This weekend, I followed Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls from Denver to Boulder. This two-show-same-artist experience was awesome: I danced with Frank Turner, drank whiskey from a giant flagon, and discovered what makes a show in Denver a bit different than a show in Boulder. I learned the atmosphere of a show is really made by more than just the artists: it’s the venue, it’s the crowd, it’s even the security staff. Read on:
The first show was Friday at the Ogden and the second was Saturday at the Boulder Theater. At both venues, Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls put on performances that took us on a roller-coaster-of-emotions. The guys were unpredictably infectious to watch: they would sway into a sad song and follow it by a fast, rockin’ number, and between it all there were a lot of jokes and dancing. Should we laugh? Should we cry? We weren’t sure. So all that was left to do was sing and dance and see where the night took us. It would have been easy for Turner to make the show all about himself with a backing band, but instead, Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls were one giant performance of stomping, riotous energy with Turner stage-diving into the crowd. Every member had evident passion in their playing, and paired with their onstage antics of cheek-kissing, joking, and armpit-squeezing, you could tell that, in those moments, everyone on that stage was exactly where they wanted to be. Even when Turner made the comment that “backstage is boring” because “it’s just a bunch of homesick people updating their Facebook statuses,” it didn't feel like any of the members would have taken a plane-ticket home versus playing this show. They were in it and so were we.
The opening act, Skinny Lister, deserves an honorable mention. I don't usually write about openers, but this band did something quite unique: they actually got the crowd moving just as much as the headliners did. Skinny Lister had an energy that demanded crowd participation and engagement. It was impossible to stay still and reserved while they took everything they had and laid it at our feet. They gave the impression that they were all just friends who were ridiculously supportive and proud of each other, and that positivity percolated into the audience. When one member of the six-piece outfit played a solo, every other member clapped and screamed as if it were the first time they’d ever seen that person play. And as they all danced onstage, we didn’t even have time to realize that we had been casually boogie-ing with them the entire time too.
But, while the bands stayed the same, the shows this weekend were quite different. The stages and venues were, in themselves, one of the biggest players in making the shows so different. The Ogden Theatre has a bigger and higher stage with a larger space separating the stage from the barricade. The Boulder Theater, on the other hand, has a smaller stage that is more level with the audience and the barricade-to-stage space is only a quick jump. These physical differences in the venues actually had a surprising impact on the shows: in Boulder, the bands held more communication with the audience than they had at their Denver show. When Frank Turner talked to someone in the crowd at the Boulder Theater, they responded. And vice versa, when someone wanted to get the attention of one of the artists in Boulder, they did. The Ogden’s higher stage with a larger barrier space kept the crowd from engaging with the performers the way they did at the Boulder show.
Something else I noticed that made a huge difference in the shows was actually the security at the two different venues. While Denver had security guards all along the stage, Boulder had two posted at either end of the stage (way more chill). In Denver, when an artist jumped into the crowd, a handful of security guards would rush toward them, panicked and serious, to get them back on the stage. In Boulder, the guys were unphased by the actions of the artists. Except when Skinny Lister passed around a giant flagon of whiskey. That was immediately confiscated since it was an all-ages show. But other than that, the Boulder vibe was noticeably more relaxed.
The crowds themselves seemed to differ as well. Neither crowd lacked loudness or passion, but their ways of expressing things were different. Denver's show inspired a mosh pit. Not a crazy intense mosh pit that people walked away from bleeding or anything, but a mosh pit that had a significant amount of shoving. And Boulder's show didn’t have any of that, though one person did decide that they should crowd surf (and they were successful). Denver’s crowd seemed to be in sync with one another, and when they screamed it sounded like one voice; Boulder's crowd seemed like hundreds of different voices screaming the same words.
So which was the better show?
Maybe I am hometown bias, but the Boulder show ended up feeling way more personal. Skinny Lister's lead vocalist, Lorna Thomas, told Turner that Boulder was her favorite show of the tour, something that he decided to share with the crowd, and something that neither had said the night before. But it wasn't just the comments about the show being favored that made Boulder’s show so great; there was just an overwhelming feeling that swept through the theater that felt like the entire show was a love letter to Boulder.
Overall, both performances were a great time, and that’s what we all go to shows hoping to have. I’d catch both of these acts at either spot if they made their way back here. And that’s not just the whiskey talking. Promise.
All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.