Last Monday & Tuesday, Billy Kreutzmann brought his latest incarnation of the Kids to the mainland to play a two-night blowout at the sandstone mecca Red Rocks. Originally slated as a single show, tickets sold out almost instantly and in light of this demand, the call for more was answered. The response: another sold out show. With the triad of tailgaters, tapers, and tie dyes in tow, the Deadicated came from across the land and once again rolled up the mountain searching for the sound in hopes of catching a little magic as the music played the band. Outside of the usual progeny in Reed Mathis on bass, Aaron Magner on keys, and Tom Hamilton on guitar, the family welcomed James Casey’s huge talent on saxophone and vocals and the illustrious Billy Strings on guitar, whose name says it all.
On Tuesday, the band nailed two sets of jam-filled numbers and performed as though they had been playing night after night on an endless tour rather than being a group with only a handful of shows together under their belt and containing new members. The setlist was riddled with Grateful Dead classics and many tunes from the Jerry Garcia repertoire and each piece was handled in a way that reflected a deep connection for all rather than just a run through the numbers. Anyone who is familiar with Billy and his children know that the group, even with their sporadic outings over the years, are a tight unit of quality players who exist at the top of their game in their own musical universes, and with the addition of the equal standings of Casey and Strings, it was no surprise that the concoction created by the mad scientist Kreutzmann was to be no less than the already high bar set by the ensemble.
No Dead show in Colorado would be complete without a few magical moments and Tuesday was no different. During the run of “Me and My Uncle”, “Mama Tried”, and “Dire Wolf” in the first set, the band welcomed out Greensky Bluegrass mandolinist Paul Hoffman, affording him plenty of room to get down in the group and shower the crowd with aural delight. As if that wasn’t enough magic for the crowd, during this time the venue was filled with wind, a little rain, and at its terminus, a double rainbow colored the southern sky to the delight of all within eye shot of the spectacle.
Throughout the night, the band gelled without exception. The interplay between Hamilton and Strings was spot on and both communicated in the tunes as though they had been raised together. Casey’s talent in saxophone is known by most with his journey in the Trey Anastasio Band, but what seemed to be the hidden secret finally let out of the bag was his amazing vocal range and strength, a fact that will not soon be forgotten and had many hoping that Trey would pen some numbers for him to sing in the near future. Magner filled the spaces between with synth wizardry and carried so much energy onstage he often couldn’t decide between sitting or standing as he shifted between the multiple set ups he had at his disposal. The giant in Reed Mathis came calling all night long and his often-regarded unique delivery fit the order as he thundered the low end, shaking the bones of the participants, while also making time to let his accoutrement sing in the higher octaves, lifting spirits in the soft lilting spaces.
At many times, Kreutzmann was seen sitting back behind his kit, smiling from the inside out, and looking around at not only the 10,000 fans before him, but at these players assembled, seemingly satisfied that Grateful Dead music, music he had a hand in creating, had inspired these fine gentlemen to develop and excel as musicians and in this revelation, the music, in yet another of many avenues will continue long past his passing. At the close of the show, the band took time for a group bow and stood at the front of the stage for a few minutes in what seemed like an effort to glance with appreciation into each ticket holder’s eyes and share a smile if only for a moment. As the crowd disappeared into the night, walking down the myriad of ramps with their steep grades, many wondered when will Billy brings his kids out to play again because years is just too damned long.