Road Trip Report: The Ride Festival
Nearly every band that took the stage at the Ride Festival last weekend in Telluride Town Park felt compelled to comment on the otherworldly beauty of the box-canyon environs surrounding the stage.
“This is the most beautiful place we’ve ever played,” Jordan “Reignwolf” Cook told the crowd. “You should be proud of yourselves.”
“Did you look at that?” Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers gasped after a few songs, pointing at the sheer-rock faces and peaks across the valley. “It’s a little distracting.”
Of course, there’s no shortage of outdoor summer music festivals in Telluride that take advantage of the idyllic setting and the wood stage in the park. But Ride Fest, in its third year, is establishing an identity among them by booking strong, eclectic lineups that rock a little harder than other Telluride fests, but without any strict genre constraits — acts ranged from up-and-coming hard-rock bands like Reignwolf, Delta Rae and Rival Sons to folksters like the Wood Brothers and Joan Osbourne to the Harlem Gospel Choir. Headlining were the alt-folk collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, along with world music/electronica veterans Thievery Corporation and Austin indie-rock band Spoon.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came out without a set list to close the festival Sunday, and singer Alex Ebert took requests from the audience throughout their loose set. Three albums in, the band last month fired singer/guitarist Jade Castrinos. While she was just one member of a 12-member ensemble, she was also its only female voice, with a prominent part in the band’s best-known song, “Home.” So I went into the set curious, if not skeptical, of whether the Zeros would still have the magic they displayed in Aspen at Belly Up back in 2010 and last year at Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival.
Ebert was battling a cold, taking hits of throat spray during the set and struggling to hit some notes, but the charismatic front man played it off and made it an endearing part of a genuine — and genuinely fun — performance that left me missing Castrinos a little less. They played an operatic “Desert Song,” and free-flowing versions of “Janglin’,” “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” ’40 Day Dream,’” and “If I Were Free” along with a goofy cover of The Kinks’ “Apeman.”
Ebert and company were enjoying themselves on stage — at one point he took a smartphone from an audience member and ran around the stage filming the band — and played with an infectious buoyancy that won over the crowd early and had them dancing in the moonlight to “Let’s Get High” and “Up from Below” by the end.
Earlier Sunday, the Wood Brothers eased into their set with the kinds of mellow folk songs that seem made for outdoor listening in the mountains. Playing their second Ride Festival, they mixed in songs from their recent album, “The Muse,” and fan favorites like “Postcards from Hell,” gradually livening things up with up-tempo bluesy takes on songs like “Wastin’ My Mind.”
Spoon, getting ready to release their first album in four years and coming off of a hiatus that followed 2010’s “Transference,” ripped through a tight set Saturday evening that included some of the new stuff and selections from their 20-year catalogue.
They played jauntily on crowd favorites like “I Turn My Camera On” and “Cherry Bomb.” And their new guitarist Alex Fischel’s guitar theatrics on “Got Nuffin’” were enough to command the crowd’s attention, despite the picture-perfect fiery sunset going down stage left. Fischel also worked synths and effects into songs like “Beast and Dragon, Adored” and “The Way We Get By” that indicate the band is experimenting with new creative textures and expanding the scope of their sound as they prepare to release their eighth album next month.
There was a lot of buzz around town about a British band called Brother & Bones going into the festival. They’d made their U.S. debut a year earlier at the Ride, in what was by all accounts a show-stopping set, and they’re currently in the states recording their first full-length album.
They gave their all in an energetic show — rocking harder than anybody I’ve ever seen during a noon festival set. But it didn’t live up to the hype. They’ve taken a page from the Mumford & Sons’ formulaic school of songcraft — starting soft, acoustic and folky, then building emotion, speeding up the beat, turning up the volume and eventually exploding into a chorus where lead singer/guitarist Rich Thomas wails and wails and wails lyrics like “I don’t’ want to know about evil!” or “This is what it is to be alive!”
Thomas has some serious pipes, and the band probably can follow Mumford into pop stardom, but the highlight of their set came when they dropped all the Mumford-style drama and played a downbeat cover of the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels.”
The stand-out among the undercard bands, however, was Canada’s Reignwolf. The guitarist and singer played the blues like it was a blood sport in a sweaty, unhinged, hour-long set on Sunday afternoon. On “Are You Satisfied?” he played guitar with his teeth, then by banging his guitar against the side of the stage. At one point, he played with his left hand while drumming with his right — flinging himself around the stage, losing his strap. Yet all the punk histrionics didn’t take away from the music — the guy can play.
Closing with a cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” his set was a Jack White-styled assault, full of sound and fury, signifying something to make rock fans hopeful. He hasn’t released much music yet, but anybody who saw that performance has an appetite for an album and many more Colorado shows from the 30-year-old.
Rival Sons also played an impressive, Zeppelin-esque set, led by singer Jay Buchanan, who did his best Robert Plant (down to the open-chested shirt under a black leather jacket). The band earned the biggest reaction from the crowd out of all the early shows on Saturday for their refreshingly straight-forward brand of hard rock in songs like “Secret” and “Torture,” with a well-honed, rock-star stagecraft on display (the show was their last on a two month tour).
Other early show highlights included White Denim frontman James Petralli literally playing the strings off of his guitar in the Austin four-piece’s hard-charging song “A Night in Dreams.”
The Hold Steady’s “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” woke the crowd up on Saturday, as the Brooklyn indie stalwarts had the thankless task of opening the festival up with an 11 a.m. set. On the bright side, the early set allowed lead singer Craig Finn and his band to sit back and watch music on the lawn with the rest us for the remainder of the day.
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