Photos by David Steinberg
There are some nights that intrigue even as they’re announced. A benefit for the victims of the Fourmile Canyon Fire and firefighters with some of the best Colorado musicians (oh and incidentally 4 people from Vermont) had potential to be one of them, Mind you, there’s a difference between potential and achievement but – for the most part – the benefit was rather impressive.
The show opened with Leftover Salmon. Their set began with “Gold Hill Line,” – apropos, as the town of Gold Hill was nearly lost in the fire – and kept up a high energy approach. Figuring that all of these great players were around, Salmon invited more and more of them on stage, including Page McConnell, Bill Nershi and Bonnie Paine on washboard (Elephant Revival), and a person dancing in a Mayor McCheese outfit, only instead of being Mayor McCheese, it was Fireman McCheese. The guests inspired Leftover’s playing – and vice versa, Page was beaming the entire time he was on stage – to great heights, making this set an early highlight of the evening.
Unfortunately Yonder Mountain String Band didn’t get that memo. Other than Jon Fishman who barely counts as a guest as he has toured with them in the past, they stuck to their general lineup. While the music was still solid, it felt like a bit of a letdown after the incredible Salmon set, although their cover of “Girlfriend is Better” went to some nice places, a clear highlight of the set.
After two bluegrass sets in a row, it was refreshing to have the change of pace that was Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Their sound is an interesting mix of influences between funk and southern rock, with an occasional horn section. Todd Park Mohr – the Big Headed one himself – is incredibly fun to watch. Like Sharon Jones or Ivan Neville, he is a very expressive singer, full of gestures and amusing expressions. Their enjoyable set had a weird interlude in the middle when most of Leftover came out and performed “Friend of the Devil” of all things. The theme of the night was bluegrass after all so every band should dabble there for a song or two at least.
Picking up where the Festival 8 acoustic set ended, Mike and Trey came out and performed stripped down versions of Phish songs. While some of the songs were the obvious ones that Trey likes to play in his acoustic mini sets on his solo tours – “Back on the Train,” “Wilson,” “Bathtub Gin” – there was one huge curveball – “My Friend My Friend.” Much like Indio’s “The Curtain With,” the initial reaction of surprise quickly changed to complete enjoyment. The mid song break was replaced with a quiet section where both players held up their guitars dramatically. Trey has come a long way as an acoustic player and has reached the point where an acoustic set is a treat instead of something that makes you wish he’d pull out the electric already.
In addition to the music, it was fun to see Mike and Trey interact in a low-key duo setting. They were smiling and making little comments to each other like the old friends that they are. It’s become a cliché to make this sort of comment since Whitehall, but it’s so nice to see Trey enjoying life on that level again.
The headliners of the show were String Cheese Incident. As the show began, it also ended with guests. Despite the online tension between some Phish fans and String Cheese Incident, it never felt like that the band ever felt any of that. When Trey sat in for “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Outside Inside” with the band, it just felt like another great sit in, an excuse to play more high energy music and hit yet another peak.
Trey wasn’t the only guest for that set. Cheese were later joined by Big Head Todd on a cover of the Isley Brother’s “Who’s That Lady,” which then became the show stopping 27 people on stage finale that this event cried out for. “Sitting on Top of the World” and “I Know You Rider” were the perfect vehicles for that lineup and the crowd responded. It might have been the tail end of a 6 ½ hour concert, but people still had the energy to jump up and down and dance like it was the first song.
More than anything else, the Fourmile Revival was pure fun. It was the kind of night that was Colorado in the way that Jazz Fest is New Orleans – even Trey said that Colorado is a second home for Phish – and makes people wonder why they don’t live there. Here’s hoping the energy from this night lingers around and helps those affected by the fire.