The new bathrooms at Red Butte Garden are nice, but to truly maximize the outdoor concert series experience, better pack an umbrella, bottled water, some serious SPF and, possibly, a nice plate of chips and guac. Such was the lesson learned as we embarked on our first 2008 Red Butte journey Sunday night.
We thought we had it all figured out, arriving at 5:15 -- a good 45 minutes before 6 p.m. doors-- and packing a bag of homemade treats and wine. Our first concern as we trekked up from the dorm-area parking to will call: is wine really allowed here? Should we have brought an actual sealed cooler instead of this crafty tote? We should have been thinking: man, we've got 45 minutes to go and everyone else who arrived first is already camped out with their camping chairs, beer and snacks and here we are standing in the sun without sunscreen, without food ... it was a long wait, friends. So if you're planning on making the hike up to Red Butte, be prepared. The rest of the evening went off without a hook. Once we passed the gates and took in the newly remodeled surroundings -- gorgeous and accommodating for all general access concert goers -- we settled down in a complementary folding chair and settled in for the night. The air was cool and the folks were friendly, offering us wine and making sure they weren't blocking our sight lines. Quite a change from your average bar scene. Yes, we were living large. Opening act Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein sped through a pleasant set of bluegrass, full of speedy mandolin-picking and witty banter. We were slightly distracted by the constant flow of people walking to and from the bathrooms, entrance, food stands (FYI, if you want to drink alcohol, you have to bring your own. Apparently the trade-off for BYOA is no beer and wine sales on premises)... which continued throughout the night, perhaps the only downside to the Red Butte experience.
Once headliner Emmylou Harris took the stage, the constantly chatting gentleman behind us commented, "These country chicks always dress so tacky," but the legendary artist looked downright stunning in a colorful silk dress with high-heeled western boots, her looks matched only be that distinct, uncomparable voice. Her backing band was incredibly tight, almost to a fault. Listening to the bass lines, we noted how strange it was to simply hear the chords without feeling them in our bones. Harris rolled through a solid set that pretty well covered her prolific career, from new material off her new album on Nonesuch to songs written for Mark Knopfler (on parenthood and the hope for a promising, peaceful future), one with Tracy Chapman, and covers of Merle Haggard and the Louvin Brothers. Harris said she loved the Haggard song because it's so damned sad, then noted how challenging it is, as the product of a well-adjusted family, to write the type of tearjerkers she prefers to perform.
Harris soon after launched into a killer version of "Evangeline" made famous by The Band on The Last Waltz. Toward the end of the evening, as the relentless sun finally set and the clouds finally released a few droplets of water, the more high-maintenance crowd members picked up their REI gear and fled! They scurried out as just a few droplets fell. Their loss. Harris played several additional numbers, including an encore that inspired the audience to jump up and boogie. Many revelers compensated for zero rhythm with passion to burn. Harris thanked the crowd for a wonderful, fun evening and we returned the gratitude with a toast of our neighbor's last droplets of Spanish wine.