The Denver music scene was alive and well on Friday at Denver Comes Alive, a festival-style two-night concert hosted by Ari Fink to support mental health and wellness nonprofit Backline. The first of the two nights, Friday evening was the bluegrass-leaning, string-heavy night featuring Maggie Rose, WinterWonderWomen, Kitchen Dwellers and Yonder Mountain String Band, showcasing over six hours of musical eccentricity. Though mostly local musicians, even non-locals like Kitchen Dwellers and WinterWonderWomen’s Lindsay Lou and Mimi Naja have a close relationship with Colorado, making Denver an ideal meeting spot for the immensely talented group of players and pickers.
Singer-songwriter and musical forcefield Maggie Rose opened the night and paved the evening’s way for the supergroup of female musical prowess known as WinterWonderWomen — Bridget Law, Megan Letts, Lindsay Lou, Mimi Naja, Emma Rose and Michelle Pietrafitta. All hailing from different cities, different bands and different projects, the sixsome came together to showcase an array of talents, sounds, and attitudes that left the growing crowd with ear-to-ear grins. From Father John Misty to Stevie Wonder, to Otis Redding, to The Band, to some aptly-timed and much-appreciated political speak, the femme-force fully left quite the act to follow.
The beloved Montana group Kitchen Dwellers, however, were certainly up to the challenge. With the opening notes of the first song, they jumped right into building onto the energy of those that came before and continued to add to that energy throughout the duration of their set. With arguably more local fans than your average Denver band, the Dwellers had the largest audience of the night with folks still packing into a nearly full Mission Ballroom and steadily growing more joyous (and more rowdy) with each chord struck. After having appeared onstage earlier for a feature with the ladies, Billy Strings’ banjoist Billy Failing returned for a sit-in with the Dwellers, much to the recurring pleasure of the crowd. Lindsay Lou and Mimi Naja also returned to assist the band with a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Sound System” as the night increasingly became a wondrous family affair.
Last but certainly not least was the evening’s headliners — Yonder Mountain String Band, a tried and true bluegrass band that has become an iconic staple within the local music scene. The newest addition to the Yonder family, Nick Piccininni, was a literal breath of fresh air as he took on vocals for several songs and fell into easy cadence with the band. With a third appearance from Failing and Del McCoury Band’s Jason Carter on fiddle for the entirety of the set, the group took us through much of the old-school Yonder catalog, including “Boatman’s Dance,” “If There’s Still Ramblin’ in the Rambler,” “Looking Back Over My Shoulder” and “Raleigh and Spencer.”
The lengthiest set of the evening yet a truly nostalgic and heartfelt one, things progressed with Ben Kaufmann leading on “40 Miles From Denver,” which he referred to as the oldest Yonder tune he could think of. The band received additional help with vocals from Lindsay Lou on “What the Night Brings” and Buffalo Commons’ Tyree Woods on “Rag Doll” and “Jesus on the Main Line,” continuing through an array of Yonder’s most esteemed songs. As Friday turned into Saturday, an appropriately chosen encore and cover of “Dancing in the Moonlight,” again with Woods, closed out a beautifully sentimental and musically incendiary evening — to rest and repeat for Saturday’s round two of Denver Comes Alive.
All photography by Brian Lanzer — Lanzer Productions