Thanks Y’all!, or “It’s Hard to Breathe Up Here, But It’s So Beautiful”
In its 25 years, KBCO has serviced Colorado’s large contingent of moderately-alternative-lifestyle-dwelling denizens, straddling the fences between hippie jam bands, classic rock, and middle class yuppie sensibilities. The FM station has been one of the nation’s foremost (and most successful) purveyors of the Adult Acoustic Alternative radio format, and balances out its “older” image by supporting up-and-coming acts (Dave Matthews Band has previously credited KBCO and the Boulder, Colorado scene it serves as an early, pre-megastar-status backer that helped launch its career) and even some cross-format contemporary rock and pop.
Since 1988, KBCO has also sponsored an annual music festival that draws fans by the thousands to the Winter Park Ski Resort for an open-air musical extravaganza. Luminaries such as Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, Los Lobos, Warren Zevon, John Prine, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, and, of course, Dave Matthews, have headlined the festival. Originally called the American Music Festival, the festival changed its name to the World Class Rockfest in 1999, and has been a full weekend event since 1994. Drawing well over 10,000 people into the mountains from the big cities over an hour away, the 2002 festival line-up included O.A.R., Train, Tonic, Ziggy Marley, the B-52s, and Sheryl Crow and the Indigo Girls splitting the headliner status.
Although the bulk of the music was scheduled for Saturday, including Crow’s day-ending performance, the crowds were in thick attendance for Sunday’s line-up as well, with many staying the night in Winter Park and surrounding area hotels in order to fit in both days of concert-going. And the crowds, for the most part, were exactly what you’d expect for such an event. A great number of college-aged kids running around half-undressed, soaking up the sun’s rays. An even larger number of post-collegiate young adults who haven’t quite decided whether paying off their student loans is more important than owning their SUV. While the Vespa Colorado tent was desperately trying to convince the granola crowd that hipster scooters were “them,” it was obvious that a Trek mountain bike tent could have made thousands of dollars. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of laughing, many sunburns, and a general party feeling that was dedicated to keeping the mood light and happy.
But, for the most part, it was all about the music. And it was a gorgeous day for an outdoor concert, with temperatures in the ‘80s and the high mountain air providing enough of a breeze to keep it from being a scorcher. Clouds rolled overhead in white puffs, and the snow-less ski runs were green and inviting to the teeming masses that sprawled over the bunny slope. Arriving late, it was cheerful and somehow quite appropriate to hear the B-52s’ song “Roam” come rolling across the mountains for miles. By the time we reached the stage, however, the kitsch masters had already wound through “Love Shack” and were finishing up with their classic, “Rock Lobster”. By dint of having the current radio hit, Jack Johnson drew the number two spot for the day, and only being familiar with “Flake”, we decided to check out the various tents (alligator sausage - yum!) and listen from afar.
We came for the Indigo Girls, and we were not alone. Although some decided to beat the traffic by leaving early, it was obvious that a great deal of the crowd were aware of the great shows that the Indigos put on, and planned on sticking it out until the bitter end. When Amy Ray and Emily Sailers finally took the stage, the crowd roared, a few well-informed fans shouting out “Happy Birthday, Emily!”.
The Indigo Girls kicked things off right away with “Bitterroot”, a Ray-penned acoustic stomp from their recent album, Become You (and which ironically sounds like a cousin of Johnson’s “Flake”, the last tune to have emerged from the loudspeakers). Breaking out the acoustic tune early was a clear signal to the crowd that the Indigos had returned to their roots (no pun intended) after breaking into a very electrified territory on their previous album, Come on Now Social. To underscore this, they followed up with Sailers banjo-plucking and singing the crowd favorite, “Get Out the Map” from Shaming the Sun.
As the set progressed, Sailers and Ray bounced back and forth between old favorites and new gems. It’s a testament to the strength of Become You that the newer material sounded as good as the hit singles that a majority of the crowd already knew by heart. Traditional hits like “Tried to Be True”, “Power of Two”, and “Least Complicated” had people whooping and clapping, including, of course, the Indigo Girls’ first and most beloved hit, “Closer to Fine”, which the band gave the audience the chance to fill in key lines and choruses. But newer songs were equally well-received. The fabulous “Become You” and “Deconstruction” off of their latest garnered very strong crowd reactions, as did “Yield” and “Moment of Forgiveness”.
While the plugged-in acoustic sound that is the Indigo Girls’ trademark dominated the show, they gave themselves a few moments to flex their muscles as well. A rollicking rendition of “Faye Tucker” merely paved the way for the extended burst of “Chicken Man”, a song that has always drawn enthusiastic shouting and cheering from their faithful. When they hit “Go”, the frenzy reached an intensity that was almost incongruous with the standard image of the Indigo Girls. Both cranking their electric guitars to full bore, Sailers played with a speed and ferocity that showed she knows her way around a good rock track as well, while Ray hopped around like she was back on tour with the Butchies.
Having worked with their core back-up band of multi-instrumentalist Carol Issacs, bassist Claire Kenny, and drummer Brady Blade, on tours over the years, the sound was slick and well-rehearsed. The fact that this same group of musicians went into the studio to add their talents to Become You made those songs performed live a true band experience, and it paid off. Although not entirely remarkable, the fact that the Indigo Girls perform with a high number of women in their back-up band is well ahead some other female performers. But the fact that the Indigos use a disproportionately high number of female sound techs and stagehands is a real statement. In an industry generally dominated by men, especially behind the scenes, the Indigo Girls have made real headways for other women throughout the music world.
By the end of the show, the two standards that Indigo Girls fans have come to expect were also fulfilled. As per custom, Sailers and Ray brought out a special “guest” from one of the prior acts to help them perform their always-excellent rendition of “Midnight Train to Georgia”. This time it was fellow Georgia-girl, Kate Pierson of the B-52s, and she did an admirable job of lending her pipes to the lead vocal. And, in another tradition, they closed the show with “Galileo”, one of the many hits from their Rites of Passage album.
If anything, the constraints of a festival setting were the only real problems with the show. This show at the World Class Rockfest marked the end of one leg of their US tour in support of Become You, and you have the anticipation that, right before a break, a band will either seem tired or ready to go out with a bang. The Indigo Girls and crew definitely did not seem tired (although a bit winded by the altitude), but the show felt abbreviated, especially with the lack of an encore. Having squeezed in six songs off their new album, there wasn’t much room for covering older ground, and when it comes to that, the Indigo Girls have a wide range of excellent songs to choose from.
But, that’s how festivals go. It was worth the drive, worth the walk, and worth the wait to see them perform again. And, in the long walk back to the car, and in the insanely long, backed-up drive home, the feelings of fun in the sun with a great live band lingered. With a real diversity that allows them to play in tiny, intimate club settings, all the way up to filling arenas, the Indigo Girls always put on a show worth catching. An outdoor music festival on a sunny Sunday afternoon was no exception.