Last weekend's foray to the Mile High Music Festival was educational in so many ways.
For instance, after discussing the merits of music festivals, I claimed to have never been to one, though that's patently untrue. But the music festivals I attended were very different from this one. I'm sure people who arrange music festivals or play music festivals or attend many music festivals have names for different formats.
Mostly I just call the other ones "not music festivals."
Like Lilith Fair. I went in 1999 at Fiddler's Green. The national acts were on the one big stage in the amphitheatre while the local bands were outside the venue on small stages in the grassy areas to the north.
Inside, there were just the musicians onstage and the people in seats or in the GA grass. Outside, there were vendors of all kinds interspersed with the tiny little bands on the tiny little stages.
The KTCL Big Gig a couple of years ago was much the same way. It was at Coors Amphitheatre‡ with a clear delineation between what was centre stage and what was simply booth-worthy.
Brother tells me Monolith Festival is much like Mile High, though there are four stages at Monolith vs. five at Mile High, and that§ allows scheduling such that you can see half of every band by judicious stage-hopping.^
Due to a certain dumbassedness, MHMF is arranged such that you can miss almost all of three bands two or three times a day with ease.
At least there were plenty of ATMs.
I'll give them points for the spiffy water feature. I didn't take advantage, but it looked festive and it gave many hippies the chance to act out some of their Woodstock fantasies.¶
It should probably be noted that I generally loathe stoner music -- jam bands, reggae, Pink Floyd.# All my snippy little comments should probably be filtered through that revelation as you make your way through my version of this festival.††
Fortunately, Brother isn't any more echanted by the music of the baked than I, so we made a pretty good music-going duo for purposes of festival scheduling.
Band of Heathens was playing the Main Stage East when we got there. We quickly determined we didn't need to stick around and listen.
We wandered through the vast plains of the soccer fields+ to get the lay of the land. In the middle were the food vendors and the Mile High Music Festival arch.
It was nearly 1:00. There weren't a lot of people yet, and the temperature was climbing.
I felt kinda sorry for the Tool fans who had to wear their Tool uniforms all day waiting for Tool to take the stage at 8:45.
It's a lot of black, a lot of hair and a for-crying-out-loud HAT for ninety degree heat.
A quick tour of the various stages confirmed we didn't need to see Matt Nathanson‡‡ or Rocco Deluca, so we ducked in to the Westword tent to check out The Duke Spirit.
Musically speaking, this was the high point of the day for me.
We had alread heard knock-offs of Led Zepplin, Cream and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Brother informed me Duke Spirit was Bowie-influenced. As there's nothing new in the world, I figured at least Bowie was more my style.
Pleasantly, delightedly surprised.
Liela Moss, the lead singer, sounded a bit Björkish and I asked Brother if they were Icelandic. Turns out they're British. They were energetic and glam with a 90s alternative sensibility around the edges. I got more T-Rex from them than Bowie -- and that's not bad at all.
We stayed for the whole Duke Spirit set, then toddled in the direction of Gomez.
On the way, we had to stop and muse that we were not allowed to bring in a Frisbee, but apparently the hippies could bring in hula hoops.§§
My dork brother stopped to take a very important phone call along the way, giving me a chance to snap a pic of his inimitable self.¶¶
Perhaps it should have been a sign that the phish## phlag was phlying at the Gomez show.
I took pictures of the bird-shaped cloud and tried to pretend it didn't irk me to no end that a couple of chicks were taking up space suitable for eight or ten people doing their exotic hula hoop dances.
After a mercifully short††† couple of songs, it was nearly time for Ani DiFranco, one of the two acts I was really excited about.‡‡‡
No, really, that's Ani.
She was energetic and very Ani DiFranco, beating the crap out of her guitar and singing of tampons and egos and generally emitting rolling waves of ironic good cheer.
Our next stop, we decided, was for lunch. Dinner. Lupper. Whatever.
The food was pretty good and not exorbitantly expensive. Gyros, Mad Greens, buffalo brats, pizza, Steuben's, Mexican food, funnel cakes... all well and thoroughly represented.
One of the FAQs was, "Will there be vegan and vegetarian food?"§§§
Yes. Yes, there will.
It was about 4:00 by this time and bloody hot.
Most of the soccer fields at Dick's Sporting Goods Park are made from shredded, recycled tires. Walking across, I could see how its bouncy-yet-firm surface would be marvelous if one were actually playing soccer. The heat, however, was wafting around my ankles -- it felt like I was wading in ten inches of hot water.
My feet were burning from the bottoms up.
We looked for a shady place to sit, but there were few available.§§§
One of the complaints from the first year of the MHMF was that there wasn't enough shade, so several radio stations and the local alternative paper put up tents here and there to give respite from the heat.
They didn't put quite enough up.
People were gathered in any scrap of shade they could find. Knots of bodies were clustered in the shadows cast by cell towers and stadium lights.
We found a place on the far west end, right against the fence, and ate our Lupper. The sweet little Goths sitting one square of shade over offered hash. They left and were replaced by a couple of uniformed Tool fans, who also offered hash.
We wandered over to see Lyrics Born, which was pretty good, but hot.
The fashions around Lyrics Born were some of my favourites.
I wondered how this chick stayed on her feet on her wooden shoes all day.
And whether this was ironic glitter or if these shiny, sparkly girls were serious.
When Lyrics Born closed out, we wandered all the way back to the other side of Dick's to see if Paolo Nutini was to our liking.
The answer was a resounding NO, but at least we go to see the big, bamboo art installation on the way.
We already knew we didn't need any time with Big Head Todd,¶¶¶ since we both know them from way back and have never been particularly impressed. So we decided to settle in early for G. Love & Special Sauce. We were both looking forward to G. Love, though Brother more so than I.
The day was starting to wear on some people, causing them to take up too much damned space in the Rhapsody Tent.
We were also offered hash AGAIN. Apparently, hash is the drug of the moment.
Turns out G. Love has become more phishy over the years and was boring the spit out of us with twenty-minute galactic versions of already borderline-jamband songs.
So we sat.
This is pretty much what G. Love looked like to me.
As you can see, Brother is also thrilled.
Deciding we didn't need all of G. Love, we hit up the Westword Tent again to see what was the ups with The Black Keys.
We passed more art on the way.###
And a water station.§§§
The Black Keys, it turns out, are fantastic musicians. There are two guys, a drummer and a guitarist, and they sound like two guitars, a bass and a drum. They're very bluesy and not my cup of tea, musically speaking, but clearly talented to the rafters.
We sat outside the tent in the long shadows of the early evening and watched the fashions go by.
The boots on this chick really caught my eye, then she stopped right in front of me and I got the full effect of the off-white lace tights and the hippie jumper thingie.
I was fumbling for my camera, and I have to thank this guy...
...whose picture I had taken earlier while waiting for The Duke Spirit. He flagged Elf Boots down and delayed her long enough so I could get a picture.
Most of the attire was neo-hippie, as you can see both by the subject of this photo and the spatterings of tie-dye around the background.
Speaking of t-shirts...
What the hell do you suppose that means? And I'm sad to say I didn't get pictures of the I ♥ BOXED WINE@ and VODKA connects us t-shirts.$
The best t-shirt of the day was the brown one with the gold outline of the state of Wyoming and the legend, "Wyoming Skeptics Society: Putting the "why" in "Wyoming."
We finally puttered over to the Main Stage West for our primary reason for being: Tool.
I'm sad to report that Tool has also become Phish, and after starting 15 minutes late, stopped 15 minutes early and only played six or seven songs. Six or seven TEN MINUTE songs. That all started like Aldo Nova's "Fantasy," all swinging dicks and arena rock bravado and build-up.
At least the lights were pretty.
The horror of the aftermath... I can never adequately describe it. They turned the stage lights out and there was precious little light on the fields. We could barely see where we were going and I was feeling a sort of low grade panic about being knocked over and trampled.
We went straight to the car under the unusual auspices of a perfect sense and memory of where we'd parked. Our elation was short-lived.
There were no signs, no lights, no directions, no directors. We joined the main vein of traffic fairly quickly, but then parking lot etiquette drove most people to let the ever-growing number of feeder lanes in. It wasn't long before it looked like two parking lots trying to merge.
When we finally got to the exit, there were cones to guide our way -- along with NINE police officers, mostly standing around talking to each other and making half-hearted hand gestures in the direction the cones were already sending us.
This made me froth at the mouth.
Now, when you catalog everything I've said here, you're going to come to the logical conclusion that I hated my stay at the Mile High Music Festival. Oddly, I had a great day.
Like a blanket of fresh snow will make even a landfill seem magical, I think getting to hang around all day with Brother, the smorgasbord of music, the people watching, the colours and the overall energy blurred the black lines I could've drawn around the whole thing and made me happy.
†FOOTNOTE (crossed): Late in the afternoon, when I'd had my fill of joyously destructive, holier-than-thou, oblivious hippies, I was grumbling about the Phish dancing: "Go ahead, hippie man, take one of your giant, loping steps of joy and I'll hook your ankle with my foot and take you to the ground."
Brother, snickering: "Giant loping steps of joy?"
Me: "You know EXACTLY what I'm talking about."
‡FOOTNOTE (double-crossed): Formerly Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre. Only it's not Coors Amphitheatre anymore; it's back to being Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre. Fiddler's Green was once an earth sculpture and part of the Museum of Outdoor Art funded by John Madden (different John Madden). It was a large, sweeping, open park in the middle of a massive office complex (Denver Tech Center -- the second downtown of Denver). Before they fenced it off and put in a formal stage and seats, it was a place silicon chip guys and accountants would go to have a nice picnic lunch during the work day. A Colorado Symphony concert series started, during lunch hour at first, but then they added electricity for evening concerts. A few years later, they fenced it off and turned it into a large (17,900 capacity) outdoor concert venue called Fiddler'd Green Amphitheatre. Then Coor's bought it and it was the Coor's Amphitheatre. Live Nation bought it some time in the last couple of years and it's Fiddler's Green again. You're welcome.
§FOOTNOTE (swerved): Probably a sophistication on the part of those scheduling it as well.
^FOOTNOTE (careted): Speaking of stage hopping, Brother was in charge of our schedule Saturday. At one point, he asked to be called, "The man with tha muthafuckin' plan." I said I was inclined to call him, "Julie, my cruise director." We compromised and I referred to him as, "Julie, my muthafuckin' cruise director."
¶FOOTNOTE (paragraphed): But since the turf is made entirely of petroleum products, a little less mud.
#FOOTNOTE (pounded): Y'know... music that bores me to tears and I can only assume the stoned find it deep... because they're stoned and their brains are all slow and sticky like warm tar.
††FOOTNOTE (ddouble-ccrossed): I know some of you, and you probably love Phish and their ilk and I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying I HATE PHISH.
+FOOTNOTE (plussed): Best use of a soccer field EVER.
‡‡FOOTNOTE (doubble-crossssed): Who, from what we could hear from the Westword Tent, was funny as hell. As Brother said, "I don't want to listen to the guy's music, but I'd kinda like to have a beer with him."
§§FOOTNOTE (two swirls): We also saw a guy with a bike and a guy with a twelve-foot bamboo pole with a bandanna tied on the end. It was a day of random but constant, "Why do you suppose he could bring *that* in when we can't have a Lara Bar?"
¶¶FOOTNOTE (two gophers): He is NOT flipping me off. He's just covering his ear to hear the very important message on the other end.
##FOOTNOTE (two pounds): Please to pronounce "Puh-hish." Or, if you're PETA, "Sea Hippies."
†††FOOTNOTE (triple cross): The songs themselves weren't short. No, they were the standard ten or twelve minutes of rambling, arhythmic guitar prose. It's just that we only listened to most of one and part of another before we left twenty minutes later.
‡‡‡FOOTNOTE (track three): I asked Brother, "In an ongoing effort to prove how special I am, how many other people do you think are in the Ani DiFranco/Tool demographic?" just as a guy wearing Tool shirt walked into the tent right in front of us. He was just cutting through on the way to somewhere else, as it turned out, but his timing was perfect.
§§§FOOTNOTE (multi-purpose multiple swirls): From the blogs and articles leading up the the festival, the three biggest gaffes last year were not enough water, not enough shade and not enough vegan options.
¶¶¶FOOTNOTE (gopher triplets): Seriously. In the early 90s I had a brief and wonderful stint as a band manager just before Todd broke nationally. He'd be at our practice space (well, someone else's space, but same building) and on the same ticket now and then. Brother also has a really nice little "Do you KNOW who I AM?" story from a party he attended as "Bittersweet" was rearing its ugly head.
###FOOTNOTE (pound pound pound): This one was solar powered. One that I couldn't get near to get a decent photo was a miniature wind farm. And by miniature, I mean, "Not as big as the one in Palm Springs." It was pretty big, as art goes, but the windmills were only about five feet tall.
@FOOTNOTE (atted): Hand decorated. In those fuzzy iron-on letters.
$FOOTNOTE (moneyed): Neither the vodka shirt nor the boxed wine shirt had any corporate logos or context whatsoever. I believe the observer was meant to take them at face value.