Denver Comes Alive returned to Denver, CO’s Mission Ballroom this past weekend for a two-night blowout with two distinct flavors. On Friday, fans stomped and hollered through a bluegrass-focused lineup featuring Yonder Mountain String Band, Kitchen Dwellers, WinterWonderWomen, Maggie Rose, and more. On Saturday, the Mission came alive with the sounds of the funk thanks to performances by Lettuce, The Word, The Main Squeeze, and Super Sonic Shorties.

But in spite of the twofold nature of Denver Comes Alive 2023, the most thrilling moments of the festival came when artists began to step outside their designated stylistic maps and into the unexplored outskirts of genre—a phenomenon that underscored ongoing periods of creativity and uncharted growth in both the modern funk scene and the contemporary bluegrass world. In that sense, the two nights of Denver Comes Alive were more alike than they were different: Two supremely talented schools of musicians set on expanding their spaces in search of new sounds in one of the world’s most unique and vibrant music markets.

Read on for a full recap of the festival and scroll down to the bottom of this page for photos and videos. To make a donation to Denver Comes Alive 2023’s charitable partner—Backline, the music industry’s mental health and wellness hub—click here.

“Bluegrass” night got underway with a showing of powerhouse singer-songwriter Maggie Rose and her talented band out of Nashville, TN. Strutting along the dividing lines between country, Americana, soul, gospel, and rock and roll, Rose commanded the emotions of a steadily growing crowd throughout her performance. Maggie and company also gave a pair of nods to the recently departed Jeff Beck by way of a “Freeway Jam” early on in the show and a tease of “You Know What I Mean” during a mid-set “Saint” > “Smooth” combo. Later in the set, Rose called upon fiddlers Bridget Law (Elephant Revival, WinterWonderWomen) and Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band) and mandolinist Mimi Naja (Fruition, WinterWonderWomen) to assist on a moving rendition of “Broken” before finishing strong with soul-funk anthem “What Makes You Tick”.

Setlist: Maggie Rose | Denver Comes Alive | 1/13/23
Set: Hey Blondie, Do It, You Got Today > Freeway Jam (Jeff Beck), Rock Steady (Aretha Franklin), Saint > Smooth[1], Magic Man, Do Right By My Love, Fake Flowers, Broken[2], What Makes You Tick

[1] featuring “You Know What I Mean” (Jeff Beck) teases
[2] with Mimi Naja (mandolin), Bridget Law (fiddle), Jason Carter (fiddle)

View Maggie Rose Setlist

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[Photo: Sam Silkworth – Maggie Rose, 1/13/23]

WinterWonderWomen, the rotating supergroup of women from across the extended string band scene, stretched beyond the strictures of traditional bluegrass with a stylistically diverse Denver Comes Alive lineup featuring fiddler Bridget Law (Elephant Revival), vocalist/guitarist Lindsay Lou, mandolinist/guitarist/vocalist Mimi Naja (Fruition), keyboardist/vocalist Megan Letts (Mama Magnolia), bassist/vocalist Emma Rose (Big Richard), and Michelle Pietrafitta (Banshee Tree). Thanks to the versatile tastes and talents of these self-proclaimed bluegrass “fringers,” the enthralling set highlighted the ever-widening scope of the genre’s contemporary sound.

After beginning with angelic harmony on a rendition of traditional Appalachian spiritual “Bright Morning Stars”, Lindsay Lou slyly addressed both the show’s notable date and the band’s demographic makeup: “Happy Friday the 13th,” she quipped. “Let’s get witchy, eh?”

Their coven reached out to a long list of ladies both past and present, stringing together diverse selections ranging from Fleetwood Mac‘s classic “Say You Love Me” (R.I.P., Christine McVie) to Beyoncé and The Chicks‘ country-crossover “Daddy Lessons” remix (featuring a well-placed Maggie Rose sit-in) to Olivia Rodrigo‘s 2021 pop-punk smash “good 4 u” (in a slinky jazz lounge arrangement borrowed from Scary Pockets) to Margaret Glaspy‘s reproductive rights anthem “My Body My Choice (“2022 was a really weird year to have a uterus,” Letts deadpanned), not to mention a pair of Lindsay Lou originals.

Artists-at-large Billy Failing (banjo, Billy Strings) and Jason Carter flitted in and out, adding extra strings to Stevie Wonder‘s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, Otis Redding‘s “Hard to Handle”, and more. Both genre and gender aside, this was a stellar performance from top to bottom. Don’t miss them when they return to WinterWonderGrass in March.

Setlist: WinterWonderWomen | Denver Comes Alive | 1/13/22
Set: Bright Morning Stars (traditional), Say You Love Me (Fleetwood Mac), I Lost It (Lucinda Williams), Don’t Go Back (Lindsay Lou)[1], Daddy Lessons (Beyoncé, The Chicks)[2], Roll With Me (Lindsay Lou), Real Love Baby (Father John Misty), good 4 u (Olivia Rodrigo, Scary Pockets arrangement)[3], Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Stevie Wonder)[3], My Body My Choice (Margaret Glaspy), Hard To Handle (Otis Redding)[3], The Weight[3]

[1] with Billy Failing (banjo), Jason Carter (fiddle)
[2] with Billy Failing (banjo), Maggie Rose (vocals)
[3] with Billy Failing (banjo)

View WinterWonderWomen Setlist

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[Photo: Sam Silkworth – WinterWonderWomen with Billy Failing, Jason Carter, 1/13/23]

Kitchen Dwellers were among the most buzzed-about bands on the Denver Comes Alive bill going into the weekend. Introduced by event MC Ari Fink (SiriusXM) as “the most metal bluegrass band on the circuit,” the Dwellers made good on that promise with their intrepid brand of adrenaline-spiking jamgrass, drawing Friday evening’s biggest crowd to the Mission Ballroom’s sprawling dance floor.

In addition to a poignant “Stand At Ease”, written in tribute to late Yonder Mountain String Band vet Jeff Austin, highlights from the Kitchen Dwellers set included a pair of tunes with guests Billy Failing and Jason Carter (Béla Fleck‘s “Whitewater” and Failing’s own “So Many Miles”), a ska-grass skank-fest on Operation Ivy‘s “Sound System” with Lindsay Lou (vocals) and Mimi Naja (electric guitar), and a deep, dark, effect-inflected “Covered Bridges” improv odyssey featuring some thematic flirting with Bob Marley‘s reggae classic “Exodus”.

Setlist: Kitchen Dwellers | Denver Comes Alive | 1/13/22
Set: Sundown > Tombstone Blues (Bob Dylan) > Drowning (…Again), Smokestack > Stand At Ease, Whitewater (Béla Fleck) [1], So Many Miles (Billy Failing) [1], Muir Maid, Sound System (Operation Ivy) [2], Bottom Shelf, Covered Bridges > Ebenezer’s Winter, Timebomb (Old 97’s)

[1] with Billy Failing (banjo), Jason Carter (fiddle)
[2] with Lindsay Lou (vocals), Mimi Naja (electric guitar)

View Kitchen Dwellers Setlist

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[Photo: Jesse Faatz – Kitchen Dwellers with Billy Failing, 1/13/23]

Yonder Mountain String Band, the long-running, ever-evolving group often recognized for its pioneering influence in the jamgrass space served up perhaps the closest thing to a straight-ahead bluegrass set on “bluegrass night.” The group is up for its first-ever Grammy this year (Best Bluegrass Album for Get Yourself Outside), and despite recent changes to the lineup—including relatively recent addition Nick Piccinninni on mandolin (and sometimes fiddle) and a “floating fifth member” (this time Jason Carter) filling Allie Kral‘s recently vacated fiddle duties—the quintet showed off its well-honed blend with veteran skill and taste.

High points came by way of Yonder tunes both old and new including a poignant “40 Miles from Denver”, multiple Get Yourself Outside tracks (“I Just Can’t”, “Suburban Girl”), a “What The Night Brings” ode to Jeff Austin with help from Lindsay Lou and Billy Failing (who remained in the mix for the majority of the set), the customary “one more Jägermeister shot” during “Rambler’s Anthem” (“It’s not Jägermeister anymore because we’re not maniacs,” Ben Kaufmann joked), and a Piccinninni/Carter fiddle showdown on “Cherokee Shuffle”.

Later, Tyree Woods joined in on vocals for a run through Ry Cooder‘s gospel-grass romp “Jesus on the Mainline” and stuck around for “Ragdoll”, then popped back in for the evening’s encore: a cover of “Dancing In The Moonlight” that resonated under the Mission’s high-tech LED disco ball in the after-midnight hour.

Setlist: Yonder Mountain String Band | Denver Comes Alive | 1/13/22
Set: Out of the Blue, Boatman’s Dance, 40 Miles from Denver, I Just Can’t, What the Night Brings (Jeff Austin) [1][2], Rambler’s Anthem [1] > Looking Back Over My Shoulder [1] > On the Run [1] > Cherokee Shuffle [1][3] > Bass Solo > On the Run [1] > Rambler’s Anthem [1], Suburban Girl [1], Jesus On The Mainline (Ry Cooder) [1][4], Ragdoll [1][4], Raleigh and Spencer (traditional) [1] > Nowhere Next [1] > Raleigh and Spencer (traditional) [1]

Encore: Dancing in the Moonlight (Sherman Kelly) [1][4]

Entire show with Jason Carter (fiddle)
[1] with Billy Failing (banjo)
[2] with Lindsay Lou (lead vocals)
[3] with Nick Piccinnini and Jason Carter on fiddles
[4] with Tyree Woods (lead vocals)

View Yonder Mountain String Band Setlist

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[Photo: Jason Myers – Yonder Mountain String Band with Jason Carter, 1/13/23]

Saturday’s funk-forward festivities got started with Super Sonic Shorties, a Nikki Glaspie-led battalion of women with world-class funk and R&B credentials featuring Katty Rodriguez (horns, Beyoncé), Tonya Sweets (bass, Klymaxx/Lizzo), Natalie Cressman (trombone/vocals, Trey Anastasio Band), Ella Feingold (guitar, Silk Sonic), Amy Bellamy (keys, G. Love), Shirazette Tinnin (percussion, Dee Dee Bridgewater), and Lenesha Randolph (vocals, Lauryn Hill, Robert Randolph and the Family Band). The performance also featured backing vocals by Ahmed Noegos Davis—as Glaspie joked after the set, “There’s always a token girl, so he’s our token dude.”

Nikki (drums, vocals) and company mined their extensive knowledge of classic R&B and funk to pull together a setlist of deep cuts from the ’70s and ’80s, with selections ranging from Cameo‘s “Shake Your Pants” (one of the tracks sampled on Beastie Boys‘ “Hey Ladies”) to Rick James-penned Mary Jane Girls track “Candy Man” to Evelyn “Champagne” King‘s “What Are You Waiting For?”.

As Adryon de León and Shira Elias joined the Shorties on vocals for Dayton‘s “We Can’t Miss”, bringing the size of the ensemble up to 12, Glaspie wondered, “When’s the last time you saw this many women onstage? Been a minute for me, too.”

Feingold’s funky rhythm guitar stole the show on a tribute to Oklahoma-native funk legends The Gap Band (look out for more of that from The Nth Power this year), while “the Reverend” Nigel Hall added extra keys to Unlimited Touch‘s “Happy Ever After” (“He can’t be here and not play, that’s sacrilegious,” Nikki joked. “We’re gonna call him Nigena… he’s a shortie.”)

With time for one more, the Shorties dialed up an appropriate “Ridin’ High”, the funky groove off 1979’s Invasion of the Booty Snatchers by ladies Parliament-Funkadelic offshoot Parlet. Here’s hoping this is not the last we hear from these Super Sonic Shorties.

Setlist: Super Sonic Shorties | Denver Comes Alive | 1/14/23
Set: Shake Your Pants (Cameo), Candy Man (Rick James, Mary Jane Girls), What Are You Waiting For? (Evelyn “Champagne” King), We Can’t Miss (Dayton) [1], Early In The Morning (The Gap Band), Happy Ever After (Unlimited Touch) [2], Ridin’ High (Parlet)

[1] with Adryon de León (vocals), Shira Elias (vocals)
[2] with Nigel Hall (keys)

View Super Sonic Shorties Setlist

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[Photo: Jason Myers – Super Sonic Shorties, 1/14/23]

L.A.-based funk-rock quintet The Main Squeeze brought in reinforcements for its Denver Comes Alive performance, doubling in size with the addition of auxiliary backing outfit Pulp Friction: Adryon de León (vocals), Shira Elias (vocals), Will Phillips (percussion), Nick Gerlach (saxophone), Tiffany Johns (horns, keys). The beefed-up Squeeze delivered a thrilling performance at the Mission Ballroom, weaving through a seamlessly curated set that showcased the breadth of their multifaceted approach to funk.

From a jazzier-than-usual take on early original “Dr. Funk” to an impressive trumpet/synth combo solo by Johns to a soul-stirring vocoder interlude by bassist Rob Walker, the Pulp Friction-bolstered band explored an array of distinct sonic spaces while working through material new and old, transporting fans along with them with every new selection.

The Main Squeeze has always been known to crank out impressive covers, and the towering rendition of Pink Floyd‘s “Comfortably Numb” in the set’s penultimate slot checked that box with gusto. Bolstered by thematic horns and vocal harmonies, the band blasted toward cosmic cacophony behind the solo of the weekend from guitarist Max Newman. “You ever have that moment where the music feels so good that you just laugh?” vocalist Corey Frye chuckled when the dust settled. Why yes, yes we have—all weekend long at Denver Comes Alive.

With thousands of fans in the crowd roaring for more, the band closed out its set with an emphatic “I’ll Take Another”, keyboardist Ben “Smiley” Silverstein clutching his keytar and facing off with Newman for one final round of onstage fireworks.

Setlist: The Main Squeeze | Denver Comes Alive | 1/14/23
Set: Go to Work [1], Sweat [1], Dr. Funk [1] > Sun Goes Down, When I See Darkness [1], Make It Right [1], Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd) [1], I’ll Take Another

[1] with Pulp Friction: Adryon de León (vocals), Shira Elias (vocals), Will Phillips (percussion), Nick Gerlach (saxophone), Tiffany Johns (horns, keys)

View The Main Squeeze Setlist

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[Photo: Sam Silkworth – The Main Squeeze, 1/14/23]

Sacred steel supergroup The Word is something of an enigma. Comprised of world-class players with myriad projects between them (steel guitarist Robert Randolph, organist John Medeski, guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson, and bassist Kevin Lloyd), the blues-gospel communion has only played a handful of one-off shows since its last tour back in early 2016.

The rare sighting of The Word on Saturday injected funk night at Denver Comes Alive with a shot of the holy spirit, this collective of masters shining as brightly as Randolph’s sequin blazer. From emotive grooves and gritty funk to pretty, flowing organ interludes to searing slide guitar solos, The Word evangelized its message of soul to remarkable effect.

After Brother Datrian Johnson joined in to belt a few numbers, a free-wheeling segment brought Robert Randolph to the drum kit, prompted Luther Dickinson and Kevin Lloyd to swap their guitar and bass, and coaxed Cody Dickinson to the spotlight on the washboard. By the end, everyone on stage had switched their instruments—well, everyone except Medeski. When John Medeski is in your band, John Medeski plays the organ.

To cap many attendees’ first-ever live look at The Word, the band took the Allman Brothers Band‘s “Jessica” and turned it on its head. With added syncopation, amended cadences, and a reverent yet unconstricted tie to the original, this unique reimagining of the beloved instrumental was baptized by The Word but managed to retain its native DNA. Bravo. See you on Jam Cruise

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[Photo: Sam Silkworth – The Word, 1/14/23]

Lettuce is one of the biggest funk bands on the scene today, but it’s often difficult to call the band’s sound “funk” in good conscience. Adam Deitch (drums), Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (guitar), Erick “Jesus” Coomes (bass), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone), Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), and Nigel Hall (keys/vocals) have the unnatural ability to sound like a different band every time you see them. One day, it might be underground nightclub house-funk. The next, it’s a lesson in jazz history with a modern lens. The next, it’s a g-force journey through the cosmos.

Topping a bill filled with the old-school funk and R&B of Super Sonic Shorties, the ferocious funk-rock of The Main Squeeze, and the spiritual steel-funk of The Word, Lettuce checked the temperature and decided that what was missing was a tour of funk’s applications in underground hip-hop.

After opening with a jazzy, atmospheric “Hawk’s Claw” that dabbled in KRS-One classic “Step Into A World (Rapture’s Delight)” and moving through “Lett The World Know” and “Larimar” with similar attention to melody, Lettuce served up its recently introduced combo of “Waffles” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, a pairing that adds a new layer of dreamy ambiance to the band’s staple Tears For Fears cover arrangement.

Other highlights from the headlining Lettuce performance at Denver Comes Alive 2023 included a massive “Phyllis” that worked its way through interpolations of both “Coming Of Age” (Jay-Z)/”Inside You” (Eddie Henderson) and posthumous J Dilla track “Body Movin'” before finding its way back to the song’s structure. With the clock winding down on the weekend, Lettuce dove into Unify standout “Vámonos” with help from a floating Nikki Glaspie on shaker and keys.

When Lettuce returned to the stage for its encore, the band had noticeably grown in numbers. Lenesha Randolph (vocals), Nikki Glaspie (percussion, drums), Amy Bellamy (keys), Deshawn “D’Vibes” Alexander (keys), and Aaron Bellamy (percussion) had joined in for a song that summed up not just this set, not just this weekend, but the Denver, Colorado scene as a whole: Sly & The Family Stone‘s “Family Affair”.

Setlist: Lettuce | Denver Comes Alive | 1/14/23

Set: Hawk’s Claw [1], Lett The World Know, Larimar, Waffles > Everybody Wants to Rule The World (Tears For Fears, Waffles remix), Royal Highness, Mr. Dynamite > Blast Off, Phyllis [2], Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (The Clark Sisters), Vámonos [3]

Encore: Family Affair (Sly & The Family Stone)

[1] featuring “Step Into A World (Rapture’s Delight)” (KRS-One, Blondie) tease
[2] featuring “Coming Of Age” (Jay-Z)/”Inside You” (Eddie Henderson) and “Body Movin'” (J Dilla, J Rocc, Karriem Riggins) teases
[3] with Nikki Glaspie (percussion, keys)
[4] with Nikki Glaspie (percussion, drums), Amy Bellamy (keys), Lenesha Randolph (vocals), Deshawn “D’Vibes” Alexander (keys), Aaron Bellamy (percussion)

View Lettuce Setlist

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[Photo: Sam Silkworth – Lettuce, 1/14/23]

Denver Comes Alive 2023 was a true family affair in so many ways—from the big, beautiful musical families of the funk and bluegrass scenes to the collaborative kinship of the Denver music community. We’re already counting down the days until the next reunion.

Below, watch full-set pro-shot videos from Denver Comes Alive 2023 via and check out photo galleries from both nights via Sam SilkworthJesse Faatz, and Jason Myers.

Denver Comes Alive – Maggie Rose, WinterWonderWomen, Kitchen Dwellers, Yonder Mountain String Band, More [Pro-Shot] – 1/13/23

Denver Comes Alive – Super Sonic Shorties, Lettuce [Pro-Shot] – 1/14/23