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Year Three of Mile High Music Fest a Success
Weekend Music Fest Ends on a High Note with Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band

As I stepped into the Mile High Music Fest at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on a warm Saturday afternoon, I was feeling a bit apprehensive. See, I had gone the first year it was held, and it was unbearably hot, unbearably expensive, and there weren't nearly enough water stations or shady spots to avoid the massive amount of people passing out from the heat. This year, the festival is held a little later in the year and the weather is a lot cooler on August 14 and 15 than it was three years ago in mid-July. And while the festival is still expensive, I am told there are more food and water stations and plenty of shade. Still, I am anxious as I make another go around.

It turns out there was no need to worry. This year, the festival seems to have hit its mark. It was more organized, with manageable lines, better bathrooms, more water stations and cooling off zones, plenty of recycling stations, and a great musical lineup. Denver's festival is different than many of the others throughout the region in that the artists are a bit more mainstream. There are a few indie standouts, sure, but the headliners here are no spring chickens.

The first day's lineup has overall more indie groups than day two, with Jack Johnson being a notable exception. I started my day with Rusted Root, but was possessed to head to the stage next-door once Cypress Hill started. Truly, I didn't have much of a choice since I could no longer hear Rusted Root in the packed tent in which they were performing. Whose bright idea was it to put a tribal groove band next to the loud, bass beats of Cypress Hill? Anyway, after a set loaded with marijuana antics, I walked away from Cypress Hill feeling a bit nostalgic. I admit - I thoroughly enjoyed when the group threw down "Insane In The Brain" back in 1993. The rap group seemed to feel comfortable in the knowledge that Colorado isn't just green-friendly when it comes to recycling, as they pulled out a many-pronged blunt followed by a 6-foot plus tall bong on stage. It was a bit theatrical, but it worked for them.

Phoenix was next on the list and fans packed into a large, stuffy tent to listen to the French indie rock band play their two big hits. They opened with "Lisztomania" and closed with "1901." It was a great set with plenty of poppy sounds and electronic beats.

Jack Johnson rounded out the first day with hits from his new record To The Sea. The new record features an actual electric guitar, which is a bit of a change from his older, island-jam records of the past. It's a smart record, and Jack Johnson is a great entertainer - though I am unconvinced of his ability to captivate an audience full of drunken, sun-drenched people, as the crowd thinned out considerably well before he finished his set.

I was unfortunate enough to get stuck behind a group of kids that appeared to be playing out an episode of Jersey Shore, complete with shirtless morons and plenty of fist-pumping and fighting amongst themselves. Too bad the fighting was actually louder than Jack Johnson's music. That aside, his set was admirable and fun to watch for those who were able to make it until the end.

Day two was packed with more people, and bigger names. I started the day with local artist Matt Morris, who performed a good show complete with a shout-out to his mom. Jimmy Cliff was singing at the main stage, and played some good jams, notably a cover of Cat Stevens' song "Wild World" and his own big hit "I Can See Clearly Now."

Train was a surprise standout. Lead singer Patrick Monahan impressed fans with his stage presence, hitting high, "Prince-like" notes and jumping off stage to walk through the audience while singing "Marry Me." The band played plenty of older hits like "Meet Virginia" and closed with "Drops of Jupiter", but "Hey Soul Sister" was clearly the crowd favorite.

Food was next on the list, and there was a lot of it offered. I chose to eat off the Steuben's truck, and was pleasantly surprised with my burger and chili-cheese fries. After spending my life savings on another beer, I headed down to see Weezer.

For my part, Weezer was the highlight of the festival. Even with the sound going in and out as the speakers turned in the breeze, I enjoyed every minute of the band's set. Weezer played all the songs I was itching to hear, like "Buddy Holly", "The Sweater Song", "Beverly Hills", "Perfect Situation", and, of course, their newest hit "If You're Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)." The best part? When Rivers Cuomo donned a blond wig and played a mashup of MGMT's "Kids" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." Weezer knows how to entertain its fans, both hardcore and casual, and I was surprised at the large crowd jamming out until the end of the set, given there was a mere fifteen minutes between Weezer and Dave Matthews.

The Dave Matthews Band gave a good performance that made its fans happy. Unlike Jack Johnson's set, much of the crowd stayed until the very last note was played. While not a fanatic of the DMB, I enjoyed the set list full of new and old hits, and even sang along and found myself getting up and dancing to "What Would You Say." I especially enjoyed "Crush" and "#41." This being my first time seeing the DMB live, I did find myself getting a little tired of the long, jam-band instrumental pieces in between songs. However, I was set straight by a fan, who mentioned that this was her fifth time seeing Dave, and true fans enjoy the "sheer musicality" of the band that is showcased at every performance. Fair enough, I think; as someone who used to be a percussionist I can appreciate the musical talent that is alive in the DMB.

There were a few missteps and mishaps, but all in all, I think the MHMF has finally come into its own. There was plenty of fun and excitement in the crowd, and no shortage of things to see and do. While it is missing some of the magic you feel at other music fests in the country, Mile High Music Fest has its own identity that the Denver music scene can certainly be proud of.

-Melanie Moffett

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