If you didn’t make it to this blissful show – Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony – at Boettcher Hall on either Thursday, January 12 or Friday, January 13, I really don’t know what you’re doing with your life. Okay, that’s a little strong. But it was amazing to see two genres of music bridge together to make a sonically beautiful event. Isakov strutted on stage with his farm-boy fedora and his singer-songwriter appearance clashed with the elegantly dressed symphony players. You could sense Isakov enjoyed playing with the symphony, yet perhaps felt a little out of his comfort zone. “I’ve been looking forward to this night for a very long time…I’ve learned a lot of [fancy] things since then, like the slow-ey down thing – the fermata? Oh, the ritardando,” he joked in reference to the classical music genre.
On Thursday, twinklings of guitar lead itself into the song “She Always Takes It Black” followed by “Amsterdam.” Yet even with just a simple introduction into the night, the songs already felt so much fuller, bloated with the musical depth that only the symphony could provide. Isakov introduced the conductor to the crowd, “This is Christopher Dragon, his friends call him dragon, and everyone is his friend, so,” he trailed off, and he often made tiny jokes throughout the evening, reminding folks that even though they were at the symphony, they were still attending a folk and rock’n’roll concert.
The symphonic quality to his songs made each song a little darker, a little more melancholic. But I wasn’t left feeling sad; it was a pensive, thoughtful state that Isakov was able to capture with the symphony component. Honestly, a part of me wants to keep the purity of the night preserved. If you’re a music lover, you’d understand. When a song hits you so beautifully, you can almost see the sonic waves it created and you want to cradle it, keep it to yourself. Isakov went on to play several more songs, such as “Big Black Car” and “Unwritable Girl.” He had a second microphone he’d croon into for a rough and vintage effect; it brought forth images of a grainy, faded black and white film to my mind. Melodic slides of banjo and violin took precedence for “Big Black Car” and the audience hesitantly whispered out the lyrics – was it polite to sing in this setting? The world may never know, but the lyrics were definitely worth singing.
At times, the members of his band would gather around one microphone and it was reminiscent of an old blues band getting down. It was brilliant to hear the percussion – there were three different sets of drums (from my perspective) and it brought forth a cinematic effect. The entire night felt like live theater – Isakov had rugs and lighted globes spewed across the stage, which added to the effect. “The Stable Song” rumbled from his vocals and guitar, and after he annouced, “We have one more song, then intermission ’cause it’s fancy.. [lets] all just go drink and come back.” He then played “Liars,” a dramatic song that is also the first one listed on his album with the Colorado Symphony. There was pulling of tides with the string section, crashes of waves as percussion barreled through, dipping of feet into clear water with the wind section and slipping away with his husky voice as the song cascaded: “I sold all this land to buy me some dreams / just like those movies we played when we were kids / now we’re just liars.”
After the fancy intermission, the band once again gathered around the microphone for the song “Suitcase Full of Sparks.” Deep plucks and fuller strings brought us the songs “Dandelion Wine” and “Time Will Tell.” The second half of the performance carried the same amount of emotion, yet people were more confident in their hooting and hollering now, and even applauded at one point like they were at Isakov’s Red Rocks show. The brass section was finally able to show off their chops in the song “Living Proof” and my eyes were glued to the stage; 75 musicians, plus Isakov and his band, came together to produce this night. And Isakov was humble all throughout, even though this moment is few get to experience. It’s illegal for me to tell you to do anything. Therefore, I merely suggest you see the Colorado Symphony at least once.
“I love the way this arrangement came out,” the singer stated, “It’s sad as fuck and called Master and a Hound.” I thought this was a very nice sentiment, who doesn’t love a good tear jerker? And hey, with the symphony bellowing the drama behind him, it was a pretty touching moment. After, he left the stage but quickly came back for an indisputable encore. Everyone was together, bringing bluegrass vibes intermixed with the classy music galore. He was the sweetest, thanking us for attending. But again – what are you doing with your life if you didn’t get out to catch this one-of-a-kind performance? The night ended with the lyrics, “Let’s put all these words away,” and with that, the musical, magical spell was lifted.