By 7:15, Yonder Mountain String Band was on stage. Jeff Austin, Daniel Johnston, Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala were ready for a strong set of bluegrass. The energy died for just a second – as you might expect with an all-string band, but when Jon Fishman sat behind the drum set for the second half of the set, the hoe down commenced. Austin, rockstar that he is, led the jam into Makisupa Policeman, and then used the opportunity to thank the crowd for their support to help the fire victims, telling us in full-on preacher style to always carry this positive energy with us.
When Big Head Todd & The Monsters were set to start, it was clear that the crowd’s focus was not on them. But soon, with their ’90s rock driven big-band jazz, the audience was energized. At times similar to Trey Anastasio Band, with groovy bass lines, a jazzy horn section and shredding guitar solos, it was a pleasant surprise for the evening. Leftover Salmon joined BHTM for an upbeat Friend of the Devil, but that wasn’t the end of their set, not even close. And that was no problem.
It was around 9:30 when BHTM walked off stage, and the LED screen read “Up Next: Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon,” confirming Hidden Track’s report. The stage was cleared, the lights were dimmed, and soon Big Red and Cactus were standing next to each other, acoustic guitar and acoustic bass in hand, respectively, playing the old standard acoustic Phish jams – Back on the Train, Water in the Sky, Sample in a Jar, Train Song, Waste, Possum. But then Trey’s guitar sung out the opening notes of My Friend, My Friend, and the duo powered through this somewhat rarity, and then moved right into Wilson. They bowed and walked off stage, after a huge cheer for the firefighters in section 107, as their audience hummed along to the melody of Bathtub Gin.
At this point, you might say, “OK, I’m happy, we can go now.” In fact, you would have been happy with this show had only the Leftover Salmon set happened. But it kept on going, and with each passing moment it seemed to get better. String Cheese Incident took the stage about 10:30PM, it was certainly still early, but our feet were tired, our ears were ringing, and we needed some energy.
Luckily, as expected, SCI came to play. Trey Anastasio joined the set early on, taking lead vocals on the Joe Walsh and Barnstorm tune Rocky Mountain Way and then sharing in a fierce three-way solo battle with Bill Nershi and Michael Kang during Outside Inside. He left the stage, as always, with a proud bow, fans in awe. From there, it was a free-for-all. SCI brought Big Head Todd on stage, then the guys from Leftover Salmon, then Bonnie Paine joined on washboard and Jeff Austin brought his mandolin. For the rest of the show, in true Colorado bluegrass fashion, there were no less than 15 people on stage at a time.
The music portion of the show wasn’t the only huge success, though, and thankfully. Designed to raise money for those affected by the Fourmile Canyon Fire which destroyed acres of nearby Colorado land and hundreds of homes just a couple of months ago, the benefit was able to raise over $300,000 in relief funds, with more looking to come in after the weekend. Aside from ticket sales and service donations (1st Bank Center covered all costs associated with running the show), a food drive and a text message giving campaign held throughout the show was able to raise an extra couple of thousand dollars, and fish-bowls full of singles and five-dollar-bills were passed throughout the audience, to be counted and totaled afterwards.
As I waited for the bus back to Boulder, only a twenty-minute ride, and stared at all the faces of people at this show, it was obvious, again, for more reasons than one, that music can bring people together. It has the power to heal, as we saw on this night, and the power to energize, as we saw as well. Hopefully we’ll continue to see it throughout our lives, because it’s nights like this that can truly make a difference.