Burton U.S. Open in Vail brings free concerts from GRiZ, Big Grams and more | VailDaily.com

Burton U.S. Open in Vail brings free concerts from GRiZ, Big Grams and more

Melanie Wong
Special to the Daily

Just like a blue-sky powder day isn't complete without your favorite playlist jamming through your headphones, the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships aren't complete without some high-energy live concerts as a soundtrack to the competition.

This year's Open doesn't disappoint, with a lineup that includes both established headliners and up-and-coming performers, including GRiZ, Big Grams, The Bright Light Social Hour and The Sheepdogs. The spring competition has earned a reputation among the athletes as a don't-miss event, not only because of the snowboarding but also for its young, upbeat atmosphere.

"The Burton U.S. Open probably has the most fun environment out of any event all year. All the entertainment is always so fun, and the workers and hospitality are great," said rider and Eagle native Jake Pates.

Some athletes said while their main focus is to compete, they don't intend to miss the shows, which are free and open to the public.

"Music and sports go hand-in-hand, and it's always a treat to see a live show at a contest," said rider Danny Davis.

Festivities kick off Wednesday, with The Sheepdogs, which, in 2011, became the first unsigned band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Thursday brings Austin, Texas-based rockers The Bright Light Social Hour, followed by American experimental hip-hop trio Big Grams. Big Grams consists of rapper Big Boi (half of the Outkast duo with Andre 3000) merged with Phantogram, the electronic rock duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel (also known as Shaun White's girlfriend.)

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The competition wraps up on Saturday, with GRiZ, a self-described "saxophone-playing, electronic funk music producer" from Detroit.

Bright Light Social Hour

Few bands are more fitting to speak for the young, millennial crowd at the U.S. Open than Bright Light Social Hour. The band's upbeat brand of trippy rock is both danceable and introspective, bringing a live show that singer and bassist Jack O'Brien calls "a journey."

"We try to work our sets so they fill and grow," O'Brien said. "We've got everything from smoldering soul to house-influenced dance progressions. We throw in some heavy rocker stuff, too. We try to mix all that in a way that takes the audience on a journey."

The group — made up of O'Brien, Curtis Roush, Joseph Mirasole and Edward Braillif — has been on a grueling tour schedule, playing more than 100 shows over the past year and promoting their newest album, "Space is Still the Place." The record was born out of a tour road trip through the South, which got the group thinking about their Texas roots and what the South of the future might look like. They also met a number of people their own age who were struggling in a landscape of financial crisis, lack of opportunity and widening inequality.

"We met people working several jobs to make ends meet and not having time to pursue their passions," O'Brien said. "Some of the songs look at the present of the situation with frustration. Others look to the future and what it could be like. We mixed traditional Southern rock, tying in more forward-looking musical aspects like psychedelic sounds and drum machines. It's a hybrid of past, present and future."

The U.S. Open marks the group's first visit to Vail, and O'Brien said the band is looking forward to the experience.

"We're looking forward to just to be able to see some of the snowboarding and action. We played the X Games once when it was in Austin, so it's exciting to see other great acts and check out some of the sports," O'Brien said.

The Sheepdogs

Many concertgoers may not have heard of The Sheepdogs, but that's something the Saskatoon, Canada rock 'n' rollers hope to change. Front man Ewan Currie puts their hometown in context — "It's isolated. To give you an idea where it is, it's a 15-hour drive from Minneapolis — that's the closest major city."

Both younger and older audiences will appreciate The Sheepdogs' classic-rock sound, feel-good harmonies, Southern blues influence and unrestrained guitar riffs. As Currie explains, that's the kind of music the members enjoyed playing when they started the band 12 years ago in college.

"We play the music we love, and we liked listening to good old stuff like Creedence," Currie said. "It's interesting because our audiences are really mixed. We'll get some older, long-haired hippies, but then, for example, at a recent show in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and we had all 19- to 23-year-old kids in the audience. It's a pop and rap world, but we have a lot of young people out there who still love guitar rock, solos and harmonies. It's retro, but we love it."

Their path to success in Canada came after years of toiling on the road circuit.

"When we started in college, we were playing shows, traveling around in a van and losing money," Currie said.

Their big break didn't come until seven years in, when, unbeknownst to the group, their name was submitted to a Rolling Stone contest for the "best unsigned band." They were shocked when they won, an honor that got them on the cover of the magazine.

"It was good because we were seven years in at the time. We were broke all the time, and it was like a shot in the arm," Currie said. "It got us a lot of publicity and attention, especially in Canada. All of a sudden, people were saying, 'What have you got?'"

These days, the group is focusing on becoming better known by their neighbors down south, where they're still relatively unknown. They're also busy touring for their fall 2015 album, "Future Nostalgia."

Being from Canada, The Sheepdogs are no strangers to playing in the winter cold, but Currie said he's particularly looking forward to being a part of Vail's snowboarding scene.

"I've been to Colorado before, and I'm a big fan. It's a great mix of it all. There's good energy of people trying to make things happen. I love beautiful nature scenes, so getting to play outdoors is just great for me," he said. "People in Vail probably know a thing or two about getting outside of city life and getting into nature."

Burton U.S. Open entertainment schedule

Wednesday, March 2

• 7 to 9:30 p.m. — The Sheepdogs, Solaris Concert Stage

Thursday, March 3

• 7 to 9:30 p.m. — The Bright Light Social Hour, Solaris Concert Stage

Friday, March 4

• 6 to 9:30 p.m. — Big Grams, Solaris Concert Stage

Saturday, March 5

• 6 to 9:30 p.m. — GRiZ, Solaris Concert Stage

• 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. — U.S. Open Closing Party at Dobson Ice Arena

In the pipe

Burton U.S. Open athletes talk about the tunes and bands that inspire them.

VAIL DAILY WEEKLY: What music do you listen to, to pump yourself up for competition?

DANNY DAVIS: Anything — soul, funk, bluegrass, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop and whatever I am listening to at the time. I guess it’s just a good distraction from the pressure, puts you in a good mood — a good zone to focus and do your thing.

MARK McMORRIS: Hip-hop for sure. It’s one of the biggest inspirations in life for me.

JAKE PATES: Hip-hop and some classic rock. It gets me in the mood to send it!

VDW: Any favorite concerts that you’re caught while at competitions?

McMORRIS: For sure. Every U.S. Open they have held in Vail, I’ve been there for the main act and loved it. (This year), I’m 100 percent looking forward to seeing Shaun White’s girlfriend’s band (Big Grams) perform.

DAVIS: I always go (to the concerts.) I have seen Nas, Damian Marley, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and way back in the day, I saw Red Hot Chili Peppers.