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Today is the last day of summer, and that brings fond memories of the amazing 2011 Summer Concert Series at York Street and Chatfield. Did you make it to most of these concerts or just one? Please read these wonderful after-concert reviews from Denver Botanic Gardens member Rick Hum. And enjoy the photos taken by Kate Battan, another member of the Gardens. Thank you, Rick and Kate, for these memories of another great summer of concerts. Rick--we look forward to seeing you and your wife Karen dancing at the concerts next summer!
Summer Concert Series Recap
The music this summer was fantastic. Swallow Hill found a number of great acts who are at important passages in their musical careers. Despite heavy rain early in the summer and challenging situations, such as the storming of the Cheeseman gate, the Gardens staff and the security team did a great job of providing quality experiences all summer.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – The Dap Kings, all in black suits and thin black ties (except the lead guitar player in a gray suit and the back-up singers in black dresses) did a couple of short warm-up numbers. Then Sharon Jones took the stage in an aqua sequined flapper dress. She sang, danced and entertained her heart and soul out. She also invited some members of the audience on stage to be part of the act and all were infected by the spirit. She is a great dancer and powerful, soulful singer. It seemed that she didn’t want to stop when told her time was up, but did a fitting finish with one of the best James Brown songs ever, “A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” As reported by Reverb: “[Sharon Jones] and Mr. Brown shared the same hometown of Augusta, GA, and birthdays a mere day apart.” It’s clear that Jones shares a kindred spirit with the godfather of soul.
Mavis Staples and Dr. John & the Lower 911 – Mavis Staples and her three-piece band with two back-up vocalists started 30 minutes early and performed for over an hour. Despite her 60 years in the music business and declining voice, Mavis is still a strong presence on stage. She talked about Dr. King and other legendary civil rights leaders she has known and supported with the Staple Singers protest music. Her Gospel music mixed with rhythm and blues lifted the audience, especially during Freedom Highway and Wade in the Water. Her guitarist and bass player added great musical strength. Dr. John took the stage in his red sharkskin suit, broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. His smaller than usual band still carried his signature songs well including many of his hits from Duke Elegant, as well as other great classics. He danced, played the piano and organ simultaneously and even played electric guitar (his original instrument) on one song. The full moon rising through the pines seemed totally fitting for such a great night of music.
Chris Isaak – Chris Isaak’s reputation and past performance at the Gardens resulted in this being the first show to sell out this year. Despite a 40-minute rain/lightning interruption, everyone who stayed got their money’s worth. Isaak’s tenor voice was strong and sweet. He does a great job on old classics inspired by his heroes, Roy Orbison and Buck Owens.
Natalie MacMaster and Great Big Sea (Two wonderful acts from eastern Canada) - Natalie MacMaster is an amazing woman. Mother of four children under 5 years of age (the youngest just 6 months old at the time of the show), she was energetic and delightful. McMaster and her band played their traditional Cape Braden music and clogged to the delight of the audience. Great Big Sea, from Newfoundland and Labrador, played their own music with precision and power. The fine musicians played a variety of instruments including bouzouki (a Greek lute), whistles, bodhrán (an Irish frame drum), mandolin and guitars. Two of their most moving songs of the sea were sung a cappella.
Allen Toussaint, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Buckwheat Zydeco (Another wonderful evening of music from New Orleans) - Buckwheat Zydeco started off the evening with his usual high-energy zydeco music playing his accordion and Hammond B-3 organ. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band followed with their traditional sound. Kevin Harris (tenor sax) and Gregory Davis (trumpet) have been stalwart members of the group. Kirk Joseph on Sousaphone was a driving force and the guitar work of Jake Eckert added a new twist to their music. Allen Toussaint has been called the godfather of New Orleans R&B. Toussaint and his band rounded out the show with great renditions of some of the many great songs he’s written that were made famous by a plethora of great musicians.
India.Arie and Idan Raichel – India.Arie returned to Denver (where she was born) accompanied by her mother, other family and childhood friends. She’s built a remarkable career in just a few years. India found her self-described musical soulmate, Idan Raichel (עידן רייכל), while visiting Israel about three years ago. He has been working on the Idan Raichel Project inviting over one hundred Middle Eastern and world musicians to record with him and share the richness of their various cultures. India.Arie and Idan Raichel have worked together on their Open Door tour and an album to be released this fall. The music was a wonderful blend of their talents and their pasts. India.Arie has a beautiful, strong, melodic voice and moves a like a ballerina. Idan is an accomplished pianist, but his arrangements and the talents of the musicians he’s gathered overshadow their individual abilities. The show was a fantastic cross-cultural experience. For the closing song, India.Arie brought her mother (designer of India’s beautiful wardrobe) to the stage and encouraged Mom to sing with her. It was a moving and wonderful close. In our opinion, this was the best show of the summer.
Chris Botti – The very next night we had another great show at the Gardens. Chris Botti is at a new peak in his career after touring with Sting and subsequently recording Italia. Those of us who saw Chris Botti at the Gardens a few years ago expected a beautiful night of fine trumpet music that fully engages the audience. We got all that—and more. In addition to Botti and the fine musicians in his band, we were also treated to outstanding performances by vocalist Lisa Fischer, who has performed with the Rolling Stones, and an up and coming violinist, Aurica Duca. This was another outstanding concert with an artist at a great stage in his career.
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers and Béla Fleck & the Original Flecktones - On a rather hot Sunday afternoon at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, there was a wonderful gathering of music collaborators. Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers started off the evening show, but after a few songs they invited Béla Fleck to join them. Hornsby’s group played many favorites from his remarkable career. After a short break, Béla Fleck and the Original Flecktones took the stage. The Flecktones features Victor Wooten on bass and his brother, now known as Futureman, on the Drumitar (a novel electronic instrument of his own invention), and a small collection of drums. A few songs into the set, Bruce Hornsby casually walked up to the piano and joined Howard Levy playing four hands on the same piano. A few songs later, Hornsby reappeared with his accordion. After various combinations, Bruce Hornsby and Béla Fleck did a two-song duet. The evening wrapped-up with everyone from both bands on stage jamming for about 20 minutes. This was a great pair of acts for the Chatfield venue.
Rosanne Cash and Nina Storey – Boulder’s Nina Storey started off the evening playing electric piano and singing with her small band. Nina is a great local talent. On this evening, she choose many of her songs that describe looking for love in all the wrong places. Rosanne Cash followed with her band and brought good energy to the stage. Rosanne sang many songs from her List (a recent album with 11 of the songs her father, Johnny Cash, included on a list of 100 greatest Country and American songs that he gave her when she was 18 years old). She and her band played well and Rosanne’s voice was strong and beautiful.
k.d. lang & The Siss Boom Bang and The Secret Sisters – The Secret Sisters (Laura and Lydia Rogers) started the evening with their sweet harmony. They shared a single guitar while they traded off singing lead and harmony. They have great voices and rather good stage presence. It is easy to see why many people think they have a bright future ahead. k.d. lang is quoted as saying Siss Boom Bang are “the men that changed my life.” We were all glad to see her so buoyant, happy and full of life. She sang so beautifully and danced across the stage singing to and engaging all sides of the UMB Bank amphitheater. The range of her voice was remarkable, pure in quality and beautifully framed with the playing of the band. They had retro spotlights on stage and extra stacks of speakers on the dance floor. With the extra lighting, speakers, great arrangements and coordination of the lighting, this was the best-staged show we’ve ever seen at the Gardens.
Keb' Mo' and Sunny War – Sunny War led off the evening. She has a unique, self-taught finger-picking guitar style and a strong voice. In fact, she has been described as a guitarist with fingers like Robert Johnson and a voice like Billie Holiday. And we’ll add with lyrics of Bob Dylan. Her appearance in a black dress and necklace was surprising, but her shy demeanor was not. Just a few days before the concert Keb’ Mo’s new album The Reflection was released. As we listen to the album since the concert, our appreciation continues to grow. Hearing Inida.Arie on one cut is also a treat. Keb’ Mo’ and his traveling band played many cuts from the new album along with some of his classical songs. The new album and Keb's relocation to Nashville seem to have him at a new and very promising place in his career.
George Duke, Marcus Miller and David Sanborn - These are three very successful Grammy award winners, each of whom has collaborated with many of the best musicians over the past 40-plus years. Touring together for the first time simply using the name DMS (Duke, Miller and Sanborn), they seemed very comfortable together and enjoyed the interplay. Marcus Miller’s bass playing was the driving force for the show. George Duke, playing the latest version of the Dukey Stick and various keyboards, was reminiscent of his various collaborations. David Sanborn’s saxophone playing is very recognizable and still powerful with his ability to hold long notes after great continuous runs. At one point after George Duke masterfully performed an old song of his by playing both his organ and piano simultaneously with each hand while pivoting on his bench, the band appeared concerned that the altitude might be getting to him. What an experience to see these legends play together.
B.B. King and John-Alex Mason - The season closed with one of the biggest living legends in American music, B.B. King. A few days before the show, Swallow Hill announced that John-Alex Mason would be an opening act. He is a great performer from southern Colorado and is very entertaining with his creative music, one-man-band style and his cigar box guitar. The crowd responded well to the opening act but was there to see B.B. King. Following a break, B.B. King’s band made it to the stage and played a couple of introductory songs. For the band, which is packed with talent, these traditional lead-in songs are an opportunity to showcase solos by the various members before B.B. King took the stage. B.B. is still a very strong stage presence. He did not play many of the guitar leads he used to, but his voice was still strong and had great tone. About to turn 86, it is remarkable that B.B. King can continue to perform as many as 250 shows a year. It’s always a treat to see such a great force in music.
We hope that Swallow Hill can continue to find so many quality performers at a high point in their careers as they did this summer. We hope the word will spread about the quality of music available in the greatest venue of the Rocky Mountain region. Tickets are frequently available for these wonderful shows in an incomparable setting.
Bravo and thanks to all whom brought such great music to Denver Botanic Gardens this year.
Rick Hum and Karen Ortiz, the dancing fools