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Taken from Denver-People-Examiner (Jul 20, 2008)

Mile High Music Festival blazes in the hot sun

and sunset -- with Petty, Franti and Winwood

by Denver-People-Examiner


Michael Franti
Michael Franti in 2007
(Photo: Thomas Moore)

The first Mile High Music Festival made a happy, sun-splashed debut Saturday on five stages in the sometimes dusty fields of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. Things appeared to go smoothly for the tens of thousands (an estimate put the number of revelers at more than 40,000), though the intense mid-day heat kept sales of water lively and lines at a refilling hydration station five-deep.


The event continues today at noon with John Mayer, the Black Crowes and headliner Dave Mathews Band (8:45-11:15 p.m.) and plenty of others such as Denver’s Flobots.  Tickets reportedly are still available. [Indeed, some 50,000 plus attended]. If yesterday’s kickoff is an example, admission is a bargain at $85, even if this fest won’t be confused with the legendary Woodstock gathering on Max Yasgur’s farm in Woodstock (though it might have been if it had been located as originally planned in Denver’s City Park).


There was evidence of a hippie vibe, from vendors selling batik scarves, to dreadlocked college kids and the whiff of herbal mood elevators, but veteran promoter Chuck Morris and his team at AEG Live Rocky Mountains (and no, the People Examiner didn’t get any comps) did an admirable job making sure things ran smoothly, from parking shuttles to acts beginning on time.


Aging rocker Tom Petty, whose career seems robust even as he’s closing in on 60 years old, capped the evening on the main stage. But it was some of the earlier acts echoing across the open spaces which proved memorable – though the People Examiner was busy examining, well, folks. Highlights: the guy dressed in the glittering Santa Claus outfit kissing a newborn baby, and the ecstatic young dude in a tie-dyed yellow and green T-shirt, who showed up to the Michael Franti show hopping up and down with a plastic garden gnome.


O.A.R., observed from the distance on one of the jumbo-screen monitors, seemed to please the crowd with a reggae-tinged ode introduced as a song designed for “baby-making” and Josh Ritter proved attractive – since his venue was inside a tent-covered stage during the searing midday.


A generational choice lured this set of ears to Steve Winwood’s venue, while others hunkered down to see the talented musician Andrew Bird. From the sounds of the review in The Denver Post, Bird was terrific. That said, my crew doesn’t regret our choice of watching the veteran English rocker Winwood. Speaking of closing in on 60 – the British icon, looking a bit like the boyish younger brother of Sen. Gary Hart with a dash of grey in his sideburns and reddish hair -- was superb, matching the energy on keyboards and guitar of his excellent band with that of the revved up crowd.


 Winwood played a mix of older songs such as “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (from Winwood’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Traffic) and his current hit “Dirty City”  from his recent album “Nine Lives” – filling in the guitar part admirably that his friend Eric Clapton recorded for the song. The bluesy rocker is still in strong voice, and his band was scorching, keeping the appreciative crowd -- ranging from grandmothers to toddlers -- grooving as he worked through his catalog from 40-plus years in rock, including “Higher Love,” "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" and “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” His encore? "Gimme Some Lovin", the Top 10 hit from 1967 he co-wrote and recorded with the Spencer Davis Group when he was a lad of 19. Again –  taking nothing away from the Bird followers – but any chance to see Winwood is pure gold.


Michael Franti
Michael Franti at Mile High
(Photo: Chad Fahnestock)

That being said, returning to the same Bullsnake Stage (hey, this is the Wild West, not Upstate New York, so theme names ruled) later in the day for Michael Franti & Spearhead made the event turn platinum. While at least one critic dismissed Franti’s band as unimaginative, I’m not sure that problematic verdict was an opinion drawn from watching the hyper-positive, leaping ex-basketballer’s nearly two-hour outpouring. This is one performer who would have been right at home at Woodstock, carrying on the spirit of peace and love.



Michael Franti
Carl Young and Dave Shul at Mile High
(Photo: Chad Fahnestock)

Having seen Franti at both Copper Mountain’s Sunsation outdoors and at Red Rocks, I was prepared for the bouncing, politically-tinged experience that fuses reggae, hip hop and rock. And if anything, Franti topped those other venues. Bounding onstage, barefoot and kicking a soccer ball, the dreadlocked Franti sang from “Rebel Rockers” – an upcoming album recorded in Jamaica, his “Yell Fire” (which, according to the Franti website, a fan purchased and gave to Sen. Barack Obama recently), and a new song he wrote about his 21-year-old son leaving their San Francisco home in the back of a Greyhound bus to find his own life as a graffiti artist in New York. Franti, who mentioned his support of the HeadCount

Michael Franti
Michael Franti at Mile High
(Photo: Chad Fahnestock)

voting initiative, alternated his boundless energy on uptempo tunes with some slower guitar numbers. As always, his band blazed behind him, featuring drums and bass. At the end, finishing his set saying he wanted to head over to see Petty, Franti – who on several occasions sang in the crowd – made time to embrace fans lined up along the stage.


A word to concert-goers: If the $8 price for beer doesn't keep you from drinking, the sun should. Stay hydrated. A few folks looked woozy. But overall, a magical time -- and as Franti observed from the stage as the sun was setting over the Rockies -- "That may be the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen." Hard to believe Commerce City could have such an aura, but it does.

 
 

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