Mile High Music Festival: 14 August 2010 – Commerce City, CO

For the start of the Mile High Music Festival, the sky was clear, the sun was hot, and there were only a few motivated souls wandering the grounds of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Field at noon. But Colorado locals The Motet had already started an electro-afro-beat dance party at the Wolf Stage. Imagine if Fela Kuti stumbled upon Fatboy Slim or Moby, and they started making music together for an audience of local hippies. Across the way at the Bison Tent, The Chain Gang of 1974 was making music that sounded more like 1986 to a stand-still kind of audience. Houses, in the Elk Tent, did their best to fill the larger-than-they-were-used-to stage. And, so began the 2010 Mile High Music Festival. Like those three bands, many of the acts that would play would be representing the many genres of the home state, giving Coloradoans one more reason to never leave: aside from the mountains, there is also good music.

But, it wasn’t all Colorado locals. In fact, one of the best and most promising performers of the weekend isn’t even from the States (oh no!). The United Kingdom’s own Bobby Long started off playing open mic nights, but is now ATO Records’ (co-founded by Dave Matthews and home to Rodrigo y Gabriela, My Morning Jacket and Mike Doughty, among many others) latest find. He might have found his original “fame” on the Twilight soundtrack, but there is no doubt that his acoustic and lyrical songwriting talents, comfort on stage and, dare I say it, unabashed good looks, surely won’t make it hard for him to take his music in just about any direction.

Later in the day, The Samples (yes, another Colorado-bred band) reunited with all its original members for the first time since 1991. The former H.O.R.D.E. tour headlines, who in their heyday shared bills with Dave Matthews Band, The Allman Brothers Band, and Phish, were joined onstage Saturday by another old friend – Blues’ Traveler’s John Popper. Though the band was out of practice, the loyal fans were more than forgiving: they were elated to see the band back together.

Speaking of nostalgia, let’s talk about Cypress Hill. It’s hard to hear their name and not think back to “Hits from the Bong” or “Insane in the Brain”, but they still bring their “A” game to the stage. It was hard to see through the cloud of smoke created by just about everyone in front of me, but what you could hear was just plain fun music. Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band lit up the Cougar Stage to close out the daylight music hours. The band, formed in 2009, is a perfect combination of talent and stage presence. Trucks plays the slide guitar like it’s an extension of his body; all heart no thought. Tedeschi’s voice matches their style perfectly; a sweet soulful cry.

As the sun fell behind the stage, the entire crowd gathered at the Kyocera Main Stage for what could have been a too long Jack Johnson set. Scheduled to play for 180 minutes, I wondered if there would be a lot of people asleep on the lawn. Johnson is known for his laidback personality, which after a long day in the sun might be a little too relaxing to keep his fans awake. But, what ensued was actually a great end to the day. Johnson and his band mixed up the set with songs both old and new, and some guests – Donovan Frankenreiter included – to the stage. By 10:45, with the day concluded, we were dispatched to our homes and hotels, needing to rest up for what would undoubtedly be a promising Sunday of music.

The second day of Mile High didn’t so much kick itself off; it was slowly nudged to a start. In a good way. With the forecast calling for more heat than the previous day, and most people still tired from last night’s festivities, you could tell that everybody was moving a bit more slowly. On my way to the Bison Tent to catch The Epilogues, the trio holding court on the Wolf Stage caught my ear: Danielle Ate The Sandwich. The band, which consists of Danielle on ukulele and vocals, and two others on an upright bass and violin, play mellow, down-to-earth tunes, which even included a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. Between the calming music, Danielle jokingly referring to her high school English teacher as a whore (yes, the teacher was in attendance), and offering everybody in the crowd “Free shit!”, I somehow didn’t want to leave.

Just down the way was Joe Purdy, who packed the Elk Tent to capacity for his 12:30pm set. Maybe he got lucky – his timeslot didn’t happen to conflict with anybody except the DJ’s over at Beta Beach – but he certainly deserves the attention. With only his voice, guitar and vocals to rest on, Purdy’s independent talents were truly showcased, and most people, this reviewer included, seemed to genuinely appreciate it. While Oh My Stars and The Knew played in their respective tents, the alt-country stylings of John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light were featured on the Cougar Stage. The quintet played in full suits, but their music was relaxed enough that they didn’t seem to break a sweat (or at least not a visible one from twenty feet away). Common and co-singer Jess De Nicola are a hard-hitting duo, as De Nicola’s voice is truly one to reckon with.

Later, on the main stage, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff was unsurprisingly entertaining. At the age of 62, though he may move a bit slower than he used to, he is still overcome with an urge to dance and hop around the stage. His loving and dedicated fans were happy to cheer him on. Atmosphere’s tent was packed to the brim even though his set conflicted directly with that of My Morning Jacket, whose lead singer Jim James continued to put on layers of warm jackets, claiming they felt like the warming embrace of all their fans.

But it was Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo who turned the heat up on Sunday. High winds shook the speaker towers, and some of the vocals cut out during “El Scorcho”, but that slowed nothing down. As the opening guitar of “My Name is Jonas” pierced through the speakers, Cuomo jumped down from the stage and made a beeline for the back of the audience. Singing the whole way, he eventually made it to the raised platform for handicapped patrons, where he finished the song. At this point, you might expect security to clear the way for him back to the stage, but no. As the band played “Beverly Hills”, he again tore through the crowd to the other side, photographers and fans in tow, and eventually had to push his way back up to the stage, where he took over cameraman duties and gave some lucky fans their chance to be on the big screen.

As he took a quick breather, Brian Bell vamped on his keyboard, eventually finding the opening lick to MGMT’s “Kids” and soon segueing into Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” (the second Gaga cover to be performed that day, on the same stage). Cuomo, quick on the uptake, found a long, blonde wig backstage and performed the entire song in pop-star character. While all this was ensuing, Railroad Earth was conducting their own hoe-down at the Cougar Stage, leading the way for headliners Dave Matthews Band. Joined by Tim Reynolds for the entire show, DMB’s set was nothing more or less than you’d expect from the seasoned veterans. They played all the hits, Dave shuffled around stage, and the rest of the band took their solos. A somber moment came as Dave expressed love for their departed friend, LeRoi Moore (the former DMB saxophonist died in 2008), but in dedication to him, they were able to keep the energy high. It certainly was a fitting way to end the weekend, as Dave’s fans were happy to have this tribute cap off their festival.

Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.