Summer Tour Endeth: Red Rocks to High Sierra

Posted: July 16th, 2013

Along the front range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, approaching the eastern slopes, you will find there amassed spectacular rock formations. I’m talking rocks a size beyond your imagination. Boulders as big as houses and office buildings, jutting up and out of the mountain slopes, list at 60 degree angles. Geologists refer to them as Fountain Formations. I can only guess why, because some of the unusual shapes of the stones are like water spouting from a fountain. It works for me. I know they run from Boulder (the city) in the north to Colorado Springs in the south. The giant boulders are colored hues of red and pink and white from ancient beds of sandstone and limestone. Local municipalities have turned the respective sites into parks and recreation areas. The most spectacular of these, that this eye has seen, is the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The most well-known and visited is Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, in Morrison.

There, at the latter location, on the Fourth of July, your humble reporter found himself in the wings, staring up at the boulders and reminiscing. For me, personally, it was an historic day, and a very special one. Nearly 35 years ago to the day I was there to watch a funky, little hippy band out of San Francisco, one with a big-time following, play Red Rocks. What I didn’t know until many years later, that show was the first time the Grateful Dead played there. The man who told me that was none other than Jim Loughlin’s older brother John (yes, mi amigo.moe.litos, there are 2 of us). For he was there, too. We didn’t know each other at the time, and only made the connection a couple years ago. The Dead were at their peak then, and the show was a truly amazing one. Even through the fog of time, I still remember that night, being there, the carnival atmosphere, like it was last week. That story alone is good for a few pints at any bar, saloon, pub, or tavern anywhere. But on another level, for John and I, to see our respective kid brothers stand out there center stage 35 years later, playing in your favorite band, in one of the most historic venues in the nation, on the nation’s birthday, and bring the house down—that was cosmic, and, as I write this, a kind of high washed in happiness, pride and goose bumps. There are no coincidences, only meaningful ones, or maybe, as John summed it up to me that night about this remarkable tale, it really means, “The circle is now complete!”

…but I digress. The Red Rocks show was a great success, indeed. After a balls out, pedal-to-the medal show at the Boulder Theater the night before, the band came out and picked up where they left off. Red Rocks was a twin billing. moe. shared the stage with Blues Traveler in front of a near full house. Both shows were rocking, and members from each band sat in on their respective sets. John Popper and Ben Wilson jammed with moe. on the very new song, Crackers, and the classic, Plane Crash. Make no mistake about it. Nobody today plays the blues harp like Popper. He is the preeminent musician in his field. During Blues Travelers set, both Jim and Al sat in on songs and showcased their talents. The crowd was on their feet throughout the night, and celebrating the Fourth in style.

Nevertheless, like every other day, even the special ones come to an end. We load up the truck, hop onto the bus, and continue westward. As we leave Red Rocks, this is one part of the tour I wish it were closer to daylight. We’re going through beautiful country—through mountain passes and across the Great Continental Divide. Instead, when I wake up the next morning we’re past the Divide. The bus is well on the broad plateaus between the mountain ranges that fill out the west side of the hemisphere. It’s semi-arid, or looks that way, for most of Utah. I’m looking out the window, eating cookies. In Boulder we received boxes of homemade cookies and brownies—enough for every kindergartener in the New York City Public School system. No Homer, they’re not laced, but they’re damn tasty.

Nevada is bone dry. It’s just after sunrise the following day. The bus is still rolling. I’m sitting alone looking out at the desert and wonder where we are in relation to where they detonated nuclear bombs (1,021 explosions from 1951 to 1992; sub-critical testing on weapons and properties of plutonium continue to the present). It’s a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape void of any signs of life. This couldn’t be it. We’re too far from any town and too far north. The ‘experiments’ conducted there in the name of national security, were closer to towns in the south. I recall reading how tourists in Vegas rushed to the rooftops of the casinos to watch the mushroom clouds rise above the desert. In fact, the radioactive fallout from one explosion rained down on John Wayne and the set of The Conqueror, while filming on location in Utah, in 1955. It was tough enough that the movie bombed, but roughly, just under half the cast and crew who were on location would battle cancer throughout much of the remaining years of their lives. That included stars—John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorhead—and the director—Dick Powell. Nobody seemed to care about their fate, or all the children in Southern Nevada and Utah who were stricken with leukemia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The nuclear test site continues to operate and conduct experiments with a macabre Dr. Strangelove obsession. At this stage of the game, nuclear weapons testing makes about as much sense as Braille pads on drive up ATM machines. Then again, it’s the same type of logic isn’t it? Where we’re at in our history as a nation? The same people who are providing a service to blind people who drive are in the same league as the ones who are blindly driving our economy right into the ground … and our national security right over us. It’s like shouting into the wind—Y.O.Y… must it be?

Thoughts of hopelessness and a dystopian American Dream have made me sleepy, and I climb back into my bunk. When I awake, the bus is nearing Quincy, California, site of the 23rd annual High Sierra Music Festival. We’ve finally made it. moe. is one of the headliners. They’re playing two shows—an overnighter in the Music Hall, Saturday, and closing out the festival on Sunday night.

One of the first signs of a music festival well underway, and a successful one, is that every last square inch of real estate not reserved for vendors, entertainers, and musicians has a tent or RV on it. The second is walking through intermittent pockets of pungent BO and patchouli oil that waft on the summer breeze. Oh yeah, breathe it in people! We’ve hit the mother lode! Live music can be heard all around as most of us are taken to the dining hall. Jim and Vinnie go to jam with the Mike Dillon Band. Mike, an extraordinary vibe player, has jammed with moe. on many occasions. Whenever I see Mike and Jim play side-by-side, it’s like they’re joined at the hip. They are one player with four arms, and it is so kewl to watch and listen!

The Saturday night show was a great success. The Music Hall was completely sold out and filled to capacity. moe. jammed away until 4 am. Andy Falco, guitarist for the Infamous Stringdusters, sat in on McBain and absolutely shredded it. A few songs later, Dan Lebowitz from ALO, sat in on Moth, and did the same, except with a lap steel guitar.

The Sunday night show is on the main stage of the festival. It’s a big show and everyone’s pumped. One of the maxims of the business is that the show must go on, but really, how it’s done is just as important. Behind the scenes there is a great flurry of activity to make it happen. moe.crew, in conjuction with some of the festival crew, packs up the Music Hall and moves over to the Main Stage right after the show ends there. It’s an incredible, yeoman effort. The crew is, after all, on east coast time, which means to their bio-clocks, it’s 7 am.  It takes them a little over 3 hours to take down the equipment and stage, pack it up, load it on a truck—actually it’s 2 truckloads—because we’re not using the semi—transfer it, unload, unpack, and set up it all up for moe.’s show the following, ie, that evening, at 9:30. I’m always blown away by what these guys can do. We’ve been on the road for just about 3 weeks, and for the very last show they’re up until 7:30 am to make a show happen 14 hours later. If you’re thinking why, it’s protocol. It had to be done that way. When a band’s the headliner at a festival, they must set up first and move their equipment back, out of the way. Once that’s done, the other acts can come in and set up and take down throughout the day without any interference. It’s a well-choreographed routine that’s an imperative to put on a big-time rock and roll production. You, mi amigo.moe.litos, do not see that, but you do appreciate it come show time.

That night, the band walks on stage, reaches inward, and does it all over again. All the ups and down, road wear, fatigue, longing for home—every distraction—is placed aside again to make that show a special one. It is. The band is on. They burn through St. Augustine, Y.O.Y., and Skrunk. Young trombone phenom, Carly Meyers, and Mike Dillon of the eponymous named Band, joined moe. for Time Ed. And then there’s more moe., with Wind It Up, Waiting For The Punchline, and Opium, in which, on the latter, guitarist Lukas Nelson sat in on. The band then finishes it out with two classics—Happy Hour Hero and Buster.

That was a tour for the books. The band drove over 7,000 miles (and counting), to play on a stage, at a theater, or a festival, near you. Happy trails if any of you are going to Germany where moe. will finish up the Summer Tour alongside Government Mule. Otherwise, moe.down’s just ahead, and right around the bend.