Everyone Orchestra 11.17 & 11.18.17

Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Denver, CO

Words by Kristin Zachman (Direct Attention)
Photos by Blake Barit (Direct Attention)

It’s always a party when Matt Butler brings his Everyone Orchestra to town. The ensemble played three sets over the weekend in Denver and Fort Collins, serving up some Grade A improv. As usual, the lineup was stocked with heavy hitting festival regulars familiar to any seasoned music lover. Dressed as the psychedelic band leader he is, and equipped with his instructional iPad and whiteboard, Butler, the musical Mad Hatter was ready to give Colorado his best.

Night One, the Orchestra performed at Denver’s Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom. The main room was equipped with all the microphones, instruments, and music stands that the band could need. Before the Orchestra’s performance, the crowd was warmed up by Denver band, Rastasaurus. These local boys obviously had a lot of support in the crowd, who was pumped up from the start of their set. Their white-boy reggae had a good mix of classic rock, reggae coolness and funky jams, with on-key transitions and tight vocals. The five piece band had the audience more than ready to dance when Butler burst onstage.

While Denver crowds are blessed with one of the best jam scenes in the country, it’s a treat to see such talent sharing the same stage. Joel Cummins, keyboardist of the popular progressive rock band Umphrey’s McGee, had a large fan presence in the audience. Fans lovingly heckled him while he served up hot funk from his corner of the stage. Cummins was joined by Lotus’s Mike Rempel on guitar, as well as bass legend in the making, Zdenek Gubb from Twiddle. The String Cheese Incident’s Michael Travis accompanied them on one drum kit, with superstar drummer, Claude Coleman Jr of Ween and Amandla, on the other. Adding to this already star studded crew, Shira Elias of the funky collective that is Turkuaz brought her vocal flavor. Shira’s bandmate Josh Schwartz came along with her, bringing his baritone saxophone. Matt Bricker of Fort Collin’s own Euforquestra rounded out the horns section on trumpet. Though the show billed Chuck Garvey of Moe. on guitar, due to a family emergency he was unable to make it. While we send our love to Chuck, his absence meant that Longmont local and guitarist for Colorado band SunSquabi, Kevin Donahue got to pop his Everyone Orchestra cherry.

Butler’s ever boisterous presence riled the crowd up as the musicians trickled onto the stage. The conductor made a promise of magic tricks before the band dropped into a fully improvised and extremely groovy set. Following his best instinct, Butler scribbled instructions for the musicians on his whiteboard and Ipad. He also conducted with his hands, body movements, and even by jumping into the air. It is a unique experience as a music fan, as most of us are used to bands we love ripping through songs we know and recognize. Instead, the Everyone Orchestra takes these musician’s strengths and styles and applies them to the outfit’s best advantage.

As with any improvisational performance, the band is faced with a possibility of dead end jams, repetitive riffs, or even the risk of playing music reminiscent to songs we all know. This edition of Everyone Orchestra did a great job of blending their styles into a jazzy funk masterpiece. Though Shira’s vocals were applied sparingly, her lyrical additions brought a beautiful texture to the session. She showed off her vocal range with a mixture of sultry singing and scatting, beckoning to the audience to “move to the music.” SunSquabi’s Kevin Donahue got his initiation into the orchestra when he was asked to start his very own jam. During Donahue’s heavily funk driven jam, Todd Stoops (RAQ) an E.O. veteran, stopped in to back up Joel on the keys. When considering the 16 years Butler’s been touring with his dream project, it’s no surprise that he’s got friends in all the right places. Lucky for us, they like to come out and play.

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Aggie Theatre
Fort Collins, CO

Night Two took the Orchestra a couple of hours north to Fort Collins and the Aggie Theater. Whatever this venue lacked in size, the crowd was ready to make up for in energy. Saturday night’s opener was another local Denver band, The RunniKine. This trio performed a great set, with an unusual set up. One member sang and wailed on keys, while another was ripping the bass, and the final member held down the drumkit. The RunniKine brought their friend Kevin Donahue out to collaborate on their closing song. Another great opener set the stage for the Fort Collins edition of Everyone Orchestra.

While the lineup was largely the same as Denver’s, there were a couple absences. Euforquestra’s Matt Bricker and Michael Travis from String Cheese sat out for this incarnation of the Everyone Orchestra. While the venue and the stage size were much smaller than the previous night’s, it worked out for the better. Night one, while packed with people and delivering a longer show, wasn’t nearly as electric as the second night, which had a much larger degree of crowd participation. The audience packed onto the floor quickly, making it difficult to get back and forth to the bar, but there was plenty of room for dancing.

The standout jam of the night was spearheaded by Zdenek Gubb, Vermont based bassist of Twiddle. The musicians gave him room to work out a spacy bassline which was quickly bulked out with a familiar tone from Mike Rempel. Lotus has such a chill, defined sound which translated clearly throughout the night from Rempel’s guitar riffs. The second night’s jams were more diverse than the first, Claude Coleman Jr. started another song with a more aggressive rock beat on the drums, which strayed even more from the funk centered music the band had been playing. Eric Luba, The RunniKine’s keyboardist, was lucky enough to fool around with Joel during a couple of the Orchestra’s songs. The encore was another standout of the weekend, reminiscent of a Staples Singer jam with Josh Schwartz and Shira Elias bringing out their most soulful vocals to top off the weekend’s sets.

This edition of the Everyone Orchestra came to play. Butler set the show up for success when he billed yet another ensemble of diverse musicians. As Claude Coleman Jr. said in an interview before the Aggie Theater show, “I think Matt has the talent to pinpoint a musician’s strengths, he does a great job pairing people up.” It is clear, as an audience member, the band is all about having fun and making it work. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we can be grateful that this past weekend’s shows did not disappoint.

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