:: Brett Dennen :: Rocky Mountain Folks Festival :: August 18 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
Brett Dennen. Be sure to make note of that name. With intricate lyrical phrasing that calls to mind Paul Simon and a spirited upbeat performance style that has entertained crowds in some of the biggest and some of the smallest venues across the country, Dennen has already made a name for himself in the folk world and seems destined for true musical greatness.
In the midst of a swing through New England with his band, Dennen took some time to sit down with The Marquee and, in his own humble way, talk about his summer and his career as a whole. He had just played a tiny show in a small Methodist church in Lebanon, N.H. and it was clear that he had really enjoyed the experience. “They were packed in there,” he said. “In an environment like that you can really connect with the audience, they can pick up on your subtleties and you can get really quiet if you want to. It can create a very magical, intimate vibe that I don’t think you could ever replicate in one of those big shed shows.”
On the other side of the coin, earlier this summer Dennen was fortunate enough to be invited to play several of “those big shed shows” with guitar hero/pop heartthrob John Mayer and witty pianist Ben Folds. While this pulled him from the intimate venues that he loves, he quickly recognized that this was a once in a career kind of chance to build his fan base. “We were the opening act, so people were just getting there and energy and attention was all over the place. A lot of people were talking and as a result we were always struggling to get people to pay attention to us, but when we did connect the roar of the big crowds makes for epic onstage moments. At every show I know that we broke through to a bunch of new fans, so it was worth it for us,” said Dennen.
Dennen admitted that he relished the opportunity to learn from two veterans and took in as much as he could on the tour. Unfortunately, due to the rigors of life on the road and the routines of the artists, there was little interaction between the tour mates. “They both keep their ships running pretty tight,” said Dennen. “Ben Folds gets to the venue about five minutes before he goes on and while John Mayer hangs out a lot, he’s got his own dressing room filled with computers and TVs and guitars and wardrobe. He’s got his own little world that he hangs out in. When you are on tour all the time it is natural to find comfort in a routine and often that’s what keeps you sane.”
While he seemed to understand why there was so little interaction with Mayer and Folds, Dennen hopes that the festival setting of The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons will be different when he appears there this month. He is currently slated to take the stage before Judy Collins and Ray LaMontagne, two artists for which he has great respect. “I grew up listening to Judy Collins records and I’ve never seen her play. My mom was a big Judy Collins fan and a fan of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and that whole scene, so that is going to be a trip for me. I am also a huge Ray LaMontagne fan and I’ve never seen him before either. There are so many great artists on that bill that I have never gotten to see before and, of course, I feel honored to be on the same bill with them,” said Dennen
The picturesque Planet Bluegrass ranch will provide a perfect setting for this 6’5” redhead to win over several thousand folk music connoisseurs who may not be aware of this relative newcomer. Given that he hasn’t had the support of a “major” label, Dennen has managed to get his music out via a variety of different channels, including an increasingly popular medium for artists these days: network television. His songs have appeared in the hugely successful shows Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy and his song “Blessed” was featured in a recent Hilton Hotels commercial.
“Ten or twenty years ago I would have said that you don’t have go that route, but that was back in an age when record labels were much more supportive of their artists. These days you gotta do what you can to get your music out there. Luckily, I got to examine that advertisement and agreed that the message that traveling is an experience in a lot of ways that promotes integrity, education and tolerance in society is a good one,” Dennen said. “John Mellencamp said ‘Chevrolet is the greatest record label I have ever been on.’ I agree completely. That Hilton commercial has done more for me than my record label could have done on its own. At the end of the day, maybe it helped Hilton sell a couple of hotel rooms but it is also getting my music out there and it is getting a really positive message across and it is doing it all through television, which is the most powerful form of media that we have today.”
Clearly, Dennen has the business sense and the musical talent that it takes to succeed in this business and it is only a matter of time to see if his past and future songs end up in the great American folk cannon.
:: Brett Dennen ::
:: Rocky Mountain Folks Festival ::
:: August 18 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Paul Simon
• Ben Harper
• Jack Johnson