Lucero and Paper Bird at Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, CO on 8/27/17


Attending a concert at the Denver Botanic Gardens is an amazing experience. The audience members are not searched, prodded, or violated as they enter the lush grounds (the opposite of visiting other large musical venues or maximum security prisons). Foliage and music fans were allowed to bring in food and adult beverages. People schlepped in everything from expensive bottles of wine to Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Concertgoers had food ranging from pizza to caviar. I even saw picnic baskets with glass plates and Champagne flutes. Women in big floppy hats in floral dresses were siting next to rockers with tattoos peaking out from their all black apparel.

Lucero – view from the back

The moment Lucero’s lead singer Ben Nichols entered he claimed, “We have never been to a place this fancy in Denver. I am surprised they let us in here.” The Memphis, Tennessee band has been a hard touring machine since 1998. The best way I can describe their sound is Tom Waits meets Social Distortion. Nichols confessed that the band was in between learning new songs for a recording and forgetting how to play the old ones. They restarted a few songs during the show. This resulted in a casual performance that was more charming than sloppy.

Lucero trying to remember the old songs

The majority of their songs were slow ballads including Nights Like These, Drink ‘Til We’re Gone, and War an acoustic song about Nichols’ Grandfather in World War II. Nichols sang about the cruelties of combat while guitar player Brian Venable laid on the grass with the audience and posed for selfies. Another song that tug at the heart strings was Loving a song Ben Nichols wrote for his brother Jeff Nichols’ film Loving (about a couple that were plaintiffs in the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision that invalidated states prohibiting interracial marriage) – “And I could tell them I don’t love you/I could prove my heart is true/And it might not be good enough for them/But I just wanna be good enough for you.” Of course, the band turned up the noise for Tears Don’t Matter Much as the audience sang along with their fists in the air. Nichols thanked everyone “for sticking with us for a whole bunch of songs we don’t remember.”

Paper Bird

Before the country-punk rock band took the stage, Denver’s own Paper Bird warmed up the crowd. The band’s line up has changed throughout the years. In 2014, lead singer Esme Patterson left for a successful solo career. Canadian crooner Carleigh Aikins replaced her. In March of this year, the other sister Genevieve Patterson left making the group abandon their signature three-part female harmonies. Sarah Anderson and Carleigh Aikins now sing with a more contemporary sound. Anderson wore a white flowing outfit that Lucero described as “a Clorox commercial waiting to happen.” Their set included songs from their new self-titled album. Don’t Want Half was a stand out from their new material with its impressive layered vocals. Aikins led the group through an amazing version of George Jones’ Tennessee Whiskey (almost as good as Chris Stapleton’s). Paper Bird appeased their old fans by performing As I Am from their 2013 album Rooms. Drummer Mark Anderson (Sarah’s brother) expressed his affection for the crowd by saying, “I love seeing punks walking around the gardens.”

See you at the next show. I’ll be the one with a swanky picnic basket wondering how I got into such a fancy place.

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