by Molly Smith
Chipotle's Cultivate Festival is an event that takes place in a few cities across the U.S. every year in order to feed people yummy Mexican food, educate them on sustainability and farming, and supply us with beautiful free music. This year, I attended the festival in Denver at City Park, and experienced three totally different and awesome groups: Allen Stone, Blitzen Trapper, and Cold War Kids.
Allen Stone graced the small-scale crowd with what he called his “Northwest Soul Music” for a show that was “not a performance” but a community experience.
With a groovy long-sleeved shirt, huge glasses hailing from the trends of the seventies, and long, curly, strawberry-blond hair, Stone looks nothing like you'd expect of a soulful singer. However, his unique quirks are what make him so iconic, slightly nerdy, and instantly loveable.
The set began with Stone asking the audience to stretch their arms out and shake their hands with energy, which brought everyone out of their comfort zone in order to set the participatory mood. Focused on the crowd as vital piece of the show, he encouraged good energy and vibes, requested a synchronized sway that took effect for an entire song start to finish, and organized a dance-off. Huge grins, dancing, and finger-snapping came almost involuntary to everybody who watched, especially as the talented five person band accompanied Stone's energetic and smooth voice.
His wide range was incredibly impressive and seemed effortless, and he showed off his skills effectively during the floating bridge of “Celebrate Tonight”. During his best song, “Sleep,” lyrics naturally slid from his mouth as if they had a velvety texture and just flowed so easily. He also embraced a scream-and-shout style at times, and even dramatically dropped to the ground with exhaustion after a long run to the top of his range.
Generally, his tone was bright and straightforward. Stone stepped into his role as a “multi-instrumentalist” (vocalist, guitarist, whistler) after a few songs, but mostly stuck to his role as vocal frontman. Once Stone turned his back to the audience to shake his ass in our faces, it became most clear that he and his crew were definitely there be rowdy and have a good time.
“Treat You Right” originally by Bob Marley became jazzed out with sliding vocals, an added piano, intentional pauses, and varying rhythm. During the grand finale the organist began pounding on his instrument with his feet and flopped down like a dead man while Stone “revived” him for a few bars. As they left the stage, I found myself still smiling wide and humming along to his blended jazz, reggae, soul, and pop tunes in my head.
There is no commonality on the surface among the members of Blitzen Trapper, and this is what makes them badasses. One guy wore a cutoff shirt to show off his arm tat, a couple of them sported casual button-ups, another was cleanly dressed in a tie and suspenders, and one wore a two-dollar gray v-neck. What ties these Oregonians together is obviously their musicianship, because they are beyond the hype of looks and other fluff.
As I wondered during a few songs how to describe their laid-back vibe, the answer finally came to me when the sun came out behind the clouds, leading vocalist Eric Earley to throw on his aviators. They're exactly like those sunglasses: classic, a good fit for everybody, and timeless.
Opening with a true rock n' roll song, their hint of twang that would make me want to classify them as country western if that meant what it actually was supposed to. By that I mean that I want to have Blitzen Trapper playing in the background while I cruise down a two lane highway. Was that too cliché?
Perhaps a better category for them to fit into would be blues-rock, but even that doesn't quite capture it. I was even nearly fooled to think that their original “Black River Highway” was a cover of an oldie. Whatever genre they belong to, their basic five piece setup (bass, guitar, vocals, piano, and drums) didn't keep them inside any boxes at all.
Earley's voice was folksy with depth, and he capitalized on repetition to create a steady sound. A slow, laid back rhythm throughout most of their set fit their attitude perfectly, and a few members nonchalantly took a smoke break while the attention focused on Earley. Drummer Brian Adrian Koch unsuspectingly accompanied with beautiful backup vocals, especially on “Love the Way You Walk Away”, and when Marty Marquis on the keyboard joined in to sing a three-part harmony during “Heaven and Earth”, it was like magic.
Like any classic folk, their lyrics were storytelling and easy to learn. Even though they only played a handful of songs, they filled the set well as they added a few minutes of instrumental jam onto the end of each one. My personal favorite was “Heart Attack”, a shout-y track off of their album coming out next month. They finished just as casually as they began, rolled with a few technical difficulties with ease, and gave a performance that was entirely music-focused: the way it was meant to be.
Cold War Kids
Fearlessness and high energy immediately took over the stage as musty lo-fi headliners Cold War Kids began their performance. While edgy hints of garage rock, they were not necessarily dark, but simply powerful and sounded right at high volumes (especially and fittingly during “Louder Than Ever”).
With a keyboard focus and percussive overall sound, these Los Angeles natives inspired not just enthusiastic foot tapping, but foot slamming.
Nathan Willet, the lead singer and guitarist, had an anthemeic voice with a high register that had traces of Bono with an attitude. His biting vocals created a tension and release that made each song grow and recover naturally. Every immediate rise and fall resulted in his eyes squinting, and they would stay like that.
Though Willet was charismatic, most of the draw of Cold War Kids is the power in the keyboards. Rhythmic changes also kept things interesting, and they remained so spot-on that their instrumentals probably could have been rapped over.
Each song ended with abruptness, but was clean. Though I was surprised and disappointed that they didn't play “We Used to Vacation”, the crowd was more than pleased with the performance of “Hang Me Up to Dry”, as Willet's hand gesturing became energetic and dramatic.
“Hospital” was, in my opinion, their second best track, and most of the attention focused on keyboard and Willet himself as he took over the piano. It ended with an additional few minutes of instrumental break, which was much needed, and showcased their talent as overall musicians.
Subtly sassy “Saint John” wrapped up the set, and their classic rock influences became clear. Matthew Shwartz gave an amazing solo on the piano, reminding everybody at the end that he is one of Cold War Kids' major contributors.
Full Line Up
Chipotle's Cultivate Festival (Denver) Full Line Up: Hosted by Chris Golub
- Cold War Kids
- Allen Stone
- Blitzen Trapper
- Good Old War
- Air Dubai