John Butler Talks About ‘Live At Red Rocks’

The leader of the John Butler Trio gives you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in making a concert DVD.

Released July 19 on ATCO Records, The John Butler Trio: Live At Red Rocks captures the band’s June 2010 performance at Colorado’s picturesque venue near Denver, delivering a 140-minute DVD of the entire concert, backstage footage plus two audio CDs. From Native American dancers opening the show to the trio’s final encore, Live At Red Rocks captures an historic moment in the band’s career.

For an inside glimpse of what goes into the making of a concert DVD, Pollstar spoke with John Butler about cameras, sound quality, and what makes for a great live release.

Hanging Out At Red Rocks.

Do you film all your concerts or was the Red Rocks gig a one-time event?

I don’t film all my concerts, but the Red Rocks concert wasn’t a one-time only thing. I’ve released live albums before. Actually it’s probably the second time I’ve filmed and recorded.

Were you and your bandmates conscious of the cameras while performing?

The main part of filming this was to preserve the moment in time for us. We’ve opened for many acts at Red Rocks and for us to finally headline that venue was a big deal – a huge moment in time. We just wanted, for no other reason, to preserve and archive that for ourselves. It if was good, then we would think about releasing it. That was always in the back of my mind. I think to any act that eventually headlines that venue, it’s a big deal. You just can’t walk into Red Rocks. You have to earn that gig.

As far as angles, the big thing for us is to put on a show and play good music. I don’t necessarily like having cameras around. It gets a little too cerebral.

How many cameras did you use?

Five. Two in front, one on each side and a big boom.

Were you able to ignore the cameras while performing?

Yes, for the most part. For me, playing this music takes everything I’ve got. I just can’t give it 50 percent.

Were there moments while editing the footage, that you might have found yourself being overly critical or too judgmental?

I think the hardest thing for any artist is to watch themselves and be really objective about it. I do try to keep a certain amount of separation. I’m not looking for perfection. I think an artist is always more critical about their work than anyone else. I try to remember that.

So I watched a bit of it, and checked all the songs maybe once, maybe twice to see if they’re good performances. I checked a few of the edits. But I’m not going to sit and watch it six times in a row. There are other things going on in my world that are more important, like making a pocket knife for my son, or making sure his Spider-Man mask isn’t broken.

I’ve got a lot of people checking, making sure the quality is right. I make my suggestions, then I go away. Then they come back to me and I make more suggestions. But I try not to get too bogged down in the details.

What are some of your favorite moments in the DVD?

Definitely the indigenous opening act. There’s some really great stuff there. It brought tears to my eyes. Red Rocks is such a special place. Such an iconic, spiritual place. To celebrate that and to celebrate its indigenous connection was a beautiful moment.

What else? Me and my wife singing. There are many moments with the band.

The John Butler Trio is known for improvising and jamming. Are there times captured on the DVD where you and your mates are truly in the moment?

There are different times we’re in the moment. We have a lot of different arrangements. There are moments of improvisation and then moments of arrangements. A lot of bands can improvise for 20 minutes [but] we can’t do that. We’re not always interested in doing that. There are different moments where we’re humming.

Live recordings sometimes get a bad rap. Radio stations often don’t play them, preferring to play the original studio versions of songs. Plus, some musicians have stated publicly that they prefer studio to live recordings. What’s your opinion?

It depends on the band. Some bands are strictly studio bands and aren’t the best live. We love playing in the studio and we love playing live. People definitely want to take home that experience. Like any art, you get good ones and bad ones. You can have good live shows and average live shows.

My first experience of a great live album was Frampton Comes Alive. For me, at 16-years-old, to have my mind blown, that’s the perfect live show.

I think [live albums] are important if the band has a reputation for doing special things live. If you’re going to play the studio album, with studio backing tracks, and play it note-for-note, then it’s probably pointless. We love making music [and] we really, really enjoy making live music. It’s something we’ll always do. We love that experience, that connection and interaction.

“We’ve opened for many acts at Red Rocks and for us to finally headline that venue was a big deal – a huge moment in time.”

The John Butler Trio plays Philadelphia’s Great Plaza At Penn’s Landing July 29; Montreal’s “Osheaga Festival” July 30; the State Theatre in Portland, Maine, July 31 and South Burlington, Vt., at Higher Ground Aug. 4. For more information, visit