Avett at Red Rocks – A Toast!

miloWell, Pal, we did it! We saw The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks: One of the great live acts of the moment at one of the most beautiful and renowned concert venues in the world. So maybe flying from Toronto to Denver wasn’t the most practical way to see a band we’ve already seen four times, but screw it – bucket list item checked off.

And so – a toast.

Kindly raise a can of Colorado-brewed Coors (or a hipster-approved Pabst Blue Ribbon if you prefer), and join me in a tribute to the myriad things and people that made this journey so weird and wonderful and memorable…

Here’s to…
The crazy people who built the Denver airport. Who put the thing on an unnecessarily large plot of land unnecessarily far from the city. Who decided a huge, freaky, blue horse with devil red eyes was the right way to greet arrivals to the city. Who designed the runways to look like a swastika from the air, and who filled the airport with creepy, weird murals. And who, for all these reasons, have inspired conspiracy theorists everywhere to conclude that beneath this strange, beautiful airport there are tunnels and bunkers to house and protect the secret rulers of earth on and after the fateful day that they decide to bring Armageddon upon all the rest of us. And for those who think I’m making this up, check it out.

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Here’s to…
The folks behind the hip and kitschy Curtis Hotel. For its talking elevators and themed floors (we were on the big hair floor, where Marge Simpson wished us well every time we stepped off), for the funky décor in the excellent restaurant, for the memorabilia-packed lobby featuring the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, and for being the kind of place that attracts both a burlesque conference (who knew such things happened?) and a body builder conference the same weekend we were there, serving up a wild dose of startling eye candy during our three-night stay in our home away from home.

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Here’s to…
The City of Denver. For filling itself with character and surprises, like recorded monster noises emanating from the sewers, street pianos, and statues and sculptures all over the place. For turning streets into dining rooms, and for having a pedestrian mall (under-used and beset with “urban grittiness”, according to the Denver Post) and baffling, largely ignored stop lights. For being home to the insanely popular Sam’s No. 3 diner, where you wait for an hour for a table before feasting upon a 3 egg Popeye omelet with a side of white, globby liquid fat more commonly known as biscuits and gravy. For being the kind of place where you can walk into a store and legally buy weed (smokable or edible, whatever suits you) from friendly helpful staff, and where Union Station has shuffle board and way more bars than trains. And for having a wonderful, classic ball park called Coors Field for us to sit in the sweltering afternoon sun and watch the home team Rockies crush the Atlanta Braves 11-3.

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Here’s to…
The unreasonably high number of drivers we needed during our very busy, somewhat poorly planned, stay. Like the shuttle bus driver who showed us every damn neighbourhood in the Greater Denver Area during our hours-long drive in from the spooky airport. And the Uber driver who couldn’t work his GPS and relied on us for directions to a surprisingly remote comedy club. And the various cabbies who didn’t know the way to Red Rocks even though it’s by far the coolest thing about their hometown, including the guy who told us the population of Denver went up by a full 100,000 after the town legalized dope.

And most of all, to the cabbie who looked like AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, who actually knew where he was going and went off meter to give us a discount, and who was once injured by a city bus that ran one of those baffling stoplights, and who has been battling what he considers a corrupt city government ever since. He’s got a YouTube channel, if you’d like to learn more.

Here’s to…
The visionaries who built the Rocks Amphitheatre.  Who ventured into the rugged rocky landscape near Denver in the early 1900s and came upon a place that absolutely needed to be turned into an open air music venue. Who recognized that, indeed, Mother Nature had already done most of the work by enclosing a mountainous slope with perfect giant rock walls on three sides, and all that was left to do was to add a stage, sound system and seating for 9,450 to create a magical place with stunning views, perfect acoustics and not a bad seat in the house. Who built an amphitheatre that would win Pollstar’s best venue award so often they finally decided to remove it from the competition and just name the award the “Red Rocks Award”.

I’d seen the pictures, read the rave reviews and went in with huge expectations of Red Rocks that could not possibly have been exceeded. And yet they were.

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Here’s to…
The wonderful people we saw in the Red Rocks Ampitheatre hours before the concert started, because the venue is run by the city and open all the time. To the scores of absurdly healthy people who can be found there everyday regardless of whether there’s a show because Red Rocks isn’t just a bucket list item for concert goers, it’s a bucket list item for people who want to test their endurance by running up and down those steep seats, often while being yelled at by boot camp fitness soldiers. And to everyone else just poking about, who just want to see it, or even just do this for a while…

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Here’s to…
Ranger Bob (as we subsequently dubbed him), who busted me for going off path during our hike on the beautiful trails around the amphitheatre, and who, with great seriousness, asked if there weren’t enough signs telling me to stay on the path (uh, no sir), and if there weren’t enough fences lining every inch of the path (uh, no sir), and who explained that a great deal of effort went into passing protective bylaws because back in the day when Red Rocks Park was wide open, people would trod everywhere killing the vegetation and themselves (on average two deaths per year from people climbing, then falling, from the alluring giant red rocks that are all around). And who outlined the various punitive actions available to him, asked if I could give him any reason why he shouldn’t give me a $150 ticket, and then, when I replied with heartfelt sincerity “because I hear you loud and clear and I won’t do it again”, confirmed that was the right answer by letting me go with a written warning.

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Here’s to…
The Avett Brothers, whose unique blend of sweet to stomping country rock (plus bluegrass and punk) is perfect for the natural soundscape of Red Rocks, and who have found a way to keep getting better and better in concert, in part by expanding their sound to fill the bigger and bigger places they keep finding themselves playing. Who can make you misty one moment with their tender thoughtful lyrics, then have you shouting and leaping in the air the next. To brother Scott, with his throaty voice and rollicking banjo, and brother Seth, with his heartbreaking croon and sweet guitar; and to their dad, whom they brought out for two especially touching tunes during Sunday’s show. And to their five backing players, especially Joe Kwon, the wild leaping cellist, and Tania Elizabeth, the fetching violinist, whose playful interactions and side jams made this pair of supporting players almost as entertaining as the brothers themselves.

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This is a band who can play three sold out shows at Red Rocks and not repeat a single song, a band whose loyal fans make no distinction between hits and obscurities, and who bring love, energy and beauty to every moment they are on stage.

Pal, you and I first saw the Avett Brothers when they were just a trio on September 30, 2009 at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto with about 350 other delirious fans, and we all went nuts because we knew this band was too big to be contained and that we’d never again seem them in a place so small.

We were right, but I still never would have imagined that night that we’d one day fly to the Rocky Mountains to see them or that, by the time we did, they would have evolved their live show to the point that they could make a 10,000-seat open air ampitheatre feel almost as intimate as that tiny little room in the back of the Horseshoe.

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Here’s to….
Our fellow Avett fans. Like the people we saw at the airport wearing Avett shirts, confirming we aren’t the only ones devoted enough to get on a plane to see this particular band at this particular venue. And to the woman who stood beside us at Sunday’s show, who had come from Kansas City and who came alone, and who said she’s thrilled Avett are playing big venues but dearly misses when she could see them in little bars. And to the young couple who were in the process of traveling from Yellowknife to Cape Breton and decided to swing by Denver for this show because, by their beautiful, meandering logic, Red Rocks was “on the way”.

And most of all to the 20 people we shared a bus ride home with after the Sunday show, and with whom we belted out every single word of the I and Love and You album, cheering and clapping after every song.

Because I encounter very few Avett fans in my daily life, it felt good to be reminded this is one of those bands that has a powerful hold on a small(ish) but passionate following.

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Here’s to…
Our families. To our munchkins and our loving wives who enjoy Avett too, though perhaps not to the same degree, but nevertheless understood our need to embark on this crazy indulgent, expensive journey, and supported us all the way, making them the perfect embodiment of Avett’s greatest line:

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And, finally, here’s to…
You, my pal and fellow musical adventurer. We flew to Denver and spent four days exploring, hiking, drinking, getting in trouble, getting lost, leaping, singing and laughing our asses off. We made a few bad choices but way more good ones. It was a grand trip. We travel well, Pal. As a very clever fellow once told me – I know where to go, but you know where to go.

So where to next?

Later, Pal.

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