Boulder At times, it felt like a Phish show. At times, it was a String Cheese Incident show. But despite the reasons behind the sold-out attendance at the Fourmile Canyon Revival fundraiser, there was no shortage of reminders of why the gathering of legendary jam acts had come to pass.
Above the stage at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield on Saturday, a video screen showed two diverging airplanes dropping flame-retardant chemicals on the foothills above Boulder, a scene from early September when more than 6,000 acres and 150 homes burned in the Fourmile Canyon fire.
Below the photograph was a running tally of the amount raised by text message pledges from the concert’s crowd of 6,500. That number approached $20,000 near the end of the night, in addition to the $300,000 raised by ticket sales.
The fire had terrified and devastated the foothills community and, in turn, the music community.
And what better way to support those who lost homes and the fire departments that saved countless others than to celebrate with a seven-hour marathon benefit concert by several musicians with ties to the Front Range?
The idea to hold the concert circulated among Colorado-based bands such as Leftover Salmon, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Yonder Mountain String Band and String Cheese Incident until, in just a few short weeks, a lineup was set.
Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon were set to play three nights at the arena starting Sunday as their Vermont-based band Phish, and they were added to the list of Fourmile bands that donated their time for the cause.
The evening was separated into five sets, but the range of guest appearances, collaborations and enrapturing visuals collected into a whirlwind of cheers, singalongs and the blissfully familiar sounds of Colorado jam grass.
The night began with the foot-stomping, energetic songs of Leftover Salmon, who started with “Gold Hill Run,” an homage to the foothills town threatened by the blaze.
The Boulder natives enjoyed sit-ins from Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, String Cheese’s Billy Nershi and Elephant Revival Project’s Bonnie Paine, as well as an appearance by a Mayor McCheese costume.
In the second set, Yonder Mountain String Band was catapulted out of its acoustic realm for several songs by Fishman on the drum kit.
There were plenty of crowd favorites, including Yonder’s “40 miles from Denver,” and the usual pontificating by ever-energetic mandolin player Jeff Austin.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he shouted, gesturing wildly with his arms. “I want you to take this energy you have here, and I want you to take it with you everywhere.”
Yonder and Fishman also offered one of the best cover songs of the evening, the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better.”
It was during that song the energy of the arena seemed to take hold of the crowd, most of whom staggered through the rows of seats with smiles plastered on their faces and Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys in their hands.
Big Head Todd and the Monsters, whose drummer had to leave his home because of the Fourmile Fire, proved there’s still a place for a wailing rock guitar in Colorado music, and they invited Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon onstage for a classic rendition of “Friend of the Devil.”
The next set was the quiet and powerful acoustic duo of Anastasio and Gordon, who sent a hush over a largely Phish-biased crowd and had thousands singing along with “Back on the Train,” “Sample in a Jar” and a rowdy “Possum.”
The set ended with a picture-perfect fade with the crowd “do-do-ing” the catchy riff of “Bathtub Gin.”
In the final set, String Cheese flourished on the 1st Bank Center stage, bringing out Anastasio for “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Outside Inside.”
Although tickets for the show sold out in less than two minutes online, there was a mysterious amount of room to dance on the arena floor as String Cheese had the crowd reeling during “’Round the Wheel.”
But it was the end of the String Cheese set when the magic of the night came to a head in a whirling blend of wandering jams and dazzling lights, a rippling sea of dancing fans and permanent smiles.
It wasn’t because of the ever-present cloud of smoke over the crowd or the declaration that the PBR tall boy was now the official drink of the Fourmile Canyon Revival.
It was because the stage began to overflow with the cream of the jam band crop.
In addition to String Cheese members, Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band, Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and Paine lit up the arena in unison.
A double-time “I Know You Rider” was one for the books, even if it was a little disjointed by the presence of about 15 musicians who probably never had played together.
Appropriately, the group kept it simple and optimistic for an encore with Bob Marley’s “One Love.”
But the quality of the music didn’t overshadow the realities of the Fourmile Canyon Revival: The faces of those who fought and were affected by the blaze took to the stage between sets to explain the Fourmile Canyon Fire Relief Fund — the show’s beneficiary — and encourage more text pledges.
At one point during Anastasio and Gordon’s set, Anastasio asked the audience to offer up its biggest cheer of the night for the section of volunteer firefighters just to the left of the stage. Although it was hours before the show ended, it just might have been the loudest moment of what’s sure to be remembered as a historic evening for music lovers and Fourmile fire victims alike.
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 871-4204 or e-mail email@example.com