On the fateful day of September 6th, 2010 a massive wildfire burst into life in the hills above Boulder, CO. Over the course of the next eleven days over 6200 acres and close to 180 homes where brutally demolished by the horrifically destructive wildfire. Without the timely help of the heroic fire departments, which worked day and night to contain the fire, much more would have been lost to this blaze. As it stands, the area known as Four Mile Canyon was utterly devastated. Something had to be done to help the families that that where now homeless and the fire departments (made up mostly of volunteers) that had risked life and limb to combat this fire. Thus Four Mile Canyon Revival Benefit Concert was created by the genius minds at Madison House Publicity. The plan was to have some of the greatest bands in the local Colorado jam scene host a benefit concert at the gorgeous 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, CO.
As soon as this plan was set in motion, the word spread even faster than the wildfire that had destroyed much of the canyon. Local favorites such as Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and The String Cheese Incident where listed on the venues roster. In addition, special guests Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon and Page McConnell where listed. As a result all 6500 tickets disappeared in a blink of an eye. The very nature of this event showcases the community vibe of Colorado. The venue itself is very intimate with every seat from front to back hosting a great view of the action on stage. The 1st Bank Center covered all the costs associated with producing a show of this magnitude. Almost every aspect of producing this event had been meet with either steep reductions on cost or in many cases, complete donations of time and materials. This included everything from event producers, security staff, backstage services, essential elements like lights and sound, artwork and printing for event T-shirts and posters that would raise additional funds. Conscious Alliance was also there in force, trading donated event posters for food that would benefit the Boulder Community Food Share.
The doors opened at 5pm and thousands of excited fans rushed in and filled the cozy space inside the 1st Bank Center. Right at 6pm Leftover Salmon took to the stage as the lights dimmed. Lead guitarist Vince Herman stepped up to the microphone and mentioned the bravery of the firefighters and that some of the band members had at one time lived in Gold Hill, CO, an area that had been evacuated due to the spreading fire. The musical collaboration every single fan had prayed for, began with that first set as Keith Moseley of SCI stayed and played bass the entire time. After a few songs the cheering began again even more frantically as Page McConnell walked out on stage and joined Bill McKay on the keys. The fun did not stop there as Bill Nershi of SCI came out on electric guitar as well as Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival joining in for a washboard dual with Vince Herman to end the set.
Next was the Nederland natives Yonder Mountain String Band. With the stage crews working in record time, the stage was clear YMSB’s gear was moved in. As many people had speculated, there was the noticeable drum riser included with the normal solo string equipment. As the band arrived on stage they launched the audience into dance mode with Too Late Now, 40 Miles From Denver feature lyrics from bass player Ben Kaufmann, and Mental Breakdown featuring the fast paced banjo from Dave Johnston. Next, mandolin extraordinaire Jeff Austin raised his glass in a toast to all the amazing musicians that had donated their time for this special event. After completing Mother’s Only Son, Jeff Austin introduced the final member of the band, Jon Fishman on drums. A wild cheer rose up and Jon, having toured with Yonder before Phish reunited, fit in like a glove for the remainder of the set, which included an epic Talking Heads cover of Girlfriend is Better.
Denver’s Big Head Todd & The Monsters had been a local touring band for over two decades, within the alternative music scene, and as such, was the least known to most of the benefit’s attendees. The lead guitar player Todd Mohr had roots within the jam community and as such quickly slipped into the mood of the event. The spirit of collaboration continued as Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman came out for a bluegrass version of Friend of The Devil featuring Todd Mohr on vocals. Before the next set of music came on, event organizers came out and presented a check for $100,000 to the local fire departments to help them replace equipment and building lost during the wildfire. The fans where also presented with a phone number that they could text further donations to if they wished. This number was displayed on the unique crescent shaped screen above the stage. The whole night this screen had been used for the light show as well as displaying pictures of the fire and those who had been fighting it.
Even with all the different musicians playing with one another, some Phish fans where disappointed that all four members didn’t come out and play with each other at the same time. Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon did come out for a surprise acoustic set, looking very small on such a large stage. The opening song Back on the Train, continued right into an slow rendition of Water in the Sky. Trey then 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 all the heroic firefighters. The house lights all came on and there was a standing ovation directed to the section that had been reserved for these heroes.
As the crew worked furiously to change the equipment before SCI came onstage to close out the night, the event organizers once again came out and gave the crowd an update on the fundraising. They proudly told the crowd that ticket sales had raised over $325,000 for the Boulder Mountain Fire Relief Fund and that, through additional donors, that total had risen to over $600,000. In addition the text message pledges climbed to over $20,000 over the course of the night.
The final act of the night was The String Cheese Incident. With only 8 shows originally planned for all of 2010, there where a large number of eager Cheese fans waiting for this. Setting up the bands instruments and sound checking them took longer than expected and had many people shifting on their feat.
When they did finally take to the stage the screams of joy seemed to go on forever. This cheering only seemed to intensify as Cheese finished Mouna Bowa and invited Trey Anastasio to join them for Joe Walsh's Rocky Mountain Way and an epic SCI original, Outside and Inside. Trey shredded his guitar so hard that the cheering threatened to bring the roof down on our heads as he shook each of the members of String Cheese hands and gracefully bowed out. The String Cheese Incident alternated between partially acoustic bluegrass and electrified jam rock as they launched seamlessly between Galactic and Round The Wheel. After Sometimes A River, Keith Moseley introduced Todd Mohr and recalled seeing him play the Boulder Theater in the late 80’s before String Cheese was even formed. Todd started singing The Isley Brothers' Who’s That Lady and stayed out onstage the rest of the night. More guests came out onstage at this point. Featuring Drew Emmitt on mandolin, Tyler Grant on guitar, Bill Mckay on keys, Andy Thorn on banjo, and Vince Herman on guitar for a fast bluegrass version of Sitting on Top of the World. The jamming continued as Jeff Austin rejoined the stage as well as Bonnie Paine on washboard and Jeremy Lawton on keys for an amazing version of I Know You Rider. This closed the set, but the cheering would not stop so everyone came back out for Bob Marley’s One Love.
This was a one of a kind musical experience. Never in the history of Colorado music have these musicians all shared a stage at the same time. The fact that is was a concert o help benefit victims of a devastating wildfire was wonderful icing on the cake. While some fans might have wished for a full set of Phish or a more traditional double set of Cheese, I know that the majority of the exhausted fans went home very satisfied. Lucky for those left wanting more, Phish would be playing the next three nights in the same exact venue and The String Cheese Incident will grace the halls of Hampton Coliseum on the 29th and 30th of this month.