Laid Back Festival. Red Rocks. 09.25.16
Red Rocks Amphitheatre hosted Gregg Allman’s Laid Back Festival on Sunday afternoon. Allman, fresh out of the hospital where he had been treated for pneumonia, was set to make his return to the stage after receiving a clean bill of health. The festival had been expanded from Jones Beach to include stops in Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, and Morrison; each with a varying line-up, but with Allman as the headliner at every stop. Maybe there were concerns around his ability to perform after being hospitalized, or maybe it had something to do with a Sunday festival during football season, or maybe it was the price of tickets or lack of promotion, but when there are posters directing concert-goers to the box office to redeem their Groupon tickets, it’s never a good sign. I didn’t take advantage of a daily discount coupon, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pay a fraction of face value for my fifth row ticket. It’s a shame too, because it really did turn out to be a great day of music on the Rocks.
Weather in late September is always unpredictable, and that might have been another reason people didn’t buy up tickets when they went on sale (Mother Nature can be blamed for the death of the Monolith Fest), but September 25th, 2016 was nothing but blue skies. The temperature, which started out in the mid-70’s, never dropped below sweatshirt comfort zone. Having already said goodbye to my Red Rocks season with Jason Isbell a couple weeks earlier, I didn’t expect to find myself back at the venue until next year, but I literally couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Sunday. I figured ZZ Top and Gregg Allman (the only two acts on the bill I recognized) would be worth the price of admission alone, especially considering the firesale going on at StubHub. So that’s how I ended up catching seven sets of live music for the price of one. Fortunately for the acts involved, I was among like-minded individuals, because the place was packed to near-capacity by the time Gregg Allman made his return to the stage.
Richie Furay Band
The Richie Furay Band kicked things off just after 5:00pm. The 72-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, famous for founding Buffalo Springfield and Poco, was joined by a four-piece band as he performed a daylight set for a small, but enthusiastic crowd. Admittedly ignorant to who he was at first, it didn’t take long before I recognized the music. “On the Way Home”, “For What It’s Worth”, and “Kind Woman” (dedicated to his bride of 49 years, who just happened to be in the audience) all brought me back to the days when my father would spin Buffalo Springfield records on the weekends, but even the Poco and solo selections were able to hold my attention through his hour-long set. Just watching the crowd of old-school fans pump their fists and sing along would have been enough to keep me engaged, but when he enlisted his daughter, Jesse Lynch, for a duet on Nanci Gritith’s “I Wish It Would Rain”, I found myself matching the old-timers’ excitement. I really couldn’t think of a better way to start the night.
People’s Blues of Richmond
The Laid Back Festival was advertised as A Celebration of Music & Food, so after Furay’s set, I went in search of the food. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, because all I found was the usual crappy hot dogs and nachos, but my journey to the top of the stairs did not go unrewarded. A small stage had been setup above the amphitheater and People’s Blues of Richmond were performing in between the sets on the main stage. The young, brash, and crass trio from Richmond, VA were the antithesis of what had come before. Thrashing around like they were still in their parents’ garage, screaming about cocaine, the Ku Kulx Klan, and literally not giving a shit, they were more reminiscent of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Diarrhea Planet than they were anybody else on the Laid Back bill. Overall, their set was an unexpected, but extremely welcome surprise. It’s just too bad they were only able to play for about fifteen minutes.
Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band
Next up was another 72-year-old Hall of Famer I had never heard of. As it turned out, Jaimoe (of Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band) was none other than Jai Johanny Johanson, founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. Situated behind his kit, with a giant smile on his face throughout the performance, Jaimoe was surrounded by an entire jazz ensemble as they provided the foundation for Jr. Mack to lay down the blues. The set contained covers of songs by legends like Taj Mahal, Booker T. & The MG’s, and Fenton Robinson, as well as instrumental jazz sessions that should have had everybody on their feet, but unfortunately didn’t move the crowd as intended. Watching the seasoned vets ripped through such a varied selection of songs was thoroughly entertaining, but it wasn’t until they busted into The Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” that they hit the right nerve with the majority of the growing audience. If they were successful in one thing, it was bringing yet another unique sound to a night filled with unique sounds. No two sets were alike, including Jaimoe and his Jasssz Band.
Levon, a young trio from Nashville, were up next on the small stage. I don’t want to be negative about a band I know nothing about, but if I’m being honest, they did nothing for me. It’s hard to get a read on a sound during such a short set, but besides presenting some good harmony, they just didn’t seem on par with the rest of the line-up. Part boy band, part pop country; they just didn’t move me in any positive way. I literally couldn’t stick around until the end. In their defense, they did seem a little star-struck by their surroundings. Making up for experience with cheesy stories about taking home married waitresses who want to eat them like popsicles just didn’t cut it though.
The host of the evening took the stage at 7:45pm. The third Hall of Famer to do so, Gregg Allman was the first to get a standing ovation. In fact, what looked to be a capacity crowd stayed standing for his whole set, even though he never left the stool he propped himself up on. With nothing more than a rotating cast of guitars and Scott Sharrad by his side, Mr. Allman settled on an entirely acoustic set.
“Good evening; it’s good to see all you people.”
“Midnight Rider” came first, to the delight of the audience, before “Melissa” was prefaced with “next year we’ll bring back the whole band; you know how it is.”
I’d only seen The Allman Brothers once, and from a great distance, so I can’t speak to his usual disposition, but he did look like a man who was struggling a bit. That being said, he sounded great as he covered Muddy Waters and Jackson Brown back-to-back.
“I don’t think there’s ever been an acoustic version of this,” he admitted, before tackling “Whipping Post” without the backing of a true band. It was a success, as was “One Way Out”.
The end came way too soon, and I was surrounded by disappointed faces, but I made my way back up those stairs (for the third time!) with a smile on my face. As if it wasn’t enough that Gregg Allman was able to make it at all, seeing him perform a rare intimate set like that was pretty amazing. He might not have been 100%, but even at 70% the guy is a legend.
Lucie Silvas was the sole female artist of the night, and while she was definitely more pop than she was country, I feel like she succeeded where Levon failed. Literally bursting with energy, the British singer was backed by a fully capable band. Her new home, Nashville, rang through in her songs and she managed to show real range as she flew through steady rockers, bruised ballads, and even a cover of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It”. That last one ran a little long, causing her to have to cut a song off the end, but as she finished off with “Two Birds One Stone”, the peaks of the monoliths shone down bright, making for a pretty amazing scene. Out of all the small stage acts, I feel like Lucie Silvas has the brightest future. It’s possible she’ll even be playing the main stage someday. Although if she does, I hope the weather is good, because if she was freezing on Sunday night, she wouldn’t be able to handle the real cold.
“It’s time to party with ZZ Top!” It was only 8:45pm, but I had never seen so many inebriated people over 50 in my life. I literally had to catch a few ladies who almost tumbled into the next row while trying to find their seats in the dark. Men were being denied service at the bar and there were piles of puke to be avoided everywhere. The bearded duo arrived just in time though, blazing a path through the nonsense like they’ve been doing for over forty years. The original blues brothers, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, were the same as they’ve ever been; eternal youth hidden behind hats, beards, and cheap sunglasses. Frank’s pounding kick drum gave EDM shows a run for their money, while Gibbons and Hill burned tracks across the stage.
All the classics were present; “Gimmie All Your Lovin’”, “Got Me Under Pressure”, “Rough Boy”, and “Sharp Dressed Man”, just to name a few. There were some new tracks and a cover or two, but by the time they brought out the fuzzy white guitars for “Legs” (which closed the main set), everyone was amped for more. Returning almost immediately with matching sparkling jackets, they continued with “La Grange”; eventually morphing into the all-too-appropriate “Sloppy Drunk” after some crowd encouragement. “Tush” could have easily been the final spark of the night (a roadie came out to light Gibbons’ joint at that point), but the boys from Texas weren’t done with us yet. The second encore was a victory lap of sorts. It was also the soundtrack to a mass exodus from the venue, causing “Jailhouse Rock” to be heard by many as an echo off the rocks on the way to the parking lots. The whole thing ended just after 10:00pm.
It is unfortunate that the Laid Back Festival had to turn to Groupon and take other price-reducing actions, because it really was a great festival. The food was nothing to celebrate, and the lack of information about the order of appearances and set times was annoying, but overall Gregg Allman curated an amazing day/night of music across a spectrum of genres. Where else are you going to see five Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees share a stage on a Sunday at such an amazing venue? Hopefully next year they will be able to work out some of the kinks and Gregg will be healthy and strong. Aside from that, I’d say the first year of Laid Back in Colorado was a great success in terms of execution, even if it was a financial failure.
Richie Furay Band:
On the Way Home
For What It’s Worth
We Were the Dreamers
A Man Like Me
Anyway Bye Bye
I Wish It Would Rain
Wake Up My Soul
Don’t Tread on Me
A Good Feelin’ to Know
People’s Blues of Richmond:
I Don’t Give A Damn
Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band:
Born Under a Bad Sign
Somebody Loan Me a Dime
Barefoot on the Moon
I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love
One Way Out
How to Lose It All
You Got It
Two Birds One Stone
Got Me Under Pressure
Waitin’ for the Bus
Jesus Just Left Chicago
Gimme All Your Lovin’
I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide
I Gotsta Get Paid
Two Trains Runnin’
Sharp Dressed Man
La Grange / Sloppy Drunk