An Evening With CAKE•June 25, 2023• Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre

Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe

Red Butte Garden is such a significant part of the summer concert experience here in Utah.  With the green grass covered with lawn chairs and picnic baskets, to the beautifully curated gardens surrounding the venue, this has always been one of the essential places to be for hot summer nights in Utah.  While there had already been a couple of concerts at Red Butte, this felt like the first official summer concert.  It has to have been one of the hottest days so far.  The heat didn’t keep anyone away as the garden amphitheater was packed for one of many of this season’s sold-out shows.  On this night, the evening of June 25, 2023, Alternative Rock Band, CAKE was the headlining band.

Not only was CAKE the headliner, they were the only band on the bill.  The night was actually billed as “An Evening With CAKE”.  If you’ve ever been to “An Evening With…” type of concert you know that these shows can be a lot of fun.  Especially if you’re a big fan of the band.  Essentially this format allows both fans and the band to interact, to not rush through a show, and to be part of a more personal performance.  The band will tell stories, give detailed background to song meanings, and just take their time with the audience.  I was really looking forward to this type of show with this type of band.

I knew this concert was going to be amazing when I heard the intro music that brought CAKE on stage.  And by brought on stage, I mean eventually brought them on stage.  Music from the Rocky soundtrack played across the speakers as many fans rose to their feet.  I had to laugh as the song continued to play.  It went on for a while, but when CAKE appeared on stage as the familiar Rocky horns played the climax of the montage music, the reward was sweet.

The only thing I didn’t really consider was the sun.  Typically a Red Butte Garden concert will have an opener or two.  And while it’s a good opportunity to support a band at this venue, the sun is coming down and beats right on opening bands.  Typically for the duration of their set.  So it can get pretty hot on that stage.  Well, as previously mentioned, there was no opener for this show.  So CAKE walked out on stage shortly after 7:30 PM.  Which is right when the sunlight is covering the stage.  CAKE frontman John McCrea made several jokes referring to the sun.  I should state, the way he mentioned the heat and the sun was funny.  But I think there was some truth to his humor.

It was really hot.  And he did not look particularly comfortable. He told us that he was doing his best to serve us despite the heat.  Suggesting that maybe he’d play easy songs until the sun went down.  He joked that he couldn’t concentrate on giving us the show we deserved.  All that said, McCrea and the rest of the band soldiered on and gave us a great first set of songs.  They did a great cover of Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes”, a crowd favorite, “Opera Singer”, and “Stickshifts and Safetlybelts” (A song actually written while driving) from the great album Fashion Nugget.  

The highlight of the first set, other than the surprisingly powerful t-shirt cannon, that John McCrea lamented not being able to shoot hot dogs out of, was the set closer, “Sick of You”.  The audience was split, not quite down the middle, but still in two to sing different parts of the chorus.  We were told that this was a negative song, but that we should embrace it as a way to let out all the negativity we might be harboring. The crowd had a lot of fun with it.  It was a good way to end the first set.  Now there was time for the sun to go down and for CAKE to come back with, as McCrea stated “a renewed intention and vigor.”

The second set of the show began with a giveaway.  Not just any giveaway.  But a tree giveaway. It’s true.  CAKE was giving away a tree. A member of the audience had to guess what type of tree it was.  The winning member named, Jason is the proud new owner of a honey crisp apple tree.  Turns out CAKE does this at most of their shows. On their website, they have a map of the world where you can go see that people have planted these trees.  It’s a pretty cool idea. I went to the website and these trees are scattered all over the US and Europe and various parts of the world. 

During this giveaway, and opening to the second set of the night, a set where we hadn’t heard any songs yet, I heard an older man, not sure if he was a CAKE fan or just bought season tickets to the entire Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series, make the statement, “This guy sure talks a lot”.  I don’t think he understood the intent of the evening.  But I have to say I was loving the casual nature of the show.  I think this man came around once he caught on.  It seemed like the rest of the audience was having a blast.  It was almost as if we were attending part concert and part stand up comedy show.  John McCrea was hilarious. 

The music did resume and with the sun down, it did seem like not only was the band rejuvenated but the entire venue seemed to have a second wind.  I felt like the more the night went along, the more energetic everyone got.  That could have been the cooling temperature, but I believe the cool air mixed with some of CAKE’s best songs, one right after another, might have contributed to the fan’s excitement as well.  Early CAKE gem, “Camanche” played side by side with “Never There” and “Short Skirt/ Long Jacket” had the entire Red Butte Garden audience on their feet and dancing. 

The set ended with John McCrea celebrating that it felt good to be part of a “group activity”.  He seamlessly moved right into “The Distance”. People were singing every word of the 1996 classic song.  So many memories rushed through my head as I listened to that song.  I remember loving its uniqueness at a time when I felt like music was losing a little bit of its luster. I had never seen CAKE until this show, so it was so great to hear all these songs live for the first time.  CAKE sounded excellent and McCrea sounded just like the recordings. 

Photo Credit: Kevin Rolfe

CAKE departed the stage and many fans wondered if they were coming back.  It was one of the longest encore breaks I think I’ve ever witnessed.  The lights didn’t come on, so I think most people knew they’d return.  And sure enough, they walked back on stage to perform two more songs.  “Haze of Love” was a great song to get us back into the groove of the night.  And I couldn’t imagine a CAKE show ending any other way than to hear their trademark cover of Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive”.  It was such a fun moment inside Red Butte Gardens.  I looked around at the different groups dropping their picnic baskets and chairs and knowing that they couldn’t head to their cars just yet.  People danced, everyone sang, and had a great time. 

This was my first night covering a Red Butte Garden show this summer.  And if the rest of the shows are anything like An Evening With CAKE, I’m in for a very good summer.  


1st Half
Frank Sinatra
Sad Songs and Waltzes
Meanwhile, Rick James
Stickshifts and Safetybelts
Sick of You

2nd Half
Love You Madly
Sheep Go To Heaven
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps
Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle
Is This Love?
Never There
Short Skirt/ Long Jacket
The Distance

Haze of Love
I Will Survive

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