Mile High Music Fest finally hit its stride this year. Despite a somewhat unadventurous lineup, the festival was two days of fun for Coloradans and visitors alike. Moving the festival a month later than it was held in years past seemed to really help as far as weather was concerned. Both Saturday and Sunday were nice and sunny, but not unbearably hot, and people weren't collapsing from heat stroke like two years ago when it was well over 100 degrees outside. Organizers also made sure there were plenty of free water stations all over Dick's Sporting Goods Park, and a water playground for those needing to cool down. Concertgoers were overwhelmingly friendly, and, in all, everything flowed pretty smoothly - the music, of course, but also the other considerations for an event with tens of thousands of people - traffic, parking, beer.
Saturday we started a day of music with a few songs from Rusted Root, who put on a fun, upbeat set. Next up, we wove our way through a packed, skunky-smelling Cypress Hill crowd. The oldie-but-goodie song "Insane in the Brain" got the crowd jumping on cue and we stopped long enough to watch band members rip into a 6-foot-tall bong center stage.
It was a bit of a relief to head over to Keane for some fresh air with a side of lite-rock. Most of the English boys' piano-heavy ballads started off soft and slow and built up to epic finishes that had pretty boy frontman Tom Chaplin waving his arms in wide, sweeping gestures. In all they were good, if not slightly reminiscent of something from "High School Musical," as my brother whisper-yelled in my ear.
We snuck out early to get to Phoenix, and it's a good thing. The French indie rockers put on a tight performance that easily made them the highlight of Saturday. Eager fans packed the tent to listen and sing along to familiar tunes from last year's impressive "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" album, like "Lisztomania" and "1901." The crowd spilled way out onto the lawn outside the tent and it seems to me they should have played on a bigger stage considering how popular they've become over the past year.
The day's headliner, Jack Johnson proved just a little too mellow for a crowd that spent the day drinking in the sun. Hordes of people streamed out the festival gates way before he finished his set.
Day two was the bigger day in terms of attendees, and some would argue, talent. While I would've liked to have caught some early afternoon bands - including The Epilogues who will perform in Avon later this month, and Drive By Truckers, who I wish would perform here - we started our second day with Train, which surprisingly didn't play on the main stage but attracted a huge crowd (and maybe should have). Lead singer Pat Monahan wooed the audience, spending a significant amount of time working his way through the packed audience, letting people shake his sweaty hand.
Next up Atmosphere gave a stellar performance and had the audience frothed into a frenzy. My group caught a few My Morning Jacket songs and then skipped Weezer to grab dinner - a yummy jalapeno cheddar elk sausage from Biker Jim's - and a spot in line waiting to be let into the VIP section for Dave Matthews Band. The last time I saw Dave (2000) I was a sophomore in college and he was putting Mile High Stadium to bed.
I was excited, but not jumping up and down, to see them again. Then I happened to meet Katie and Erin, two of Dave's biggest fans (seriously), in line. The girls flew in from Chicago for the show. Katie's seen him more than 100 times and they knew ALL the lyrics. They'd just met Dave and trumpeter Rashawn Ross in person shortly before they got into line and were still glowing as they shared their cell phone and camera pics with me as the anticipation began to build.
Once on stage, Dave was a bit quirky but thanked the audience more than once for coming. "We had a good time here a couple years ago," he told us a few songs in, referring to their last Colorado play at the festival's debut in 2008.
My new friends' excitement was contagious and while I wasn't wiping away tears, I was definitely impressed by the band's triumphant return to the Mile High stage. The boys played a rollicking, sprawling set that included a good mix of new hits and old favorites. The old-school "What Would You Say" had everyone around me singing along, enveloping the crowd in that big, warm DMB energy I remember.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.