Over the last decade, if you’ve been to a hard rock fest then you’ve probably been to a fest produced by AEG Live: Rocklahoma, Rock on the Range, Rock Your Socks Off*, etc. Well, there’s a new one in town that doesn’t have “rock” in the title: High Elevation. Here’s my High Elevation Rock Fest recap.
I moved to Denver in June and was quite pleased to see a fest coming in September featuring Volbeat, Texas Hippie Coalition, and Shaman’s Harvest honoring my arrival. The lineup was a mixed bag with hard rock, a bit of punk, industrial, hardcore/screamo (or whatever you call it) and bands I’d never heard but hoped were good. I always research what I call the “seeing eye chart” bands listed in size 3 font at the bottom of fest posters. This has been my main source of discovering great new music over the last decade.
I have a love/hate relationship with fests. The main issue is when they schedule bands I like at the same time or a Three Hinder Days Saving Seether Benjamin & Abel obstacle.
High Elevation was held 9/10/16 at Fiddler’s Green amphitheater right outside of Denver. This venue is one of the most hated venues on Earth per the interwebs for sound and setup. Don’t take it from me; type “Fiddler’s Green” into the Google machine and your browser will crash from anger. Or Denver is just spoiled by having Red Rocks. Regardless, my expectations for the location were low. More on that later.
Let’s get to the music. I’m going to recap this chronologically.
2PM: Shaman’s Harvest – Armed with a photo pass and VIP access (courtesy of Ashton-Magnuson Media – Thanks!) fellow rock soldier Rob and I witnessed Shaman’s Harvest destroy the main stage. This is one of my favorite bands of the last few years and excellent live. Unfortunately, they had to blast through an abbreviated 6 song set that omitted great songs such as “Dangerous.” Lead singer Nate Hunt also happened to be wandering around hours later and was cool enough to take a quick iPhone pic with me. Buy their album Smokin Hearts & Broken Guns immediately.
3PM: 12 Foot Ninja – I head over to the second stage, located in the parking lot, for Twelve Foot Ninja. And by “parking lot” I mean a dustbowl made up of dirt and rocks. I’m a big fan of bands with silly names but I’d checked 12 Foot Ninja prior and had zero interest from sampling their debut album. Then I saw they had a new album called Outlier. Holy balls. At just 38 minutes long it has more riffs, music styles and time changes than most bands have in their career. The main difference between their debut and the new album is it’s packed with hooks and infectious choruses. But could they pull this off live or was it just studio cut and paste trickery? They pulled it off well and exceeded my expectations. I’m now a fan.
330PM: Animals as Leaders played. I do like some instrumental-only bands such as Apocalyptica, Rodrigo Y Gabriella, and Russian Circles. I don’t like noodling. Props to AEG for putting variety in the lineup but I moved on to the second stage as I felt a nap coming on.
The fest was running like a military operation: bands were starting right on time and no conflicting set times or bullshittery. Nice.
4PM: Neck Deep – Back to the dustbowl. Time for Neck Deep, another band I researched prior. Neck Deep is a punk band similar in vibe to Blink 182 and New Found Glory. Tons of energy and I was impressed with their set design, especially for a 2nd stage act. Their latest album is Life’s Not To Get You; check out the tracks “Can’t Kick up the Roots” and “Kali Ma” which is about Indiana Jones (not kidding). For a full review of their newest album check out this review by TylerDFC on Criticult.
430PM: Ministry – Here’s Uncle Al, Alien Dog Star, Buck Satan or whatever your favorite name is for him. Enjoy the pic and come up with your own caption. I’m going with “Where am I?”
5- 6PM: Pierce The Veil and Amity Affliction played. I opted to take a break from the dust and sun. I grabbed some shade and dinner at VIP instead.
6PM: Texas Hippie Coalition is the self-proclaimed greatest Red Dirt Metal band in the known universe. That said, they are also the only Red Dirt Metal band as they made that term up. I’ve been looking forward to seeing them live for a long time as I own several of their albums and they did not disappoint. Lead singer, King of the Rednecks, Lord of the Hippies and massive personality Big Dad Rich made his mission clear at the top of the set: “We’ve come to Denver to drink your liquor and flirt with your woman-folk.” The man is a beast. He also comes equipped with weapons. Fueled by too much Waylon Whiskey and Willie Weed, BDR prowled the stage armed with a pocketknife and a “peacemaker” mic stand. Just in case. They opened with “Hands Up” and the crowd obeyed. If you weren’t a fan, you were after. Check out “Angel Fall” and “Knee Deep” from their latest album Dark Side of Black. My Decibel Geek cohort and Cobras & Fire: Rock Podcast co-host Bakko did a killer review of their recent show in MN. Check it out HERE.
640PM: Chevelle: THC, Neck Deep, 12 Foot Ninja, and Shaman’s sets can be summed up in two words: Fun. Energy. The opposite can be said for Chevelle. This band is my nemesis. They are constantly at fests bringing the crowd to a screeching halt before the headliners. After THC’s set this was like running a car into a wall harder than a crash test dummy. They have zero stage presence. Or melody. You can take picture of these guys anytime during their set and it will be the same because they never move. I’m getting bored looking at these two pics while editing this post. They look bored. They lady in the background on stage with here arms crossed looks bored. And angry. I’ve never met a fan but if you like listening to Tool D-sides, you’re all set. They are on the radio. They sell albums. So what the fuck do I know.
8PM: Volbeat – Easily one the best current live acts. When Volbeat takes the stage the world temporarily improves. A $9.50 PBR suddenly tastes fantastic. It’s magic. Volbeat’s sound guy deserves a Grammy and should be employed all bands. They always have the perfect mix for the vocals and guitars so you can clearly hear Michael Poulsen’s Danglish.
In less than an hour, they tore through a 12 song setlist with 4 songs off their latest album: “Devil’s Crown,” “The Bliss,” “Black Rose” and “Seal the Deal” plus all the staples. Metallica wishes they could still come up the riffs on “Dead But Rising” and “Doc Holiday.” This was the third time seeing them at a fest and all I want in life is for them to come to town for a full 20 song plus hour headline show. I’ve seen the setlists for this current tour and they are pure rock gold.
840PM: Killswitch Engage – I was interested in seeing them but it was too much work to fight the crowd to get to the 2nd stage and make it in time back for the Avenged photo pit. I saw a bit of their set years ago and they encored with a cover of “Holy Diver.” Next time.
945PM: Avenged Sevenfold – I made my way to the press pit and was told “Not So Fast!” by security and quickly turned around as A7X required their own photo pass. I was told prior this might happen. So I have no pics of M. Shadows and company. I’ve never been completely pulled into this band so it was no big deal. I guess I should have checked out Killswitch after all.
Since their drummer and chief songwriter, The Rev died their output has been suspect but I do like a handful of tracks, mostly on their self-titled; “Piece of Heaven” for example is epic genius. It was curtains at 11PM so they only had just over an hour to play yet there was a ton of banter. And the setlist was spotty. They did play some deep tracks like “Gunslinger” (good) and “Planets” (bad) but they need to move on from playing so much Hail to the King material. The prior two times I’ve seen them (both times at fests) their stage was incredible. This time, they only had stairs, fire and a screen that showed only the band, no graphics etc. Then again it’s impossible to follow Volbeat. The sound was muddy and M. Shadows vocals were buried which is a shame. The performance was good, not great.
In summary, I have been to tons of fests including Rock on the Range three years in a row. And this was one of the better ones. The fact that they had bands that didn’t fit in the same exact genre was a good choice. The set times were perfection. The place was packed and the sound at both the main and 2nd stage was solid. But about the venue…
This part is about Fiddler’s Green, not AEG Live. It’s not a good setup for any fest with the 2nd stage area and how you have to get to it. If High Elevation is coming back to Fiddler’s Green next year (which they probably are) here are my demands.
1. Pave the damn parking lot for the 2nd stage area. Fiddler’s Green charges $9.50 a beer. They can afford asphalt. I think everyone in the crowd digested a pound of dirt each.
2. Put some damn Port-A-Potties in the 2nd stage area. You have to make a long journey back into the amphitheater and miss at least a song or two.
3. Get a better beer selection. This is Denver! There are about 100 breweries in throwing distance.
4. Two water fountains in the entire place? That’s evil when you are charging $4.75 for bottled water.
That’s it! High Elevation was a solid day of rock.
Thanks to AEG Live and Ashton-Magnuson Media.
Want more rock? Check out Cobras & Fire: Rock Podcast starring Loose Cannon (the amazing writer and photographer of this article) and Bakko.
* Rock your Socks Off is not a real fest. But it should be.