Trey Anastasio, The Revivalists, Fruition, Odesza And More Make Inaugural Vertex Festival A Success (FESTIVAL REVIEW)

Trey Anastasio

Cottonwood Ranch hosted the inaugural Vertex Music Festival this past weekend in the Southern Colorado mountains of Buena Vista and the occasion proved to be nothing but an absolute success for both promoters and concert-goers. Lack of attendance was a thought that came to mind considering Arise was going down the same weekend, in the same state, but Vertex proved itself to be the Colorado festival of the summer that people will be no doubt flocking back to for years to come. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, surrounded by 14,000-foot mountain ranges and a beautiful creek to bathe in as the sun was beaming down. The cool Colorado rain came and went, but never lasted long enough to hold anybody back from pushing on ‘til the day and dancing their socks off all weekend long. Hammocks were set up in convenient shady places around the site, and incredible art installations such as a tin-man breathing fire were in abundance. The pure beauty of walking from GA camping, through a wooded forest, and arriving in front of two beautifully crafted stages will forever stick with every person in attendance.

Here’s a day by day breakdown of the best performances of the weekend:

FRIDAY:

Vertex hosted a wide range of music for all fans to enjoy, and Friday proved to be the day and night most packed with diversity. Portland, Oregon based folk-rock group Fruition played the first monstrous set of the weekend at the Princeton Garden (main stage), lighting up fans with their catchy lyrics and incredible musicianship on their string instruments. Mashing in soul and blues riffs with their folk-rock sound makes this band so intriguing, and they proved all weekend with four different sets why they may just be the next band to make it big. Anderson.Paak & The Free Nationals followed Fruition at the Cottonwood Parlor (side stage) and captivated the minds of a wide range of fans with a heady mix of hip hop, funk and soul. Anderson.Paak hopped from rapping rhymes with a full band behind him, to getting behind the drum kit and leading his band through hard-hitting hip-hop anthems. The site of the festival sits at over 8,000 feet altitude, which made way for the most incredible pink and orange sunset I’ve witnessed this summer.

Emancipator Ensemble played a mellow yet captivating set, accompanied by a wide-cast of musicians that they’ve used in this new rendition of the band over the last couple of years. Older Emancipator songs were meshed with new songs played with the Ensemble, and it was the perfect opener for The Alabama Shakes. The Shakes played the headlining set on the main stage, with powerful and soulful vocals, yet there was a lack of technical guitar playing that we’ve seen Brittany Howard pull out of her pocket so many times in performances over the years. The Alabama Shakes played an overall good show, but there was a lack of energy, and Gramatik was the perfect person to get the crowd’s energy back to end the first night of the weekend on a high note with his unique skill of looping live guitar riffs with carefully crafted electronic beats.

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SATURDAY:

Saturday was 100% geared toward electronic music fans, but this did not get in the way of rock, blues, and funk fans jamming out to legendary artist Graham Nash, New Orleans rockers The Revivalists, and funk/jam scene extraordinaires Lettuce. The Revivalists were one of the top acts of the weekend, incorporating a twangy pedal steel sound and acoustic guitar, backed by hard-hitting electric guitar solos. Members of the band could not hold back from jumping around the stage and gaining attention of electronic fans eagerly awaiting Rufus Du Sol and Odesza’s headlining performance. The EDM fans flocked to see the Australian trio Rufus Du Sol lay down heavy beats on the Cottonwood Parlor stage, and as the set grew deeper, more and more fans arrived, until the field with the two main-stages had the densest crowd the festival witnessed all weekend. Odesza is one of the most successful electronic duo’s on the scene at this point, proving themselves by selling out Red Rocks instantaneously earlier this summer. The LA boys threw down a memorable set, complete with members of the Colorado Symphony and drumline, akin to their recent sold-out Red Rocks performance in June. Their music felt less focused on destructive bass-drops and more on the incorporation of an eclectic range of instruments and female vocal-loops, which added to their creativity behind the turntables. I heard only positive remarks from music junkies of all genres as I walked back to the campsite after an enormous Saturday.

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SUNDAY:

For myself, Sunday was the day of all days; the day that many fans hoped for a musical collaboration that has not gone done in over ten years. Although the reunion of former Oysterhead bandmates Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio never happened, Sunday night is a night that any music fan in attendance will remember for the rest of their life. Minus Phish’s 2010 performance in Telluride Town Park, Trey Anastasio fans have not gotten to see Trey perform with a breathtaking Colorado mountain backdrop for quite a while. East-Coast jammers Dopapod, formed by Berklee College of Music grads, let completely loose and got the anxiously awaiting crowd rocking back and forth. For the first time in years I heard guitarist Rob Compa knock solos out of the park, like the guitar wizard I’ve known he’s always been since my first time seeing him in 2009.

The Claypool-Lennon Delirium followed, with Sean Lennon proving his guitar skills alongside one of the top living bassists in the world. Mixing up originals, Les Claypool’s Primus songs, and a moving John Lennon cover to end the show, the band played a set that will have fans pleading for more Claypool Lennon Delirium show announcements. Fruition played another deep set, hosting a pickin’ party with Yonder Mountain String Band fiddle-queen, Allie Kral. And then the moment had arrived, and everyone at the Princeton Garden stage awaited Trey and Company’s grand arrival to close out an incredible weekend for everyone involved with Vertex Music Festival. After an up and down summer with Phish, Trey Anastasio came onstage, with a unique lineup including Jeff Cressman, former Trey Anastasio Band member and father of current regular trombonist Natalie Cressman, as well as percussionist Cyro Baptista who’s played with Trey over the years. Big Red opened the set with a bouncing “First Tube”, and the set continued with classic TAB songs “Money, Love and Change”, “Drifting”, and “Burlap Sack and Pumps”. Bob Marley classic “Soul Rebel” and Phish staple “Sand” also appeared before a first-set ending “Tuesday”.

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Compared to Phish’s shows so far this summer, Trey was sounding quicker and more relaxed than any previous performance. There were no flubs in solos, and the way he goes about conducting his band shows why he was chosen to celebrate 50 years of the Grateful Dead as the lead guitarist at Fare Thee Well last summer, and continues to sellout tours after so many years on the scene. Second set highlights included a monstrous “Gotta Jibboo”, 2016’s first performance of “Alaska”, “Plasma”, “Shine”, The Gorillaz cover of “Clint Eastwood” with trumpet guru Jennifer Hartswick belting out the verses with power that could be heard for miles, and a set ending “Night Speaks to a Woman” that included the most high-energy solo of the night. Ending the weekend on the highest note imaginably possible, Trey came back for a beautifully placed “Show of Life” encore that segued into a rare Led Zeppelin cover of “Dazed and Confused”. Everyone walking out of the beautiful trees nestled in the middle of the Cottonwood Ranch knew something out of this world had just happened, and that Vertex Music Festival will hopefully be a Colorado staple for years to come.

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