Droplets fell graciously from the sky on Sunday, May 21, at Red Rocks but the tempestuous weather did not deter the bands Mandolin Orange or the Oh Hellos from playing deeply in their musical sets. Featuring elegant fiddling, to thunderous instrumentation on stage, the rain grew heavy as the night peaked for the headliners: it was time for Elephant Revival to hit the stage.
Before Elephant Revival could take over, the traditional Native American drum group, Plenty Wolf Singers, paved the way. I knew then it was about to be a magical night — the rain had lifted towards the end of the Plenty Wolf Singers’ set as if a clear, starry night was being called to and ushered in.
One of the first songs Elephant Revival opened with was the danceable “Spinning” off their (how aptly named) These Changing Skies 2013 album. The band didn’t mind the dreary rain, “We are here because of you, we love you guys,” lead singer Bonnie Paine stated. “Here’s a song about the sunrise…just imagine the warm, shining sun right now,” and her washboard strumming picked right back up to fall in between the spaciousness created by the violin and guitar.
The band invited the Mayflower Orchestra onto the stage, a much smaller version of a standard orchestra, but the talent was apparent nonetheless. The lighting was there only to showcase the musicians. The music consumed all of our senses and I think if there was any more of a show outside of the music, it would distract from the sweeping performance. The only downside to the robust instrumentation was that Paine’s delicate voice would sometimes be swallowed up in the sound so it was hard to hear her words.
The band went on to play songs like “Birds and Stars,” “Remembering a Beginning” and “Home in Your Heart.” The vibes being given by the folk musicians to the crowd graced a level that was beyond the realness of touch. When you receive shivers not from the cold, but from feeling a beauty down to your bones — every time I have seen Elephant Revival live, I have experienced this ethereal taste of music.
Paine then took to her saw and the song “Close as Can Be” swayed into the atmosphere. “Like the shadowy photograph/Or stars in the morning/They say you’ve gone away/But I feel you near/You’re lifting the leaves/Saying to me/We’ll be close as can be,” she sang into the night with subtle backing from guitar strums and vocals. Perhaps part of this unique musical experience derives from the band’s members playing off one another. Yes, they have scripted songs, but as an audience member, you can sense when a band improvises off one another and allows their intuition to take over.
The Boulder aerial group FractalTribe came to the stage and gave a stunning performance while the band played gypsy tunes below. Next came the song “Petals” off the same-titled 2016 album. During this performance, their music video played on the mega screen and the video spanned time and cultures — this global-infused, vintage film did not surprise me. The band is socially conscious and they work with (too many to name) non-profit groups to benefit our state of Colorado. They even hosted Trail Revival to recognize Public Lands Day and helped clean up some of the trails nearby.
The group played a folk twist on the classic Pink Floyd song “Have a Cigar” then invited Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange back onto the stage for the vivacious “Grace of a Woman.” The foot-stompin’ and heavily gospel-influenced tune of “Rogue River” came out, signaling an end to the energetic night. Of course, I’m wistful for another night with Elephant Revival, but I’m sure this local band will be near and dear while on the summer tour circuit. If only they took the rainy weather with them off the stage, alas, one will always wish for summer vibes with soulful folk music playing in the background.
All photography courtesy of Meg O’Neill. Check out the gallery here.