4th of July. Red Rocks. 07.04.15

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4th of July. Red Rocks. 07.04.15

The decision to spend Independence Day at Red Rocks has never been about the music, at least not for our family. It has always been more about spending the day at one of the most beautiful places in the country. The Rocks are only a ten minute drive from our house, so the park is an easy place for us to get out into nature, grill up some burgers and hot dogs, drink some beer from a can, and spend time among other Americans doing things Americans do — all without the hassle of dealing with the mountain traffic that plagues I-70 over the holiday weekend. This year was no exception. Blues Traveler and friends would provide the evening’s entertainment, as they have done on the 4th of July for the past 20+ years, but their music would just be a live soundtrack to an amazing day at Red Rocks Park with family and friends.

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The clouds provided fleeting shade from the blazing sun as we followed their shadows around the Red Rocks Trail and up Morrison Slide. Our daughter hates to hike, but it’s an annual tradition to make her stomp all over a small piece of this country every 4th of July, so she was in tow as we exited Red Rocks and entered Matthews/Winters Park. The relatively effortless 4 mile hike caused very little whining this time around, but the promise of ice cream in Morrison really helped keep a lid on things. The cool breeze coming across the upper plateau provided some relief as well. Having spent so much time at Red Rocks since we’ve lived here, the hike didn’t offer much that we hadn’t seen before, but whenever we’d cross paths with tourists who were new to the area, we could see (through their eyes) just how unique the landscape really was. And if nothing else, the hike got us warmed up for the tailgating to come.

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After a quick stop in Morrison for the promised ice cream at Ozzi’s, we met up with the rest of our group in the Upper North Lot. Some friends of ours brought their kids along for their very first Red Rocks show, so it was fitting that they were immediately baptized by the rain that is all too common this season. Luckily the storm only flexed its muscles for a few minutes before calming down to a light drizzle. The showers left us feeling refreshed and cooled off….and with perfect weather for most of of the evening.

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Speaking of Americans doing American things, I didn’t realize how American tailgating really was until a vanload of Chinese tourists found their way into our part of the lot. We were all wearing red, white and blue clothes. We were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers on a portable stove, while drinking Dale’s Pale Ales wrapped Oskar Blues koozies. There was an active cornhole game going on in front of us and the car stereo had Van Halen cranked to 11. The Chinese tourists pulled out their cameras and starting snapping away like we were some kind of animals in our natural habitat. Before long, they had joined in on the cornhole game and everyone had a good laugh. We were swapping stories and jokes with the groups of tailgaters on each side of us, while the kids ran around, snatching the beanbags away from the game and yelling “Happy 4th of July” to strangers. It was exactly what the holiday was supposed to be. As I watched a bundle of escaped balloons riding the helium high into the sky, I realized those Chinese tourists were on to something… we really were Americans in our natural habitat.

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We made our way into the venue and got situated in the center of Row 21 just before Hanson took the stage. I had asked my daughter if she’d ever heard of them and she said no. But then I asked her if she’d ever heard “MMMBop” and she said yes. She had seen a youtube video about the most irritating songs in the world and “MMMBop” was one of them. Like I said, the 4th of July at Red Rocks isn’t really about the music. Having said that, the Hanson brothers had grown into young men in the 17 years since they’d last graced the Red Rocks stage and somehow they had maintained a solid fan base. There were grown women singing every word to every song, much to the chagrin of their boyfriends. Hanson as a band weren’t bad at all. If they weren’t Hanson, we might have paid more attention to what was a completely capable pop group, but instead, we spent most of the show Googling images of the brothers from 1997 and trying to match each one with their current adult self. It wasn’t until they performed “MMMBop” late in the set that I realized how many Dale’s I had drank in the parking lot…and I’m using that as my excuse for joining the crowd on my feet to sing and dance along with one of the most irritatingly catchy songs in the world. They should have left after that, knowing they would never top it, but instead they brought John Popper out for a song that some girls in the front row had obviously been waiting for all night.

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Guster were up next. I had honestly never heard of the band, but I did recognize a few songs as they made their way through the middle set. The rain returned for a bit during their performance, putting a damper on things as people were making their way back to their seats after bathroom and bar breaks, so no one was paying much attention to the band. Adam Gardner put a stop to that by standing on the railing and demanding audience participation. They were a handful of (lackluster) songs in at that point, but his antics kick-started a few pockets of life through the amphitheater. At well over an hour, their set ran past its expiration date, but once again, it was just nice to be out among friends and family, so the music happening in the background was nothing by icing on the proverbial cake.

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A family-friendly concert at Red Rocks is only family-friendly if you are open-minded about what constitutes family-friendly. The 4th of July celebration appeals to families because the music is generally safe, it gets started relatively early, tickets are reasonable, and there are usually many children in attendance. That being said, language isn’t always PG. So when Blues Traveler took the stage to “America, Fuck Yeah”, earmuffs were in order for some. And then there’s the smoking. Designated smoking areas usually keep the cigarette smokers in their place when there are kids around, but nothing is going to stop the Colorado pot smoker from lighting up in their seat. Sometimes it’s just a quick burst that comes and goes without anyone noticing, but sometimes people have to overdo it. I’m not against the smoking of marijuana. It doesn’t bother me at all. But smoking joint-after-joint-after-joint in close proximity to children is just rude. There was a quite a bit of that going on this year, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t deal with by moving a few seats down the row.

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Blues Traveler are one jam band that I actually like. I saw them at H.O.R.D.E. Fest a few times back in the day and they were always awesome. In 2013, they performed Save His Soul in its entirety to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that album, and again, they were awesome. Last year they were also very good, but I just couldn’t get into their collaborative selections with 3OH!3. Unfortunately, it seems they have gone even further down that ‘electronic jam hip-hop fusion’ road over the past year. The show started out great, with “Things Are Looking Up” followed by “Dropping Some NYC” and “But Anyway”, but then control was handed over to Rome Ramirez. I like Rome, but I found it strange that Popper was taking a step back from his own show. “Run-Around” put the train back on its track for a minute, but then it was time for another collaboration with Hanson…as if we hadn’t had enough of them. Covering “What I Got” with Rome provided a good taste of what’s to come at Reggae on the Rocks this year, but again, wasn’t it supposed to be a Blues Traveler show?

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“Slow Change” melted into “The Star Spangled Banner” and reminded us what a Blues Traveler could be, but then 3OH!3 and JC Chasez caused a complete derailment. The look on my daughter’s face when Chasez started singing was priceless. Popper can give him all the props in the world, but his voice ripped holes in the night. Those couple songs were the worst collaborations I have ever heard. The band did their best to self-correct with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Hook”, and they did a pretty good job, but the damage was done. It was getting late, the kids were tired and I couldn’t find a reason to convince anyone to stay through the encore. The fact that they wrapped it all up with an NSYNC song makes me glad I didn’t.

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4th of July at Red Rocks has never been about the music. This year was no exception. It was funny to hear “MMMBop”. It was nice to hear some of my favorite Blues Traveler songs. Popper and his harmonica were worth the price of admission alone. And there were a few gems to be found in all the uneven sets. But at the end of the day, the 4th of July at Red Rocks is about hanging out with friends and family. It’s about celebrating our country and the fact that places like Red Rocks exist within it. So based on that criteria, it was a complete success.

Hanson:
I’ve Got Soul
Where’s the Love
Waiting for This
Been There Before
Penny & Me
This Time Around
Get the Girl Back
And I Waited
A Minute Without You
MMMBop
In the City (with John Popper)

Guster:
Long Night
Careful
The Captain
Doin’ It By Myself
Barrel of a Gun
Hang On
Come Downstairs and Say Hello
Do You Love Me
One Man Wrecking Machine
Never Coming Down
Manifest Destiny
Simple Machine
Demon
Satellite (with John Popper)
This Could All Be Yours

Blues Traveler:
America, Fuck Yeah (intro)
Things Are Looking Up
Dropping Some NYC
But Anyway
Castaway (with Rome)
Vagabond Blues (with Rome)
Run-Around
Top of the World
What I Got (with Rome)
Slow Change / The Star Spangled Banner
Cara Let the Moon
Carolina Blues
Hurricane (with 3OH!3 and JC Chasez)
Blow Up The Moon (with 3OH!3 and JC Chasez)
The Devil Went Down to Georgia
Hook

The Mountains Win Again
The Joker (with 3OH!3 and JC Chasez and Hanson)
Bye Bye Bye (with 3OH!3 and JC Chasez and Hanson)

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Setlist