This article originally appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Spoke + Blossom magazine.
Atop the Colorado music scene sit Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Since the release of their 2015 eponymous debut album, the band is one must-see act currently active in the Colorado music scene. Led by their powerfully charismatic songwriter-and-lead-singer Rateliff, the Night Sweats are totally worthy of the accolades and love the state has shown them.
Even casual music fans will know the boisterous, bearded Rateliff from headlining gigs at Red Rocks, annual holiday shows at the Ogden Theater in Denver, or multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Rateliff and Co., fueled by a little bit of vintage soul and classic rock charm, have struck a chord with music fans around the state — and the world.
The band’s success, however, is still a relatively new phenomenon. Before Colorado was a trendy destination for twentysomethings, before Open Air on Colorado Public Radio championed local music through the airwaves, back when the Underground Music Showcase was indeed an underground music showcase, Denver music fans will remember Rateliff as a mildly successful folk/gospel artist, and not as the headlining frontman from the Night Sweats.
Venture through old YouTube videos of Rateliff playing solo gigs, and you will find a denim-clad songwriter with the voice and chops primed for a breakout. Listen closely to his acoustic work, and you will also hear the early influences and song structures that the Night Sweats developed to great success.
Rateliff’s solo music is slower and a bit more tender than that of the Night Sweats. Often strumming a nylon-string classical guitar, Rateliff is an introspective storyteller. His work on the 2013 album Falling Faster Than You Can Run demonstrates his ability to pierce the soul with little more than his voice and a thoughtful lyric.
As a solo artist Rateliff found a reasonable amount of success touring the country. He was featured in multiple music blogs and magazines like Spin and Paste Magazine, as well as the documentary Austin to Boston, which shows the highs and lows of musicians on a low-budget cross-country tour in a caravan of old Volkswagen buses.
For music fans who missed his career as a solo artist, this archival footage shows that it was all there in the early days. Rateliff’s songwriting and massive voice were well-honed before people really started to pay attention. If you can entertain a bar with just your voice and a simple guitar riff, then you’ve really got something. Rateliff’s always had it.
Lucky locals enjoyed a rare chance to see a more retro Rateliff perform a stripped-down set opening for folk icon John Prine, who himself is having quite a moment following the release of his recent album, The Tree of Forgiveness. Their November 8 show at the Avalon Theatre in Grand Junction was just one of a handful of concerts together. (Western Slopers have another chance to see Rateliff, along with the Night Sweats, at the Belly Up in Aspen on December 15 and 16.)
Regarding the significance of playing alongside a living legend like Prine, Rateliff remarked, “We keep losing all this magic as people pass away, and now we just have to start making it for ourselves again.” Whether solo or with the Sweats, Rateliff has proven himself a magician indeed.