Ride Festival 2019 Review: What a Ride It Was!
RIDE Festival 2019 Review: What a Ride It Was!
by Chuck Yearman
The RIDE Festival took place in Telluride, Colorado, July 12 – 14, 2019. Widespread Panic was joined by Jason Isbell, Rose Hill Drive, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Big Something, Los Colognes, Thunderpussy and many more.
The Vibe of RIDE Festival
The 8th Annual Ride Festival came just three weeks after the legendary Telluride Bluegrass Festival hit the same stage. Many people, myself included, consider Telluride Bluegrass Festival to be one of the greatest festivals in the country. The RIDE Festival proved to be an amazing festival that stood all on its own. Full of musical diversity at its best, almost perfect festival weather, great music-loving festival people, and one of the most well put together festivals a seasoned festival veteran like myself has ever attended.
Telluride is a treasure, and RIDE Festival made it shine.
The RIDE Fest took diversity in a complete different direction exploring multiple different genres and styles with a heavy emphasis on Rock & Roll. The overall feel of the festival was a good combination of the 90’s traveling Horde Festival, the small side stages of the formative years of Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, and my old yearly festival High Sierra Music Festival. At all of those festivals, I would attend to see some of my favorite bands headlining and come home with many new favorite bands.
Widespread Panic Takes on Friday Night
I was on a major musical high from that you-never-miss-Sunday show, which was one of the best Panic shows I had seen in years – or so I thought. For the first time, the RIDE Festival added a third night, Friday, to the festival. This night was devoted to Widespread Panic only.
Widespread Panic and RIDE Festival were kind enough to give us the entire day off on Friday to get set up, settled in, reconnect with old friends while making new ones, and maybe even rest up for the marathon of music ahead of us. Around 5:00 pm tensions began to heighten as the 6:00 pm door time quickly crept up.
Panic started big with the JoJo Hermann tune “Bust It Big” from the 2004 live album release “Night of Joy”. For the next three hours, with a pause for the cause in the middle, the boys delivered two sets of classics, crowd favorites, and rarities. Things really picked up in set two, and the second song, “Up All Night”, was a possible precursor of what was about to come for many, or a reminder of what may have already happened for some.
This was followed by the Mike Houser song, “Airplane”. A personal highlight for me, after seeing this song performed live post-Mikey only one time, on the first time they played it without him in 2006 at Vegoose Festival in Vegas. I was lucky enough to get down to one of the best “Red Hot Mamas” I’ve ever heard with some old friends from my old beach town – Ocean Beach, San Diego. A funky, shreddy-as-hell, and always crowd-pleasing cover of another Funkadelic song, “Maggot Brain”, would be the start of winding down the second set, not that anything would wind down for quite some time.
Widespread Panic came out to show us there was a damn good reason the festival decided to add a third night this year, and to give the whole first night to the band that many made the long trip across the country to see on one of the countries most beautiful stages.
A Mellow Start to RIDE’s Saturday Morning
After a long night, and early morning for many, the folks from RIDE Festival did it right by starting us off mellow and light with Pony Bradshaw. With an 11:00 am start time and twelve hours of music to go, the soothing Americana and country sounds of Mr. Bradshaw was a perfect way to ease into the long day. Hailing from the south, like many of RIDE’s artists, he brought the sounds of the south that occasionally reminded me of artists like Ryan Bingham, Tyler Childers, and Sturgill Simpson.
The second act of the day, and one of my favorite acts of the weekend, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown let the crowd know quickly that the mellow part of the morning was now over. They were here to remind us what rock-n-roll music should sound like. With a look that was reminiscent of post big hair sleazy LA rocker, but coming from Nashville, Tyler and gang treated us to a lunch-time revival full of a mix of gritty Delta blues, backwoods boogie, and heavy riffed hard rock. With a bass drum in hand, the drummer came out front to work up a New Orleans’ street brass-jam meets drumline.
Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown first played this festival in 2014, and I now understand why they were invited back, a formula this festival tends to use. I haven’t been this stoked about a new band nor witnessed the angst and ferocity of one since seeing Black Keys and Kings of Leon for the first time on those small stages and early afternoon sets of the first couple Bonnaroo festivals.
RIDE Festival’s Showcase Saturday Continues
Thunderpussy. Thunderpussy. Thunderpussy. It just rolls off the tongue so easily. Just as it did off the tongues of so many in the crowd as they chanted those exact words during the song with that in the title and chorus. Like many people that witnessed their show, this was the most talked about new band of the weekend, and what appeared to be the hardest band to get into for the Night RIDE series of late nights. As I watched them in awe, I thought of a good way to describe them to others. A crazy hybrid of a burlesque show, Heart, Veruca Salt, Wolfmother, Alice Cooper, and Grace Slick came to mind just as they started to play a stellar cover of “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane. I can finally get Jim Carrey’s version from Cable Guy out of my head after all of these years, and that was a hard ass version to top. This all female four-piece took that stage with a vengeance, took turns working the mini-catwalk, and left the crowd with jaws dropped on the ground.
Another act coming from Nashville, Los Colognes, had a sweet and soothing vocal styling and melodic guitar-driven sound like that of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. Soothing and sailing guitar solos, gentle lyrics with pop sensibilities. A good way to mellow out after the thunder that Thunderpussy brought down upon us.
The Temperance Movement from London, a RIDE veteran, had soulful and groovy guitar riffs similar to Rich Robinson, and the vocal range of his long lost brother Chris, especially on the great song “Built-In Forgetter”, giving them at first listen a quick comparison to the Black Crowes. They definitely had an original sound beyond that comparison, and singer Phil Cambell had some of the best vocals of the festival.
Big Something’s Sets the Stage
Almost time for Big Something to hit the stage, the crowd was looking ready for what they knew would be a great set. This was also probably the youngest overall crowd yet at the festival, and some of the most enthusiastic. I’ve heard about the ever-growing fanbase of these guys, but had yet had the chance to see them. I knew about their connection to the Panic family and having the profound honor to be invited to play their festival Panic En La Playa.
I also knew that Big Something was one of the hardest working younger bands on the jamband scene, and I already enjoyed their music and respected them as a band. I just didn’t know how much I would enjoy seeing them live.
Big Something had all the energy and stage presence of so many bands I saw in the beginning years like moe., Umphrey’s, and early Disco Biscuits, and – just like those bands – they are hard to describe. Many bands wear all of their influences on their sleeves, and some, like Big Something, keep us guessing from one song to the next. The guys busted out one of the most surprising covers of the weekend when they played “Alive” by Pearl Jam, a song that was released, I’m guessing, when these guys were still toddlers or not yet born. They did a great version of the song by one of my personal favorite bands, and it may have been homage to the year they played the same stage as Pearl Jam when they both played RIDE for the first time in 2016.
The stage was now set for another epic Widespread Panic show.
Widespread Panic Fills Our Glasses Saturday Night at RIDE
You know it’s going to be a great show when the boys start the set with a funky slide guitar and piano driven “Ribs and Whiskey”. It was hard to keep my camera level as the rest of my body wanted to shake and get down in the media pit up front. From here they played one long straight 136-minute set of songs old and new. Jesus left Chicago somewhere mid-set as they kept the jams flowing, the white wizard delicately shredding, faces melting into the majestic mountains, until the first notes of my favorite Panic song “Diner” brought the crowd back down from the dark sky clouds and headed us into another dimension.
I hadn’t heard this one in awhile, and had expected to at Red Rocks, so I was beyond ecstatic that they saved it for the other best venue on the planet. Panic gave us all a big salute with “May Your Glass Be Filled”, which it was indeed, before ending the night with a staple of their fallen brother Col. Bruce, Cream’s song “I’m so Glad”. Many in the crowd anxiously awaited the possible return for an encore, or a secret mini-second set. Over two hours of continued music had maxed out the curfew. Widespread MF Panic had left the building, and alas, were done for this year’s version of RIDE Festival.
Bluesy Rock Takes Over Sunday Afternoon
Black Pistol Fire, with their two person guitar and drums duo and heavy bluesy throwback sound, could quickly and easily be compared to their predecessors Black Keys and White Stripes. They have the same qualities both of those acts borrowed from Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, but with a new take on the heavy ferocity you can achieve from just a heavy guitar riff and a bombastic bass drum kick. With those previous mentioned bands gone or with a complete change in sound, it’s time for Black Pistol Fire to take up the reins.
The fifth band of day three, Rose Hill Drive, is back after a little hiatus to bring their classic rock sound from the music loving town – and my current home – Boulder. They decided to treat us to an entire set of all Led Zeppelin songs. I went into seeing them for the first time knowing that guitarist Daniel Sproul replaced Neal Casal in Hard Working Americans when he left to focus on his other band, Chris Robinson Band. These were hard shoes to fill, considering the massive talent of Casal, and he did it well.
From Casal’s work with Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Band and solo material, to his newest band Circles Around the Sun, he has proved to be one of the greatest in the game. Daniel comes from a talented family of musicians including his brother and Rose Hill bandmate Jacob, and another talented brother, friend and former mountain neighbor of mine, Benjamin, who can be seen playing in his own band Electric Toast.
Playing the same stage dominated by fellow Hard Working American’s Dave Schools and Duanne Trucks the two prior nights, the Sproul brothers were set to dominate their portion of the RIDE Festival. They won the award for the best sit-ins, most sit-ins, and by my count the only sit-ins of the weekend.
First out was Browan Lollar, guitarist from Jason Isbell’s 400 unit, to add some shred to Zepplin’s “Ramble On”. Up next, to the joy of everybody in the crowd who once owned a copy of Big Head Todd & the Monster’s 1998 live album (probably on CD or cassette) “Live Monsters”, as I did, Rose Hill invited their fellow Boulderite Todd Park Mohr out to sing lead on his classic version of “Tangerine”. We now knew a song we wouldn’t be seeing in BHT’s set, but I think everyone was very pleased to hear it with some added new youthful fire and energy.
“Be Your Fest Self” with fun and unique festival gear.
Like Aliens riding T-Rex with rainbow stars shooting out its butt. Because we can.
Big Head Todd & The Monsters Bring The Crowd Pleasers
Todd was warmed up and ready to bring out his band of festival veterans, stalwarts, and ring leaders Big Head Todd & the Monsters. I can’t remember if I had seen them since those formative festival years back in the day, but I know they still played religiously almost every year and still had a hardcore fan base. Along with Blues Traveler, they were one of the first bands that helped introduce me to my addiction to music festivals back in the Horde Festival days.
They were a big part of the reason I first saw Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit (featuring Jimmy Herring), and my favorites, Leftover Salmon, while they were all smaller print bands on the lineups. I knew I would cross paths again with them at some point, so what a grand stage for that to happen. We were treated to all of the fan favorites like “Broken Hearted Savior” and “Bittersweet” with Todd and the boys still showing the same excitement and enthusiasm as they did on that Horde Festival stage so many years ago.
Then and now, the crowd knew every word to every song.
Closing Out RIDE with Isbell’s Poetic Lyrics
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit were now ready to show us why they are a band at the top of the game, and to reward everyone that stuck around for the final night. Similar to Panic and many of their fans, Jason comes from the deep South. His lyrics take you back to an open field, a church pew, or the back seat of a car. His poetic lyrics create a visual landscape that add to the story and the theme of each song. Not many songwriters today have the power to submerge you into the lyrics, and make you feel the pain, heartache, and love that the lyrics are representing, as if you are reading one of your favorite books or rewatching one of your favorite movies.
When Jason Isbell shares his songs, people are captured by his lyrics. Like many fans of the Drive By Truckers, Jason’s songs were always my favorite on their albums, and the ones I learned every lyric to. He is arguably one of the best singer songwriters we have today, and it was a special to hear those beautifully poetic words coming from the majestic stage in Telluride.
Jason and his band went through a solid selection of songs from his solo career and from his albums with the 400 Unit. Selfishly, fans always want to hear at least one song from his days with the Truckers, and we were treated to “Never Gonna Change” from their 2004 album The Dirty South. At one point early in the show, Jason asked the crowd if J.B.( Widespread Panic) utilized the mini stage catwalk run that sat upon a mini Volkswagen bus. With a big smile and a chuckle, he said something along the lines of J.B. is the most unlikely showy cat-walking guy I can think of. He then briefly teased us, coming onto the hovered platform that was more appropriately used by earlier bands like Thunderpussy and Black Pistol Fire.
Besides that brief interlude of comedy, the show was serious, full of crowd-singing participation, and at times rocking from the amazing talent from all of the musicians on the stage. I noticed this was one of the more drunk, rowdy, and loud crowds of the weekend. This was likely due to less people in the crowd on the final night, and those few bad seeds stood out a little more. Luckily, with a more open-spaced crowd, it was rather easy to get up close to the stage.
Jason left the stage for what seemed like seconds, and came back for one last song of the set, and of the weekend and festival. We were treated to the hauntingly beautiful and melancholy Grammy-award winning single “If We Were Vampires” that tells the tale of love and loss due to mortality and how it could all be cured if we were all vampires who could live forever.
Jason Isbell serenaded a teary-eyed, sleep-deprived, over-partied, music-loving crowd from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and different parts of the country all becoming one in the moment.
The Magic of Telluride Rewards Festival Lovers
Telluride has a magical presence coming from its mountains, waterfalls, alpines, and townspeople. The stage in Town Park has a mystical sensation from all the legendary musicians that have graced upon it. Telluride is not an easy destination for many to get to, but once you arrive, regardless of your journey, your reward is paid in full. The convenience to walk down the street to grab a cold beer and dinner, take a gondola ride, antique shop, or take a siesta in an air-conditioned condo is unlike most festivals.
At RIDE Fest, unlike Telluride Bluegrass Festival, everyone in attendance gets to camp in Town Park. Town Park provides shade trees, clean bathrooms, hot showers, charging stations, and is a quick walk to the stage. Town Park creates a friendly community where strangers become neighbors and new friends. From late-night twister to glow-in-the-dark bocce ball to a shared meal or drink, the community was built.
Whether it is a band, a set, a song, or a lyric – this is what musical festivals are all about and keep us coming back year after year chasing that singular moment once again.
RIDE Festival, thank you for the ride. TO HELL YOU RIDE!
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