very low key. The talent on the stage would seem to lend itself to some serious picking, but what we got was a very chill encounter. They played beautifully, but at this point in the evening I was searching for more energy.

That energy came in the form of Big Wu on the main stage inside. The Big Wu was a band that I first saw in 2000 and noticed enormous potential in their playing. They fell off the map for several years but recently they have been coming back to Colorado and playing really well. Their most recent addition of Mark Joseph on guitar has seemed to reinvigorate this band of twenty plus years. This is the band that opened the first Bonnaroo, so to see them back onstage was a personal highlight for me. They opened with a version of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” that felt like an extension of their sound check and also entirely appropriate.

The Big Wu Live at Dancin' In The Streets Festival - Quixote's Stage on July 3, 2012.

Set One: Could You Be Loved, House of Wu, Gimme A Raise, Oxygen> Midnight Rudy, Bloodhound, Save Our Ship> Time, Ophelia

This was a classic Big Wu experience with awesome versions of classic tunes “Gimme A Raise” and “Midnight Rudy.” All in all it was great to see them back at it and really sounding tight.

I hopped outside for a bit to see Conspirator, which is a side project of The Disco Biscuits featuring Mark Brownstein and Aaron Magner. From the first notes of their performance to the end almost two hours later they didn’t stop. They are an electronic dance party powerhouse and it was an interesting catch at this diverse festival.

The late night had arrived as the crowd moved indoors for Octopus Nebula and the main event, Cornmeal.

Octopus Nebula Live at Dancin' In The Streets Festival on July 3, 2012.

Set One: Octopied, Impermanence (Hol Baumann vs Sphongle), Old School Daze, Water Monk > Cyberstep, Alien Getaway*, Enable 2012* > Garden in the Shade*, Sumati, Asoyo, Technicolor, Time Grows On, Anahata, Hope

* with Dan Hanson on Sax and Flute

Cornmeal never fails to deliver in Colorado. They are incredibly fun and are ridiculous pickers. I was stoked that they were integrated into the lineup not once but twice. Their show on the patio was a solid demonstration of what they are capable of. They went all the way to just before 2:00 am on the packed porch. They played a beautiful set and it was a great way to close out day one of Dancin’ In The Streets.

Wednesday July 4th, 2012:

I woke up slightly hung over and caught an early cab down to day two at Quixote’s. I arrived early as The Congress was getting the nascent crowd ready. It’s always difficult to be one of the first bands on the bill because only the hardcore will be in attendance. Being a huge fan of this rock outfit and Jonathan Meadows’ vocals, I knew I couldn't miss it. These guys have paired down to a three-piece since the last time I saw them live. Highlights from the show included a rousing “Jonah Gideon” and a powerful “Keep Virginia.” It was an excellent start to my second day on Lawrence Street.

All of the early shows were on the Main Stage outside meaning there was some time allotted to change out equipment. It gave the fans plenty of instance to leisurely melt into the day. Greensky Bluegrass was up next, and their set was better than the night before. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the energy, but Greensky brought the boil on day two. It was a fun and bouncy set that included an epic version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and a ridiculous “How Mountain Girls Can Love.” They really brought the crowd in as literally hundreds filtered in during their set. I was totally impressed with their daytime performance and they left me wanting more. They invited Jay Bianchi and Vince Herman up to do the chicken dance during their set. My surprise was two-fold given the fact that Vince wasn’t on the bill and I had never seen Jay dance on stage before. It really set the mood.

Next up was an extended version of Todd Sheaffer and Friends from what we saw the day before on the patio. Including both Allie Kral and Vince Herman in addition to Chris and Andrew, it didn’t suck. The show began with a duo between Todd and Allie on “Potter’s Field.” It was a stunning beginning to a string show. The rest of the band returned, and Vince drifted on and off the stage. Martin Sexton joined the group for a patriotic rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.” It had the same relaxed feel as the day prior, but musically there was a vibrancy that really pleased the crowd.

Grateful Dead Tribute band Shakedown Street took the indoor stage at Quixote’s around 7:00 pm. Their delivery was solid and obviously totally in check with the Dancin’ In The Streets Festival. In fact they played the only rendition of the song from which the name of the event came from. Vince Herman sat in with them on the majority of their set including a wicked version of “Fire on The Mountain.”

I was drawn outside to the patio by the acoustic rumblings of Duck Pond who proved to be the surprise of the entire festival. These guys were full of life and added an energy that I had been searching for throughout the two-day show. They did a mash up of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” with “Whiskey Before Breakfast” that was as silly as it was well executed.

Donavan Frankenreiter was on the main stage outside by this point so I headed out to catch a glimpse of his show. The nice thing about the fest was how close and maneuverable it all was. You could litteraly bounce from stage to stage with just a whim and grab a beer on the way. In that regard it was really well setup. Donavon was a Brushfire Records performer who along the lines of Jack Johnson hosts more singalong type shows. He had a rockier edge though and he was certainly enjoyable to see live. He was one of many firsts for me at Dancin’ In The Streets. That again was the nice thing about the festival, lots of great music I was wholly familiar with and few bands I had never seen live to keep me engaged.

I went back inside to catch the end of Duck Pond before venturing back into the street for Martin Sexton. He had a small but dedicated crowd assembled for his set. He had a certain animation about his playing that was half flow of consciousness half utter showmanship. He strummed his guitar briskly and softly playing a wide variety of songs.

Big Wu went on late around 8:00 pm so I stayed to see them for a bit. They opened with “Shoot The Moon.”

The Big Wu Live at Dancin' In The Streets Festival on July 4, 2012.

Set One: Shoot The Moon, Texas Fireball, Tequila, The Hobo Song, Red Sky, U.S. Blues, Mean Spirits> Shantytown, Dixie Chicken, Southern Energy, The Star Spangled Banner> Rhode Island Red, Kangaroo

I stayed through “Red Sky” and they sounded great, however with three days of String Cheese Incident looming at Red Rocks, I opted to call it an early night. Sadly I missed Cornmeal and JGB’s repeat performances, but from all reports they killed it.

JGB Live at Dancin' In The Streets Festival on July 4, 2012.

Set One: Second That Emotion > They Love Each Other, Tore Up > The Way You Do The Things You Do, That's The Touch I Like, Positively 4th Street

Set Two: The Harder They Come, You Never Can Tell, Catfish John, Ain't No Bread In The Breadbox > My Sisters & Brothers > Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

Imagine Live at Dancin' In The Streets Festival on July 4, 2012.

Set One: Shotgun House, Let Me Love You Baby, Wharf Rat, City Of Tiny Lites

Dancin’ In The Streets came off without a hitch and although the turnout was less on the 4th of July, there were still plenty of people who made it down overall. Fans mingled with artists as they strolled about the grounds. The normally laid back vibe of Quixote’s seemed to permeate the entire show. I’m glad this festival has made its glorious return to Denver. The Bianchi’s deserve to have an event that showcases what they bring to scene. Dancin’ In The Streets did just that.

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