#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 11
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

This is it! The entire reason for our road trip! The sun is beginning to set in Morrison, Colorado and we’re following a long line of cars into the craggy lower parking lots of the Red Rocks Amphitheater, gearing up to see Trampled by Turtles.

(Warning: I tend to think of music as a deeply personal experience. You’re about to glimpse mine.)

Singing to the Stage

photo courtesy of Brent (my ticket is currently hiding)

Brent and I triple check that we have the tickets—he’s holding them because I’ll lose them for sure—and I bring along a sweater because, yes, it’s warm out now, but when it gets dark and the wind kicks up on the mountainside, I’m going to need it.

I’d love to tell you we power walk the entire way up as some folks in their yoga-concertwear are enviably doing, but we’ve just spent umpteen days in a car, (or three), eating and drinking our way across this great country, so we hike two-thirds of the way up and then stop for a “scenic break” and catch our breath before hitting the rock stairs. Singing to the StageThe opening act has just started, a fella called Shakey Graves who’s playing a cross between blues, country, and rock and roll and seems to be a local favorite when, between songs, he asks how many people had been to a certain Halloween party where he’d played and the crowd goes nuts.

Singing to the StageHearing his scratchy voice as we ascend the final steps to our seats, I’ve convinced myself that this soulful artist is ancient. I’m caught off guard to look to the stage and see he’s in his late twenties. I stand motionless, thinking I’ll let the music swirl around me, but it hits hard and straight to the heart, giving me goose bumps for the entire performance, and the only thought I can think in words is: All is not lost. If someone so young can feel the world like this and interpret it into song, we’re not completely a superficial lot lost to the reality of unreality and taking superficial opinions as fact. No, we might make it after all.

(Later, in Pittsburgh, I’ll tell a plugged-in music-minded friend about Shakey Graves and he’ll chuckle knowingly, then launch into a story of seeing him play in Austin, Texas where Graves is actually from, and how awestruck the music-wisened Austin crowd became when Graves was on stage.)

Singing to the StageWhen the set is over, Brent says, “The best T-shirts and drink prices are at the top of the amphitheater.” His recon report isn’t finished yet. “Also, the shortest bathroom line is near us.” (When Brent left and returned I don’t know. Introverts are stealthy like that.) Together, we head up, up, up, and check it out the tippy top of this place, and of course he’s right about the T-shirts because he’s done enough mental math to fill a spreadsheet. And that’s when, strangely, I spot a figure that looks familiar. (You know how that happens when you’re someplace you’ve never been, a zillion miles from the last familiar sight, and your brain is telling you you know someone?) Then I realize it’s not someone I actually know, but rather a very sweaty Shakey Graves himself, blending with the crowd. As I pass him, I say, “You’re awesome,” and he looks at me and says a quiet, “Thank you,” which has a polite and capable tone of “I worked hard for this moment” behind it.

Singing to the StageT-shirted up and back to our seats again… Well, actually, I got a T-shirt. Brent is holding out for a poster, impractically enough seeing that our peacock feathers from Truckhenge are already bent thanks to sloppy packing that we won’t blame on anyone, and he thinks he’ll get said poster on our way out at the lower level booth because they have the best price. Anyway, I have a cool T-shirt in hand as Elephant Revival takes the stage. Brent tells me about some pathways that take you to other levels in this amphitheater, and I want more than anything to go exploring and take pictures of the views now that the sunlight is taking its exit and the little natural light that’s left is playing tricks with our craggy surroundings. I want to, but I can’t. Elephant Revival has a woman playing a washboard.

I’ve never officially seen a washboard played before, unless you count the Futurama episode when Bender goes on tour with Beck. (It’s a ridiculous comparison I admit, but the writers of that cartoon are gifted.)

“Oh my goodness,” I say to Brent as if he can’t see this. Neither of us can look away. We’re standing on a Colorado mountainside, locked in the sight and sound of the washboard while stage lights shine on red sandstone monoliths, 300-feet high to our right and left, and it suddenly occurs to me that this, mine, is a life painted with its own version of cartoon colors.

Singing to the StageThe five members of Elephant Revival play an astounding fifteen instruments among them, and each of them sings. They introduce their songs with a bit of background as to what they were thinking when they wrote them. Some of the songs are named for animal and nature sounds, and I sit with my eyes closed and marvel that it really does sound as if the birds, elephants, and a babbling brook have gathered to perform here.

Singing to the StageBy the time our flanking red monoliths (named Ship Rock and Creation Rock, but I’m not sure which is which) start taking on a brilliant gold hue thanks to spotlights, the sky is busy turning a striking blue-black, and Trampled by Turtles takes the stage and fills the air with their bluegrass/rock sound. Brent and I have been fortunate enough to live in places where Trampled is played on the radio, and we share a sort of hometown pride to see them headlining here in Colorado. (Hometown pride is a peculiar feeling for this wandering gypsy, but no less fierce a passion despite the vast ground it covers.)

Singing to the StageThe last time Brent and I saw TbT on stage was in Rochester, Minnesota, which is 226 miles south of their origins in Duluth, and at the time, we thought that was far. That concert took place in an indoor concert hall that wrapped their big sound around us, but here in the open amphitheater with the proclaimed “acoustic perfection” of the stony Red Rocks, Trampled by Turtles’ frenetic stage energy is set free.

Singing to the StageWith their individual backgrounds in punk and its influence, the five band members play stringed instruments (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle) with such intensity that I always find myself waiting for the instruments to smoke and then burst into flames. I wait for it, but it never happens. What does happen is a sound that is sometimes thundering, sometimes rolling, and at times even downright haunting. I soak in these songs, waiting patiently for my favorite, “You Wait So Long,” which is possibly their most popular and thus I struggle not to feel bandwagonny–but I can’t help but love a song that tears your heart out and simultaneously reminds you that you’re alive. And there’s something in the quality of the rhythm of “You Wait So Long” that makes me think of Minnesota winter, of accepting the cold and pounding out a life within it, without glory, but with a recognition of the guts it takes.

Singing to the StageBrent and I have driven through four incredible states to get here, and tomorrow we’ll begin our return journey (taking a different path, of course). But right now on this mountain we’re living in the moment, soaking in the Colorado night, and singing to the stage.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 10, Segment 9, Segment 8Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

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