On September 6, 2010 a wildfire sparked. Over the next eleven days, 6,181 square acres and approximately 180 homes would fall victim to the flames before firefighters, working day and night for over a week, finally contained the flames. The area known as Fourmile Canyon was devastated.
Coloradans knew that something had to be done, and with haste, the Fourmile Canyon Revival idea was born in the minds of Madison House, Inc. The idea: hold a benefit concert that includes some of the largest names in the jam scene to raise money for wildfire victims and celebrate the heroic efforts of local firefighters from nearby fire departments (many volunteer-based) who spent countless resources in the battle.
The Fourmile Canyon Revival benefit concert was held on Saturday, October 9 in Broomfield, CO at the 1st Bank Center. The event united several Colorado-based bands, plus all four members of Phish, who would begin a three-night run in Broomfield later that weekend.
The 1st Bank Center has the intimacy of an oversized high school gym. Even from the very back row of seats, you can see the stage clearly. The open floor is accessible to anyone with a ticket, and while the benefit show was sold out, the floor’s rear section was spacious and amply loose for patrons to have room to dance the night away. An unusually-shaped projection screen surrounded the stage, providing a dynamic faÃ§ade that at times displayed photos of firefighters or a real-time tally of pledges and donations from the audience and elsewhere via text message.
Leftover Salmon kicked off the event promptly at 6:00pm. Though they’re usually considered a Boulder band, guitarist Vince Herman mentioned that some members, at one time, lived in Gold Hill, CO, a small community that was evacuated by the fire. The band’s lineup immediately signaled the evening’s crossover zeal, as Keith Moseley from String Cheese Incident played bass for the whole set.
After a couple of songs, Phish’s Page McConnell entered for double keys in a particularly intricate “Mama Boulet.” He would switch between playing stride piano and later, the organ, through songs like “Muddy Water Home,” that also included String Cheese’s Bill Nershi on guitar. Eventually, someone dressed as Mayor McCheese (yes, the McDonald’s character) appeared to frolic about the stage. The fast-paced set of modern bluegrass ended with Herman joining guest Bonnie Paine for a washboard duel in “Whatcha Gonna Do” that featured a typically acoustic Drew Emmitt taking on the duties of electric guitar.
Next up: more bluegrass. Nederland, Colorado’s Yonder Mountain String Band hit the stage with their characteristic, down-home style. Front-man Jeff Austin raised a toast to all the musicians donating their time for the benefit show, and he called out Phish in particular. The benefit was clearly something close to the band’s heart as their hometown is located just outside of the fire evacuation zone. Fans knew something was up with the drum riser looking over Yonder’s strings-only lineup, and Phish’s Jon Fishman was soon introduced. Fishman toured with Yonder before Phish reunited, and he was right at home for a series of songs that included a cover of Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense,” “Mother’s Only Son” and “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown” that came complete with a tease of Phish’s “Makisupa Policeman.”
Denver’s Big Head Todd & The Monsters seemed to be the least familiar band to the throng of attendees. Although they have been a local staple and popular touring band for over two decades, the majority of their career has been spent on the alternative music scene as opposed to the jam circuit. Todd Mohr is an ace guitar slinger whose slick, fast rock style was sometimes accompanied by a three-piece horn section. The tight arrangements stood out in an otherwise jam-heavy lineup, but Big Head Todd has deep roots in the scene and soon got into the spirit of the event. Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman again graced the stage for a bluegrass-infused “Friend of the Devil” with Todd on lead vocals. A fun-filled cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and the title track to BHTM’s latest studio release, Rock Steady, would close the set.
To the dismay of some eager fans, Phish did not end up playing together as a foursome during the Revival, but expectant fans were treated to an unannounced Trey Anastasio & Mike Gordon acoustic set. The opener, “Back on the Train,” rolled into an incredibly slow rendition of “Water in the Sky.” That was followed by “Sample in a Jar” and a lovely “Train Song” with Mike on lead vocals. Then Trey spoke for a few moments, saying that “we’ve always felt Colorado is our second home” and asking the audience to “make the loudest cheer of the night” for the firefighters, who were seated in a reserved section near the stage.
Other songs included “Waste”, a “Possum” sing-along, and a sequence of “Guyute” (Intro) > “My Friend, My Friend” followed by the acoustic “Wilson” that debuted in its acoustic format at Phish’s Festival 8 last year. The set ended with “Bathtub Gin.” With the crowd audibly singing the melody, Trey and Mike shifted to percussive tapping of their instruments before eventually setting them down and bowing out. Amazingly, the crowd continued to sing the lilting “do-do-do” melody for several minutes after the duo was gone, perhaps with the hope of an encore that did not happen. It was a special community moment all the same that proved to be an amazing display of musical solidarity.
During the long setup and sound check before String Cheese Incident‘s closing set, event organizers came on stage to provide an update on fundraising. They informed the crowd that ticket sales raised over $325,000 for the Boulder Mountain Fire Relief Fund and that additional donors raised that total to over $600,000. Additionally, text message pledges climbed to over $20,000 over the course of the event. Congressman Jared Polis noted that “all of these bands donated their time tonight” and paid tribute to firefighters who battled “100-foot flames” on both sides of one-lane dirt roads in the remote canyon neighborhoods. Polis then enthusiastically introduced the Crested Butte and Telluride natives of String Cheese, who took the stage soon after.
String Cheese Incident alternated between partially acoustic bluegrass and electrified jam-rock for nearly two hours. Early in the set, they invited Trey Anastasio for Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” followed by a blistering jam vehicle, SCI’s “Outside and Inside”, that had fans buzzing after the show. Trey left, but String Cheese kept rocking with an epic “Round the Wheel.” Bill Nershi introduced Big Head Todd and recalled seeing him play the Boulder Theater in the late 80s before String Cheese was even formed. Todd led the group for a head-scratching cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady” and then stayed on for the remainder of the show. Guests continued to pour onto the stage, with Andy Thorn on banjo, Bill Mckay on keys, Vince Herman on guitar, Drew Emmitt on mandolin, and Tyler Grant on guitar for an ultra-fast bluegrass version of “Sitting on Top of the World.” Yonder’s Jeff Austin rejoined the stage, along with all of the former musicians and the addition of Bonnie Paine on washboard and Jeremy Lawton on keys, bringing the total amount of performers on stage to a whopping 15. This musical chimera ended the set with the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider” and finally, the only encore performance of the night, a rendition of Bob Marley’sÂ “One Love.”
The Fourmile Canyon Revival proved to be a feel-good marathon, with nearly seven hours of music across five sets. Every band paid tribute to the victims and firefighters, not just with call-outs but with songs written in and about Colorado. Michael Kang of SCI called it the largest gathering of Colorado musicians in many years. The music was lively and inspiring, fans were exceedingly happy to be there, and it’s all for a good cause. It served to once again affirm that music can be used as a vehicle for the common good. The Revival was a grand celebration for this singed but durable community.