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Coming of age in America

Don't get John Butler wrong. He was thrilled last summer when he was booked to headline Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver. It was a milestone show for the John Butler Trio — the first time headlining the popular outdoor venue and the biggest show of Butler's career in the United States.

But Butler's main emotion going into the Red Rocks gig wasn't excitement or pride. It was fear.

"When you open up for another act at that venue, the pressure is really off," Butler said during a telephone interview. "You play 45 minutes, and somebody else has to hold the rest of the night. When you're that band that has to hold the rest of the night, it's a pretty big wave to surf."

There was one more reason to feel the weight of the moment: The Red Rocks show was being recorded and filmed.

"Yeah, that's always an added pressure," Butler chuckled.

Now, almost a year after that memorable night, fans can share the experience of the concert with the new box set "Live at Red Rocks," which includes two CDs and a DVD of the entire show.

The recording and filming was a bit of an afterthought. The first step was realizing the John Butler Trio could headline the venue.

When it became clear that tickets were selling well, the idea of recording the concert came into play.

"We thought it was a milestone for the band and we needed to capture it," Butler said. "So yeah, we took a big bite off and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. And we played pretty well, I'd say "… I think we did justice to that venue and its people and definitely captured the moment in time."

For Butler, what the gig also represented was a payoff for what had been a long road up the ranks as a touring band in America.

The native of Australia was already a star in his home country when he debuted on these shores with the 2003 EP "What You Want."

That was followed in 2004 by the full-length CD "Sunrise Over Sea," which actually was Butler's third studio release. Released in his homeland in 2003, it became Butler's big breakthrough there, debuting at No. 1 on the Australian album chart.

Butler has yet to make that impact in the states. He's released two more studio CDs, "Grand National" (2007) and "April Uprising" (2010), and even if they haven't blazed up the American record charts, Butler saw last summer's Red Rocks show as clear evidence that his persistence in building a following in America is starting to pay off.

"It took eight years of touring this country pretty much nonstop. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that," Butler said. "We've supported bands at Red Rocks for years, played there six or seven times. To actually finally headline was a huge, huge moment for us. It was a real coming of age."

The 2010 tour that included the Red Rocks concert featured a new version of Butler's trio. Before recording "April Uprising," Butler brought in his brother-in-law, drummer Nicky Bomba (who actually played on "Sunrise Over Sea"), and bassist Byron Luiters to form the new group.

The "Live at Red Rocks" concert is a nice illustration of the band's music, which ranges from the lilting reggae sound of "Zebra" to the zigzagging funk/blues of "One Way Road" to the acoustic-based soul-pop of "Johnny's Gone" to the rocked-up, mainly electric sound of "Close to You" and "C'mon Now."

Butler also feels the live set showcases a few facets of the trio that haven't been as apparent on his studio albums.

"On the (studio) albums there are lots of overdubs," Butler said. "When we're playing, it's just ... three guys doing their thing. So I think the musicianship really comes through. And then I think the sense of urgency "… There's an energy, a strong energy, that you see, I think, at least for that one moment in time. There's definitely a lot of that."

Guitarist John Butler (center) with bassist Byron Luiters (left) and drummer Nicky Bomba. - Photo courtesy of Britt Festivals