On Cloud Nine at the Dirty Bird BBQ in Denver | The Levitt Pavilion
Evan Dale // Sep 15, 2021
Walking into the grounds of an all-day, outdoor concert series these days comes with even more of a serotonin-fueled feeling of non-reality, escape, and simultaneous immersion than it did before our world was left in concertless limbo for the entirety of 2020’s absentee Summer run. This Summer, for better or for worse when it comes to our collective health both mental and physical, has been one brimming with the restored magic that Summertime concerts have long stamped as seasonal exclamation points for our greater social good; living on as points of reflection in our collective consciousness. And for Denver, when it comes to catching an outdoor show, there is so much more than the mayhem and hysteria that surrounds Red Rocks. Sure, myriad shows at the hallowed ground in Morrison – just a 30-minute drive West from downtown Denver – too, have marked the Summer of 2021 with an air of pre-pandemic nostalgia, but so have a number of other shows at venues big and small, and eternally lesser known. Of those venues, Levitt Pavilion in the city’s southern Ruby Hill neighborhood – one of nine such outdoor Levitt venues in cities across the United States offering a combination of both free and ticketed events to strengthen community fabric through music while celebrate the arts in the process – boasts an identity that is fondly reminiscent of a cityside festival.
On Sunday, strolling into the naturally concave grass bowl above the amphitheater’s stage brought back swaths of memory from the sunshiny and music-filled hippocampus of Summers past, where golden hour sunset sets give way to the headlining, bass-thumping energy of the night. And here, at Dirty Bird Records’ now signature and well-traveled event, the Dirty Bird BBQ which found a perfect host in Levitt both socially and spatially, there could be no better exhibition of what the Summertime concert series – essentially a one-day festival in and of itself – is able to bring to a music community starved of performance and the subsequent outlet it provides its fanbase.
First, some background:
Thirteen years ago, Dirty Bird Records - a San Francisco based house and tech-funk oriented DJ and production collective - began hosting a day-long outdoor stage lineup in Golden Gate Park, backed up with all that comes with a proper barbecue: good food fresh out the smoker, fun yard games for the youth, and a whole lot of tunes to groove to. Fast forward a couple of years, and Dirty Bird were stripped of their annual permit, sited for a crowd far too large for what their allocated space at Golden Gate Park could handle. Very much aware that the world was still in need of such an event, orbiting around the celebration of electronic music and ever-more inclusive community that it circulates, Claude VonStroke - the collective’s founder and central figure - took the Dirty Bird BBQ on the road, bringing with it all of the music, food, and community that at first was only penciled into San Francisco. It was a blessing in disguise.
And in the Summer of 2021 - a decade and three years since it all began - the community - communities - for which the barbecue offers so much reprieve, is perhaps in a space more in need of just such a day in the sun and bass under the stars than it ever has been. The electronic community at large has long been one of inclusion, acceptance, and diversity. It draws in every walk of life, and offers a safe space for self-expression for all. A year removed from many opportunities for normality; a year sans those spaces to feel safe, accepted, to let loose, and to connect with a community circulating a mutual love and appreciation for Function-1 speakers, and the Dirty Bird BBQ in Denver was a moment of solace and individuality for everyone in attendance.
Much of it comes back to its central lineup of DJ’s and producers, and not even necessarily the music they make. Diverse across the spectrums of sex, sexuality, gender, and race, the artists performing are a microcosmic image of the thousands of fans they’re performing for. And always at the core of the mutual love and appreciation for the energy that any given party at the show is bringing to the table, is the music itself.
Something about an eight hour concert flies by more seamlessly and effortlessly - less noticeably - when the artists performing are house and tech-funk centric gods of their craft. And everyone at the Dirty Bird BBQ is indisputably that. Nikki Nair and Nala got it all started, welcoming a blooming crowd with sunshiny rhythm. Worthy - Dirty Bird cofounder and electrically energetic performer - tore the roof off a sunshiny set that hosted a kismet rainbow above the stage. Gene Farris - Chicago house lord - followed up with the same bass-ridden and good-vibes energy. VNSSA rode the Golden Hour of sunset into nighttime, and Claude VonStroke ceremonially brought it all full circle. All of the sudden, it was over.
It was that sudden passage of time - that sudden realization that hours had so seamlessly passed without a thought or a care that escapes the boundaries of the Levitt Pavilion - that really acted as a cleansing and necessarily immersive experience for both the artists and the crowd. It felt normal by the gauge of normality we haven’t known in so long; it felt right to be wobbly on the way from the park, our mutual balance distorted by hours and hours of thunderous bass; it felt bright and lively and lovely and emotive to be so surrounded by so much love and excitement orbiting music and the repetitively mesmerizing nature of the music being so genially played.
The Dirty Bird BBQ was a refuge for anyone in attendance, a necessary beam of light for all performing. Oh, and the food was pretty dank too.
Check out our photo galleries from the barbecue here: