On Saturday night, Denver Comes Alive returned for its second annual installment at Denver, CO’s Mission Ballroom. Over the course of more than seven hours, an eclectic parade of nationally touring acts and special collaborations filled the air in the sprawling venue.
The festivities got started early with a funk-focused set by DJ Logic as fans arrived, many stopping by the various nonprofit activations from HeadCount, GrooveSafe, and Conscious Alliance as they filed into the state-of the-art ballroom. The concourse remained active throughout the night as attendees engaged with the event’s various charitable partners and checked out a gallery by renowned New Orleans-based painter Frenchy, who also live-painted each of the evening’s performances. Further cementing the event’s NOLA-inspired character, proceeds from ticket sales and other fundraising initiatives will be donated to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC), which provides comprehensive medical care and social services to local New Orleans musicians, performing artists, cultural workers, and tradition-bearers.
Denver Comes Alive 2021 – Official Recap Video
Hollywood funk-rocker Judith Hill and her “family” band were the first group to take the stage. Backed by her talented group—which features her father, Robert Lee “Pee Wee” Hill, on bass and her mother, Michiko Hill, on keys and organ. Judith led the veteran outfit with soulful charisma, firing off blistering guitar solos and occasionally sitting down at the piano as she gave Denver fans a tour of new tracks like “Baby, I’m Hollywood” and older favorites like “Gypsy Lover”.
Next up was a disco-jam dance party by Circles Around The Sun, who worked through their catalog of “Grateful-Dead-turned-inside-out” instrumental originals with stunning cohesiveness and inventive musicality. Since the passing of founding guitarist Neal Casal in 2019, the band has welcomed a rotating cast of lead guitarists into the fold. As keyboardist Adam MacDougall told Live For Live Music in a 2020 interview, “As long as the person has a strong voice and is confident in what they do and great at what they do, then it could be anybody. Could be a horn player. Could be a keyboard player. Could be anything. It’s never going to be Neal, [drummer] Mark [Levy], [bassist] Dan Horne and me—the band that it was—[so] we may as well play around with it.” To close the set at Denver Comes Alive, Circles Around The Sun echoed that mindset by welcoming out guitarist Eric Krasno—the first person to take up Neal’s mantle with CATS after his passing—to join new band member John Lee Shannon for a dual-guitar attack on “Babyman”.
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From there, multi-hyphenate Big Easy exports Tank and the Bangas reminded Denver Comes Alive’s attendees just how beautiful they are with a spirit-cleansing seance. Led by ever-emotive singer/rapper/poet Tarriona “Tank” Ball, the seven-piece outfit brought the love, energy, and appreciative ethos of the Big Easy to Denver—the same intangible spirit that first inspired and continues to guide the Comes Alive event series. The Grammy-nominated New Orleans outfit kept the crowd entranced as Tank guided the talented group through old favorites like “Quick”, new bangers like Big Freedia collab “Big”, and the the ethereal spoken word poem that closed their famous Tiny Desk Concert, “Rollercoasters“. Tank and the Bangas were thorough in displaying the breadth of their stylistic range, slipping seamlessly from soul to funk to jazz to hip-hop throughout the set. Even so, they managed to surprise the crowd one last time with their closing song: a high-octane, distorted run through Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Tank and the Bangas – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana) – Denver Comes Alive – 12/4/21
[Video: starman2112 rush]
Finally, after an intro from event host Ari Fink (SiriusXM), newly formed all-star outfit Ramble On Revival took the stage for its first-ever performance. Comprised of guitarist/musical director Eric Krasno (Soulive), bassist Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company. Allman Brothers Band), guitarist Steve Kimock (The Other Ones), keyboardist Holly Bowling (Ghost Light), drummer Jeff Sipe (Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit), saxophonist Skerik, and vocalist/trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band), the band was conceived as a vessel with which to explore the fertile musical ground between the storied catalogs of the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead.
Opting to start things off on a different foot entirely, the new outfit opened its debut show with Janis Joplin‘s “Piece of My Heart”, sung with gusto by Hartswick. Without breaking stride, the band moved from there into the Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain”, Oteil leading the way on vocals much like he does with Dead & Company as Kimock channeled Jerry Garcia with his tasteful arsenal of tones. Yet another segue took the band into the Allmans’ “Blue Sky”, Krasno and Kimock reverently recreating Dickey Betts and Duane Allman‘s guitar harmonies.
Ramble On Revival – “Fire On The Mountain” (Grateful Dead) > Blue Sky (Allman Brothers Band) – Denver Comes Alive – 12/4/21
Ramble On Revival once again deviated from the Dead/Allmans track for a funky ride through Oteil & The Peacemakers instrumental “Butter Biscuit”, Skerik making his eccentric presence known with an effects-layered sax solo. The audience roared with approval as the band kicked into classic ABB instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta”, which featured not one, not two, but three searing guitar solos (thanks to Skerik’s well-utilized guitar synth). Krasno stepped to the mic next for the Dead’s “Deal”, followed by a Hartswick-led rendition of the Allmans’ “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and a towering “Mountain Jam”.
A bouncing “Shakedown Street” served as the improvisational meat of the set, stretching to nearly twenty minutes of dissonant tension and satisfying release as each band member took some time to shine. Following the memorable poke-around, Jennifer led the way on “Midnight Rider” before the band closed the set with a fiery take on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. Finally, acquiescing to the cheers of the Denver Comes Alive crowd, Ramble On Revival returned to the stage and passed the ball to Hartswick for a tear-jerking, encore rendition of Garcia/Hunter gem “Brokedown Palace” adorned with billowing piano flourishes from Bowling.
Fare thee well, Denver Comes Alive. We’ll see you next time.
Ramble On Revival – Denver Comes Alive – Mission Ballroom
Setlist: Ramble On Revival | Denver Comes Alive | Mission Ballroom | Denver, CO | 12/4/21
Set: Piece of my Heart (Janis Joplin) > Fire On The Mountain (Grateful Dead) > Blue Sky (Allman Brothers Band), Butter Biscuit (Oteil & The Peacemakers), Hot ‘Lanta (Allman Brothers Band), Deal (Grateful Dead), Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More (Allman Brothers Band), Mountain Jam (Allman Brothers Band), Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead), Midnight Rider (Allman Brothers Band), In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (Allman Brothers Band)
Encore: Brokedown Palace (Grateful Dead)