The vibrant Denver, CO music scene descended upon the 4,000-capacity Mission Ballroom in force on Friday night for the inaugural Denver Comes Alive. For nearly eight hours straight, an unrelenting string of nationally touring bands, all-star collaborations, and never-before-seen “band mashups” specifically conceived for this momentous occasion graced the Mission stage for an unforgettable evening in the Mile High City.
Scroll down for a full rundown, setlists, audio, and video as well as full photo galleries by Sam Silkworth, Tara Gracer, Colin McKinley, James DeWalt, and Ali Stinehour. You can also check out the official Denver Comes Alive 2020 recap video by Sam Silkworth.
Denver Comes Alive 2020 – Recap Video
Star Kitchen & Friends
After an introductory hour of vinyl grooves courtesy of DJ Soul Sister, Star Kitchen took the stage to kick off the festivities in earnest. Led by The Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein alongside guitarist Danny Mayer (Eric Krasno Band) and drummer Marlon Lewis (John Legend, Lauryn Hill), the band worked through a mix of classic funk and jazz covers bookended by a pair of original tunes, “Darkness” and “Demons”.
Of course, the name of the game at Denver Comes Alive was “collaboration,” and Star Kitchen filled their collab quota by welcoming Break Science keyboardist Borahm Lee on Bob James‘s “Nautilus” and The Stylistics‘ “People Make The World Go Round”, and a two-piece horn section of Gabe Mervine (trumpet) and Nick Gerlach (saxophone) on The J.B.’s “Hot Pants Road”, Prince‘s “Kiss”, and Parliament‘s “Do That Stuff”.
Star Kitchen & Friends – Denver Comes Alive – 1/31/20 – Full Video
Setlist: Star Kitchen & Friends | Denver Comes Alive | Mission Ballroom | 1/30/20
Set: Darkness, Nautilus (Bob James cover), People Make The World Go Round (The Stylistics cover), Hot Pants Road (The J.B.’s cover), Kiss (Prince cover), Do That Stuff (Parliament cover), Demons
 w/ Borahm Lee (keys)
 w/ Gabe Mervine (trumpet) and Nick Gerlach (saxophone)
 w/ vocals by Marlon Lewis
 w/ vocals by Marlon Lewis, Rob Marscher
Next up on the schedule was Ghost-Live, the debut collaborative performance by members of Ghost-Note and Soulive. With Soulive’s Eric Krasno (guitar) and Neal Evans (keys) guiding the melodic direction and Ghost-Note’s Robert Sput Searight (drums), Nate Werth (percussion), and MonoNeon (bass) providing their characteristically virtuosic rhythmic foundation, the debut of Ghost-Live played out like a Soulive set on steroids.
This crew of master musicians worked through a number of live Soulive favorites including their arrangements of The Beatles‘ “Get Back” and “Eleanor Rigby” and originals like “Povo” and “Nubian Lady”, casting the staple selections in a thrilling new light. The hybrid band also welcomed a pair of surprise guests during the show, as Big Gigantic saxophonist Dominic Lalli joined in for three songs in the middle of the set and Danny Mayer joined the band for a set-closing “76”.
Ghost-Live – Denver Comes Alive – 1/31/20 – Full Video
Setlist: Ghost-Live | Denver Comes Alive | Mission Ballroom | 1/31/20
Set: Get Back (The Beatles cover), Cocoa Butter, Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover), Povo, Mr. Clean, Nubian Lady, 76
 w/ Dominic Lalli (Big Gigantic) on saxophone
 w/ Danny Mayer (Star Kitchen) on guitar
Notes: Entire set featured Eric Krasno (guitar) and Neal Evans (keys) of Soulive with Robert Sput Searight (drums), Nate Werth (percussion), and MonoNeon (bass) of Ghost-Note.
Poppa Funk & The Night Tripper
While the spirit of Brooklyn Comes Alive—and now Denver Comes Alive—has always been an homage to New Orleans Jazz Fest after dark, the inaugural Denver Comes Alive featured a more direct tribute to a pair of New Orleans music icons we lost last year: Art Neville and Dr. John.
Related: George Porter Jr. Talks Art Neville, Allen Toussaint, & The Hindsight Of The Meters [Interview]
The highly anticipated Poppa Funk & The Night Tripper: A Tribute to Art Neville & Dr. John set featured a who’s who of living New Orleans legends. George Porter Jr., Neville’s longtime friend, and collaborator in The Meters, as well as Art’s son, guitarist Ian Neville (Dumpstaphunk), and his nephew, Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk), were all on hand for the tribute. Pianist Jon Cleary, who toured extensively with Dr. John during his later years, was also on hand to represent the late Mac Rebennack. The lineup was rounded out by multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Tony Hall (Dumpstaphunk), drummer Nikki Glaspie (The Nth Power, Beyonce), NOLA trombonist Big Sam, and enigmatic saxophonist Skerik.
The immensely talented lineup shared the spotlight with ease, passing around lead vocal duties on a high-energy mix of Dr. John, The Meters, and Neville Brothers classics. They even took the Mission back to the days before The Meters and the Neville Brothers with a rendition of “Mardi Gras Mambo”, the ubiquitous Carnival anthem recorded by Art Neville with the Hawketts in 1954.
For those who missed out on this thrilling, “to heroes, by heroes” tribute, fear not: Live For Live Music just announced that this all-star band will reprise Poppa Funk & The Night Tripper for a late-night show during Jazz Fest. If you’re hoping to catch this show in New Orleans, don’t delay: While the Mission held 4,000 people for this tribute to Art and Mac, One Eyed Jacks will be capped at 400 on May 1st (tickets are available here).
Poppa Funk & The Night Tripper – Denver Comes Alive – 1/31/20 – Full Audio
Setlist: Poppa Funk & The Night Tripper: A Tribute To Art Neville & Dr. John | Denver Comes Alive | Mission Ballroom | 1/31/20
Set: Hey Pocky Way (The Meters), Right Place, Wrong Time (Dr. John), Let’s Make A Better World (Dr. John), Cabbage Alley (The Meters), Sitting In Limbo (Jimmy Cliff), Mojo Hannah (Neville Brothers), Zing Zing (Art Neville), Wild Honey (Dr. John), Fire & Brimstone (Neville Brothers), Huey Smith Medley (Dr. John), Such A Night (Dr. John), Mos’ Scocious (Dr. John), Mardi Gras Mambo (Hawketts), Quitters Never Win (Dr. John)
Oteil & Friends
As the clock approached midnight, Oteil Burbridge rounded out the evening with a never-before-seen cast of “Friends” including organist Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia Band), guitarists Eric Krasno (Soulive) and Scott Metzger (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead), drummer Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit), vocalist Alfreda Gerald, and percussionist Weedie Braimah.
Burbridge and company leaned heavily into the live Jerry Garcia Band repertoire for their nearly two-hour performance, working in oft-played covers like “Midnight Moonlight”, “Mississippi Moon”, “Let It Rock”, “That’s What Love Will Make You Do”, “How Sweet It Is”, “Many Rivers To Cross”, “The Maker”, and more. They also explored a pair of Jerry originals in “Run For The Roses” and the early Grateful Dead favorite “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)”.
At the end of the set, Oteil led the band into an homage to one of his other past groups, the Allman Brothers Band, with a rendition of “Hot ‘Lanta” before Alfreda Gerald helped bring the show home with a powerful Janis Joplin impression on “Piece of My Heart”.
Oteil & Friends – Denver Comes Alive – 1/31/20 – Full Video
Setlist: Oteil & Friends | Denver Comes Alive | Mission Ballroom | 1/31/20
Set: Water in the Desert, Midnight Moonlight (Peter Rowan), Let It Rock (Chuck Berry), Mississippi Moon (Peter Rowan), Run For The Roses (Jerry Garcia Band), That’s What Love Will Make You Do (Henderson Thigpen, James Banks, Eddy Marion), How Sweet It Is (Marvin Gaye), Many Rivers To Cross (Jimmy Cliff), Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion (Grateful Dead), Unconditional Love (Eric Krasno), The Maker (Daniel Lanois), Hot ‘Lanta (Allman Brothers Band), Piece of My Heart (Jerry Ragovoy/Bert Berns)