Lesh Lights Up Red Rocks

Phil Lesh & Friends

Red Rocks - Morrison, CO

August 13-14, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box. August 1999, Volume 6, #8

Written by Eric Holdsworth


Before I share my impression of the weekend’s music, I want you to picture the amazing physical beauty surrounding the inside of this venue. It is carved out of a natural amphitheatre of unique red rocks that look like they were poured here by a deity or just sort of oozed themselves here. I think this type of rock only exists in a few places in the world. Two gigantic slabs of this rock rise up on either side of you — the side walls so to speak. These slabs are each probably 1,000 feet high — maybe more. A smaller slab forms the back, and the stage structure is built around that. The seats are all flat benches, and the rows are extra wide so there is plenty of room to dance and people can get by without a hassle. From the seats, your view is of the stage with the Denver Valley and city itself spread out in front of you. As the night comes, the valley lights up. Pretty inspiring.

Bassist Phil Lesh claims that except for the Pyramids at Giza, this is his favorite outdoor venue, and he certainly seemed inspired. It is definitely my favorite outdoor venue, and it was nice once again to be with a typical Deadhead crowd.

Friday, August 13

What can you say about a show that opens with a Deadication to Dick Latvala and goes into a 30-minute (or so it seemed) Viola Lee Blues? In a word — FANTASTIC! Guitarist Warren Haynes seemed to be fighting for a China Cat Sunflower to grow out of this, but Steve Kimock and Lesh were less inclined. The group’s rendition of Alligator was the most raucous version I have ever heard. I didn't even recognize it until Lesh started singing the lyrics, which were blown and appeared to be more of an excuse to jam. That was alright with me though because the jam was fabulous, approaching Dark Star territory before fluttering into a beautiful Bird Song. Just A Little Light, the late-Brent Mydland tune, was another surprise and was probably the best version I have heard. Haynes handled the vocals, and eerily sounded an awful lot like Mydland.

The beauty of the evening grew with a wonderfully soft and swaying version of Sugaree, which was topped by an even sweeter, if all-too-brief, instrumental version of Stella Blue. Kimock flavored the latter with a tender caress of pedal steel, and it was almost like the Jer-man was back on stage. The ensuing jam drifted into a well-played Wish You Were Here, but the only way to end such a magical evening was with the appropriate pairing of Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain. The red lights bounced off the red rocks, which combined with the inspired music to provide an incredible ending to an incredible night.

Opening the concert was moe., with an flawless performance. These guys are seriously worth seeing. Their energetic set was then matched and surpassed by local hometown heroes String Cheese Incident, who really got everyone up and dancing.

Saturday, August 14

As promised, the line-up changed for the second evening at Red Rocks. This time around, Lesh was joined by Kimock, John Molo and several String Cheese Incident (SCI) members, including keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, fiddle/mandolin player Michael Kang, and guitarist Bill Nershi. The band also featured Michael Travis on bongos, who added quite a kick to the songs until he left after Uncle John’s Band.

Nershi came out with an acoustic guitar but seemed to have a lot of trouble getting into the flow. In addition, the sound of his guitar was far too low in the mix for him to be heard, and eventually he just gave up. Nevertheless, it was another phenomenal show. Lesh and his friends tore into a marvelous Playin’ in the Band, which wound into a long, wonderful jam. Kimock, Lesh, and Kang seemed to be in quite a groove, and the group sounded more harmonious than the battling guitars of the night before. The jam flowed beautifully into Round the Wheel, a String Cheese tune sung by Nershi and Kang. Uncle John’s Band was characterized by some fancy fiddle work, which pushed its new up-tempo beat. As the song dissipated, Lesh helped Kimock get started on New Potato Caboose by turning to show him the chord sequence. Kimock then magically transported us back to 1969 with the sound of his guitar. The hour-long jam concluded with a breathtaking journey through Kimock’s own instrumental Tangled Hangers.

After everyone caught their breath, Lesh launched into a high-energy Cumberland Blues, and the group followed with a tender rendition of Robbie Robertson’s Broken Arrow. Defying the odds, the show just kept getting better and better as moe.’s Al Schnier took the stage for the conclusion of the set — a sweet, soulful trilogy of The Wheel, Terrapin Station, and Playin’ in the Band.

It was too good to be true, and I was convinced that Lesh had tapped into my cranium. Isn’t that how it always was at Grateful Dead concerts? The five of us Virginians looked at each other in awe and amazement. It felt like we were back at the Capital Center.

After no encore the night before, there seemed to be little chance for an encore tonight — especially when Lesh returned to make a pitch for organ donation. I figured that was our encore, but then he added, "...and we’ll be right back."

Back they came alright, with Ripple no less. Good Gawd! Could it have ended any better? I immediately felt like tearing up my return airline ticket and catching a ride to Eugene for the next set of shows. Fat, dumb, and happy in a Phil-induced state of Dead ecstasy, we left the shows and the good company of fellow heads for the return trip home.

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