The convergence of Formula One, which draws hoards of racing enthusiasts from around the globe and packs local hotels to capacity and Halloween, traditionally one of the busiest nights of the year, made a venture downtown for the free Fan Fest concerts and festivities seem daunting. As it turned out the logistics of catching free concerts by De La Soul and Devotchka were significantly simpler than expected.
The Fan Fest grounds occupy a roughly ten-block section of the Warehouse District in and adjacent to Republic Square Park. Approaching from Lamar Blvd, traffic was not a problem around 9:30 p.m. and although parking was expensive — most garages were charging $20 — there was plenty available right by the Fan Fest headliner stage on Third and San Antonio Streets.
The fenced off area around the main stage was only at about twenty-five percent capacity as Denver outfit Devotchka wrapped up their set with brassy blasts of cabaret rock. The beer tent had a good crowd and the line for the port-a-potties was long and slow moving, but it was easy to move around. A foray down Fourth Street proved a bit more difficult, as costumed revelers spilled out of the bars crowding pedestrian walkways that were partially blocked for various race-related installations.
At around 10:20 p.m. local musical hooligans, the Minor Mishap Marching Band wound through the crowd moving through the festival grounds on a procession to the main stage. Back in the main stage area a good crowd gathered for the headline set from Golden Era hip-hop heroes De La Soul, but ten minutes before they were set to hit the stage the crowd was still loose and it was easy to stake out a good spot near the front.
Onstage Maceo, the group’s DJ was setting up. As the 10:45 p.m. scheduled start time came and went, he began to spin hip-hop classics to hype the crowd. As a stage tech struggled with the mic levels, Maceo apologized for the delay, explaining that they were just trying to get the sound right. Finally, close to 11 p.m. his partners in rhyme Posdnuos and Trugoy hit the stage and the set took off.
The hip-hop trio has been performing together for over 25 years and the secret to their success is obvious. In addition to having a deep catalog of hits to draw their sets from, it’s clear that they genuinely enjoy each other’s company. You get the impression that if they weren’t on stage together they’d probably be kicking it anyway. They led the crowd on a journey back and forth through their catalog mashing songs like "Grind Date," off the 2004 album by the same name together with some of their earliest tracks like "Potholes In My Lawn" and "Me, Myself and I."
For the most part the sound held up although there was an egregious bass blowout about 15 minutes or so in. Thankfully "Stakes Is High" was the only track that was a true casualty and the veteran rappers handled it like pros.
In between tracks the group spent ample time hyping the crowd, splitting the audience into sections for cheering matches, leading singalongs and bantering amicably. The mood was upbeat and the crowd was jubilant and participating enthusiastically throughout. True hip-hop heads were in the house alongside a spattering of curious racing fans. Finally right before midnight they took the set out the same way they ended their Fun Fun Fun Fest set a couple years earlier, with a killer rendition of "Rock Co Kane Flow," and though the song was littered with dramatic pauses that stretched just a little too long, each time the beat dropped the crowd went a little wilder.