Denver: Stranger in a strange land

The festival is a great clash of the generations. If I’m looking for geezers, I can take a gander at that stage over yonder. There’s Steve Winwood, graying wings on the side of his head, looking like a slightly-less-demented Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos.  He just ripped through “Can’t Find My Way Home,” which he recorded with Blind Faith back when I was still in high school. But I couldn’t get near the stage because the performing tent was packed with people the age of Winwood’s grandchildren. His was one of the great voices of the 1960s. I first heard him belting “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin’” when he was with the Spencer Davis Group. Then he formed Traffic, one of the groups that got me through my high-school and college years. He just played something new and it was of the jazz-rock feel of his classic album, Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. Those were the days, my friend — those were the fucking days.

I’ve never seen Winwood before, so this is a great pleasure. But it also depresses me: Is there any place in today’s music marketplace for an artist such as Winwood? And by the way, just what the hell is the state of today’s music marketplace? Winwood’s been touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the headliners for the first night of the festival.  So he’s spent the summer with fellow geezers, playing to an audience of geezers. No wonder they did this festival. They want to reach the kids.

And look at these kids! These taut-bellied young men and women! Did these kids  come to see Winwood and Petty? Fuck no. They’re here for Moe, Brett Dennen and Ingrid Michaelson.  Do you think these kids really want to see their grandpas get up on stage and rock out?

When my much-younger wife (friends call her the child bride) and I realized we’d be in Denver for a whole weekend on my book tour (Outlaw Journalist, available at bookstores everywhere), we looked online to see what things we could do in Denver. Then we found this festival and its multi-generational line-up.

Of course, Petty drew my attention. So did Jason Mraz, my future son-in-law (if my grown daughter Mary has her way). And Winwood …  I always wanted to see Winwood, ever since I first heard him on dad’s AM car radio and wondered how such a soulful, belting voice could come from a 15-year-old British kid.

And now he’s old, and so am I.

“Colbie Caillat will be there,” Nicole said. “And Spoon!” The geezer in me wanted to say, “What? Did he break up with Knife and Fork and go solo?” But I didn’t want to get the dirty eye.

Then it hit me: This is a brilliant attempt at cross-generational marketing. Book Petty and Winwood and get geezers like me and turn us on to these new acts. Get the taut-tummied kids in the door to see John Mayer and Dave Matthews and they’ll go download the Petty and Winwood back catalog.

It’s genius, right?

Well, let me tell you something, fellow geezers. The kids are winning. As a college professor, I’m used to being the oldest guy in the room. But it’s a new feeling, even for me, to be the oldest guy within 20 acres.

— William McKeen

Greetings from the land of the incredibly healthy. For a metabolically challenged son of the South, it’s hard to stroll the grounds of the Mile High Music Festival and not feel inadequate as a human being. It’s also hard not to feel old.

I’ve been writing about music for 40 years and doing the backstage-pass thing for nearly as long.  For the last decade, I’ve gone to shows every-other-year-or-so, so I suppose I’m in concert-going retirement.

So this huge Denver festival is a hell of a coming-out party for me. Forty-seven bands in two days over five stages – it’s a little overwhelming. I remember the quaint old days of the early 1970s when I finagled backstage press passes and stalked  the likes of Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, Poco and B.B. King. Once you had the backstage pass, you were golden. I remember standing outside the portable biffy to pee once and chatting with Ritchie Furay of Poco. I let him cut in line because he had to do his opening song and I was just the pimpled teen-age rock-journalist-wannabe with the back pack.

The Mile-High Music Festival covers more acreage than many college campuses. And it looks a lot like a college campus. In my day job, I’m a college professor, so the clientele of this festival looks familiar. But as I say, it’s Colorado and you don’t see many people of my controversial girth. These are some supercilious sprout-eating motherfuckers. We drove in from Aspen today, doing most of the trip in low gear, cranking the rental up the mountains. And right along side us were some smug-bastard cyclists, reaching back for their third wind as they pumped it into Loveland Pass. They looked at us in the Taurus as if we were dried spots of gruel on a filthy kitchen floor.

Taking a stroll through the festival grounds, the closest thing I see to something like me is a tanned pot-bellied man with pouty, pierced nipples. (Full disclosure: I have no piercings, but the weekend is young.) The fans are all horribly young. I haven’t seen anyone else yet — except for an occasional festival vendor or security guard — who I would call a fellow geezer. These people are uniformly young, and can be divided into two groups: the clothed and the nearly clothed — tight bellies, abundant cleavage, droopy pants with protruding boxers. I’m 53, but I feel 80 years old today. My wife is 32, but I’m wondering if even she is beginning to smell the first whiffs of a generation gap.

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