Elephant Revival

May 20, 2018 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO

photos and words for The Lot Scene by Ryan Boldrey



When I first saw Elephant Revival, a few years into their journey, in 2010 at MeadowGrass Music Festival in Black Forest, Colorado, I had no idea the impact this five-piece band out of Nederland would have on me as our paths intertwined over the next decade.

I was covering the festival for Colorado Community Media and while I was tasked with shooting photos of numerous bands over the weekend and writing just a short copy block on the overall experience, this particular group I just wanted to hang out and watch. I had heard of them, but not much beyond that. 

Watching them for the first time, I was immediately transfixed by Bonnie Paine, her voice – unlike anything I had ever heard before – and her washboard and percussion. Add in the fiddle playing of Bridget Law, the songwriting and voices of Dan Rodriguez and Sage Cook, and the multi-instrumentation of Cook and Dango Rose, and I knew right away I’d be seeing them again, and soon.  

Over the next eight years, I was not only fortunate enough to see them in numerous venues across the state and country, but to be there for a handful of monumental moments in the band’s history as well, including some of the first shows with newer members Darren Garvey and Charlie Rose. I watched as they evolved from a Sunday afternoon performer at MeadowGrass to a Saturday night headliner, to a band that worked its way up the Red Rocks ladder and graced various festival stages across the country. 

I was there in 2014 in Colorado Springs, the night Sage announced he was leaving the band, and was at Campout for the Cause a few months later when he played his first festival set with his new band, We Dream Dawn, and the Elephant Revival tour bus pulled up behind the stage mid-set. 

I watched as the band members got off the bus and took up different vantage points on the festival grounds to watch and listen. It wasn’t long before he invited Bridget and Bonnie onto the stage to join his new band and later that night during their headlining set, they returned the favor, and Sage sat in for a good portion of the show. He offered up his usual banter and let the crowd now how much love and admiration he had for Charlie – the man who stepped into his shoes when he left – how they were both from Kansas and how Charlie had a deep musical and personal history with Bonnie and the gang.

Having gotten to know Sage a bit over the past few years, as well as Bridget and some of the other band members, I was made aware by Bridget, a few weeks ahead of the announcement, that she would be leaving the band prior to Fall Tour 2017 and sadly, I also learned of the pending “indefinite” hiatus the band is now in a few weeks before that news went public.

There was no way in hell I was missing this last show at Red Rocks – especially considering all of the band’s current and former members would be present. 

Despite dealing with a medical emergency earlier in the week, I went against what would have been my doctor’s wishes had I told her I’d be flying out to cover a show, caught a 6 a.m. flight out of Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday morning – camera, laptop and rain gear in tow – and made my way to Colorado. I could have used a bit more raingear however, as the weather Sunday night was easily the second worst I have ever encountered at Red Rocks in countless shows there.

As it would be, though, despite cold, hard rains during opening sets by Hiss Golden Messenger and Blind Pilot – two bands you should definitely check out if you haven’t listened to them yet – the skies parted for Elephant’s much anticipated appearance. And while there was no rain falling from the sky as Elephant took to the stage, there was nary a dry eye in the house as the band opened with Bonnie’s “Will Carry On,” followed by Dan’s “Home in Your Heart,” two of ER’s softer, deeper, lovelier songs that poetically put on display in front of 8,000-plus people exactly where this band stood in their relationships with one another as well as themselves as they readied to part ways.

“Falling down/spin me ‘round/no one said this would be easy now/but you’ve gotta keep moving somehow,” crooned Rodriguez to a crowd that had already been brought to their knees by Bonnie’s voice hitting every note on lines such as “We may never be perfect/maybe that is not the point/search to know the language of our part/ from our heart …” 

With worn emotion on every face on the stage, Dan followed “Home in Your Heart” by telling the crowd, “we’re all in this together everybody.”

From there, the band launched into Bridget’s fiddle-driven instrumental, “The Pasture,” breathing life and dance into the crowd that knew they were in for an emotional rollercoaster of a ride, a tale of love, intertwining hearts and good-bye for now.  

The coaster hit its peaks and valleys, visiting next Bonnie’s “Remembering a Beginning,” then Dan’s “Birds and Stars” and after that Charlie’s “Sea Monster,” the latter providing an opportunity to look through another set of eyes about “a world that provides and expires/how we grow, come to know our heart’s desires.”

After Bonnie’s “Spinning,” (These hearts/These dreams/These webs we weave), Bridget addressed the crowd, letting them know that they could interpret what was happening a lot of different ways, but the band was simply expanding their own web as they move on from this chapter of their history. 

And while other projects, such as TIERRO with Bridget Law and We Dream Dawn have already taken flight as has Dan’s solo career, separate endeavors are underway or ready to be embarked upon for the rest of Elephant Revival.

And although there is much to look forward to in the individual and collective careers of the band’s members, there is no certainty that the five founding members will ever share a stage together again, and while one can hope someday they will reunite, all those in attendance had to wonder if it was the last time they would howl at a rising moon together in unison during “Sing to the Mountain.”

With highlights such as a powerful “When I Fall,” a rousing cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” a take on Josh Ritter’s “Girl in the War” and ER originals “Drop,” “Season Song,” and “Ring around the Moon,” among the most memorable and notable moments of the show came when Sage joined his former bandmates to sing his poignant, “Go On,” perhaps the most fitting song of the night.

Another huge moment featuring Sage on vocals came late in the set as the band shared the stage with Bonnie’s sister Annie, as well as members of Fruition and The Deer for a rendition of Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” in which Sage and Bonnie took the early leads before giving way to Fruition’s Jay Cobb Anderson and Mimi Naja. 

Following “Friends,” in pure Elephant Revival tradition, the band came around a single mic for an intimate, lasting “Good Graces” before saying their first good-bye of the night.

The band would return for a three-song encore that left nothing behind on the stage as they led off with “Lighthouse” and then closed it down with passion-fueled takes on Dan’s “Grace of a Woman” and Bonnie’s “Rogue River.” 

All in all, the show, which also featured a considerable amount of fiddle from longtime collaborator Enion Pelta-Tiller and choreographed dance from Colorado’s Wild Heart Dance troupe, will go down as one of the most well put-together set lists the band has likely every written and one of the most beautiful send-offs any fan could ever ask for.