Thunder and lightning hit Red Rocks amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, on July 9. Only this time, the electrical impulses of the Avett Brothers followed the human boombox known as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
The buzz that built in advance of this sold-out show was still lingering in the air as Potter and her knockout band took the stage at precisely 7:30 p.m. According to eTown's Nick Forster, who hosts the Boulder-based radio show that was recording this concert for a later national broadcast, the band "is taking the world by storm." That was apparent just by looking straight up.
Dark clouds still loomed over the Rocks after a series of thunderstorms passed through the area in the afternoon, undoubtedly making Potter wonder if she would relive the "Dorothy, Wizard of Oz" moment she experienced in her first appearance at the venue in 2005.
"It's just gonna be great, no matter what," Potter assured the late-arriving crowd as raindrops started falling two songs into a 70-minute set.
A steady shower threatened to make a liar out of Potter (right) as she worked the B3 during "Goodbye Kiss," the reggae-infused tune from GPN's self-titled album that made the rest of the nation finally take notice of this rock 'n' roll queen and her Vermont-based quartet.
But the skies cooperated, allowing Potter and her double-barreled shotgun guitarists -- Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco -- to blast through the rest of their opening set, propelled by the riveting rhythm section of Cat Popper (bass) and Matt Burr (drums).
Potter introduced "Stop the Bus" as "a little number I actually wrote when we were traveling through the hills of Colorado one fateful evening when our RV broke down right by Buffalo Bill's Grave over there."
It turned out to be an all-out guitar assault, as Potter and her Gibson Flying V kept pace with an assembly line of head-bobbing, heart-throbbing band/soul-mates.
On a night filled with powerful moments that included Potter channeling her inner Tina Turner at her hip-shaking and earth-quaking best, this battle of the band bit should be etched in stone -- or at least somewhere in the massive formations this geological wonder offers. It even surpassed the seductively pop-friendly pass through "Paris (Ooh La La)," when Potter, hoping for a naughty-by-nature scene, said, "It's not a Red Rocks show until someone takes their shirt off." She had to settle for what looked like a plus-sized pair of granny panties thrown from the crowd. Then there was her bass drum-pounding jam session during an 11-minute version of the show-closing "Medicine" that also included Potter's "victory lap" run in bare feet around the vast stage before GPN took their final bows.
If Potter's "deepest wish" is to headline -- and sell out -- Red Rocks one day, which she expressed during my interview with her published earlier this month, who's to say it can't come true.
In fact, this main event was a first for the harmonious Avett Brothers at Red Rocks, where they previously supported Gov't Mule or appeared at the now-defunct Monolith Festival. The concert was even broadcast live via satellite to the band's hometown of Concord, North Carolina, shown on an 80 by 200 foot Panasonic high definition video board at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Potter was just honored to be part of another show with Seth and Scott Avett (shown from left), whom she called "very close friends of ours."
"When the Avetts have a special show, they invite us," she added. "It's amazing. They did their little homecoming show in Charlotte (at the 11,000-seat Bojangles Coliseum in April). When I say 'little,' it's a joke because they played this huge coliseum to like a gazillion adoring fans that were waiting at home for them. ... I absolutely love the Avett Brothers to death. I just want to take 'em home and squeeze them and put them in my pocket."
So did most of 9,000-plus in attendance at Red Rocks. Even Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared ready for a bro-mance as he ranked the Avetts right at the top of other brotherly-loved legends during his hype-filled introduction.
"There is something special about people that are born with remarkable talent and from childhood get to sing together as brothers," Hickenlooper said. "I'm talking about the Everly Brothers, I'm talking about the Wilson brothers of the Beach Boys. What you're going to hear tonight is a band every bit as good, a band that not only loves music but they love to give of themselves to the crowd. Give it up for one of the best rock 'n' roll bands on Earth."
Not that it mattered to those in attendance, but when Hickenlooper was Denver mayor, he made a similar introduction at the Bluebird Theater in 2009, calling historic Los Angeles punk group X "the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time."
It's no surprise that Hickenlooper failed to mention John Doe, Exene Cervenka and the other X-men at Red Rocks, where the demographic was certainly younger and tamer. But it's hard to imagine the low-key yet charismatic Avetts taking any of his highfalutin comparisons seriously. After all, while some of that punk brashness exists, they're still more about homespun country charm and Americana authenticity than old-time rock 'n' roll.
The Avetts' crossover appeal is becoming quite widespread, though. They were even featured on CMT.com's "Unplugged" online series this week, performing "Laundry Room," "January Wedding," "And it Spread" and "The Once and Future Carpenter," all of which were included in a varied Red Rocks set that lasted nearly two hours.
At Red Rocks, the Scott and Seth Avett displayed superb showmanship and musicianship on the banjo and acoustic guitar, respectively. Joe Kwon (cello), Bob Crawford (bass) and Jacob Edwards (drums) filled in the gaps during a moonlight serenade that ranged from sweet and sentimental ("I and Love and You") to dark and mysterious ("Paranoia in B-Flat Major," "I Killed Sally's Lover").
Their cover of John Denver's "Back Home Again" was timely on this special occasion, when it was announced that the late "Rocky Mountain High" guy had been officially inducted into the Red Rocks Performers Hall of Fame. They also covered fellow North Carolinians David Childers ("The Prettiest Thing") and Doc Watson ("Blue Ridge Mountain Blues"), but it was their wealth of original material that turned easy listening into a religious experience.
Their energetic potency might fall short of, say, Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show, two other bands I saw for the first time this year. But the cranked-up crowd's outward outpouring of emotion during sing-alongs and other random acts of fan worship made it seem like the Avetts have captured lightning in a bottle.
Love on the Rocks, indeed.
As the Avetts finished up with "Laundry Room," the skies were producing their own natural fireworks show, as bolts over Colorado's eastern plains continuously lit up the night. But in a span of 3 1/2 hours when GPN and the Avetts were plugged in and turning on their connected collectives, there was no better place than Red Rocks to find such excellent electric company.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and the Avett Brothers at Red Rocks.
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