Here it is. Plan your year according to the best festivals and happenings in music, sports and film across Colorado.
THE ONE-BAND FESTIVAL
Phish: Telluride, August 9-10
When Phish reunited last year, the improvisational rock kings made it clear they intended to get back to the heart of what mattered in their previous two decades together. That’s included returning to favorite venues the band outgrew years ago. Last summer’s four nights at Red Rocks were something most fans never thought they would see again after the infamous miasma of a previous 1996 run. Although the shows sold out in seconds—leaving many shut out—they went off without incident. This August, Phish is taking it a step beyond and setting up camp for two days in the intimate confines of Telluride’s Town Park.
The town has a special place in Phish lore. In 1988 the Vermont-bred band ventured outside of New England for the first time and drove straight to Colorado for a run of shows that included shuffling their own equipment across the street between gigs at The Roma and Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. Recordings of the shows were released in 2006 on a live album set Colorado ’88. Back then, Phish was still earning fans one at a time. This summer the band and its loyal herd will get to turn the box canyon into their very own festival. We’ll see you there.
Waterfront Music Festival and Campout
May 14-16, Bellvue
It’s hard to beat the parties in Poudre Canyon at the rustic riverside Mishawaka Amphitheatre. This year’s music season at the Mish kicks off with this new three-day festival that’s shaping up to be a jamgrass orgy. The coolest thing on the bill is Wicked Messenger, a new project formed by Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann of Yonder Mountain String Band that will focus on material by Dylan and the Dead. More bands: Head for the Hills, Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Nershi’s Blue Planet, and Spring Creek.
MeadowGrass Music Festival
May 29-30, Colorado Springs
Nestled in the pines of Black Forest, 15 miles north of Colorado Springs, MeadowGrass is a mellow roots music bash at the La Foret Conference and Retreat Center. Pristine camping spots and a family-friendly vibe mix well with the eclectic line-up of newgrass and alt-folk, including The Greencards, Grant Lee Philips, Great Lake Swimmers, Martha Scanlan and more to be announced.
Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass
June 4–6, PAgosa springs
This low-key fest is so grassroots it enlists fans to be part of its “street team,” passing out info about the event in their local towns. Music will include Bearfoot (see sidebar) and Durango locals The Badly Bent.
Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Music Fest
June 12–14, Palisade
This little fesival dedicated to acoustic music gets busy in the heart of Colroado wine-and-peaches country, so you’l be able to partake of both during the festivities. And the music? Alongside stanbys, like Hot Buttered Rum, Alaskan sensation Bearfoot (see sidebar) and Texas swing rockers Asleep at the Wheel promise to make this one raucous roots event.
June 17–20, Telluride
Trying to write about Telluride is akin to trying to write about Moab’s Slickrock Trail. It’s so cliched you can barely bring yourself to do it. Yet it’s that way for a damn good reason. If you have never gone you must. If you have, well, it’s a new experience every year. This time around, there will be the touchstones (Alison Krauss, Sam Bush and Bela Fleck never get old), the international (Zakir Hassain, The Drepung Monks) and the new school (The Magnetic Zeros, The Hillbenders).
July 23-25, Lyons
Rockygrass is the core bluegrass happening in Colorado, and not just because of the bands on the main stage—which this year will include Sam Bush, Doc Watson and David Holt, The Horseflies, Alison Brown and Bearfoot (see sidebar). It’s the community spirit of Rockygrass Academy, which takes place just before the festival, that gives it the spirit of a musicians’ get-together—not to mention all the picking circles that spring up in camp.
Crestone Music Festival
August 6–8, Crestone
Ah, Crestone. Vortex of transcendental oneness where enlightened beings of all types get along. So it is as the music festival, which includes a mix of eclectic food, art and community. Check the Web site for lineups not yet annouced as of press time.
Yarmonygrass Music Festival
August 12-14, Rancho del Rio
Float all day and rock all night. This festival in Rancho del Rio takes place right on the banks of the Colorado. There are options to take river trips with musicians who will pick tunes on a floating stage during flat stretches. The surrounding views back at base camp are big but the crowds are small, as this festival is capped at just a couple thousand people. Line-up in the works.
August 13–15, Lyons
With an ear towards songwriters, Folks is stacked with big names, including John Prine, Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown and Michelle Shocked as well as new arrivals like The Swell Season (see sidebar) and Liz Longley. It has a totally different vibe than groovin’ cousins Telluride and Rockygrass. Just chill in that lawn chair and head down to St. Vrain Creek to build Zen sculptures.
Mile High Music Festival
August 14–15, Denver
Mile High is the antidote to festivarianism—the urban happening where you may see some folks who can truly dance or bang their heads. This year’s lineup has not yet been announced (organizers say to look for it in early April) but the 2009 show featured jam-banders Widespread Panic, Galactic, Matisyahu and Big Head Todd, as well as Tool, G. Love, Ben Harper, The Black Keys, Thievery Corporation and local headliners Devotchka and The Fray. For our money, it’s the best musical event in the state.
August 27-29, Nederland
This annual throwdown up in Ned has held on to its intimate vibe as it continues to deliver a diverse line-up of national acts, a tasty array of microbrews, and a big spread of local food and crafts. There’s hardly a better buzz than sipping a hoppy pale ale at 8,000 feet while enjoying a killer mix of jazz, rock and bluegrass. After a long day of partying pitch your tent at the family campground or better yet grab a free spot in the surrounding wilderness. Past line-up highlights include Dr. John, Sam Bush and Charlie Hunter. Bands for 2010 still to be announced.
Telluride Blues and Brews
September 17-19, Telluride
The other festival in Tellurdie is the locals favorite. For good reason, the fall air is crisp and cool, the crowds aren’t as insane and the music …. the music is the real reason to go since it draws old and young blues artists from around the globe. Oh, and the beer—53 breweries join in, with a grand tasting on Saturday night.
ON THE RISE
Look past the big-name headliners and make sure to hear these bands.
Dave Rawlings is usually the steady backbone for musical partner Gillian Welch, but this year the duo is switching roles. It’s refreshing to see the underappreciated Rawlings—a rock-solid guitarist with a rustic tenor croon—step into the forefront and deliver many of the familiar songs that he’s penned for others. The honky tonk version of “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To be High),” originally on Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker is particularly smoking. In addition to the expected sweet harmonies with Welch, the Machine features three of the high-octane string bandits from the Old Crow Medicine Show. Appearing at Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Guaranteed to be the band that turns Telluride Bluegrass on its head, this 10-piece ensemble of tree-hugging hipsters sounds like Scooby Doo’s answer to the Arcade Fire being fronted by Johnny and June Carter Cash. The latter comes from the back and forth between lead singers Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, who play hot potato with retro harmonies in front of a bevy of strings, horns, hand-claps and anything else that make beautiful noise.
Forget Nashville. The next incarnation of Alison Krauss and Union Station is coming from…Anchorage? This five-piece Alaskan bluegrass outfit has been in the national spotlight since winning the Telluride band competition in 2001, but lately they’ve hit a revitalized stride with the addition of new lead singer and fiddler Odessa Jorgensen. With hot picking, sultry harmonies, and timeless originals, the young band is poised to become the face of new school old-time. Appearing at Pagosa Springs Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass.
If you only know the Swell Season from their 2008 Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly,” you’re missing the bigger picture of this expansive internationally acclaimed folk duo. On their new album, Strict Joy, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova document their own turbulent break-up with emotional bare-your-soul vocal harmonies, while they plunder the spectrum of Americana from old-school soul to soaring acoustic rock. They’ll help the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival celebrate 20 years.
The Mayor of Town Park
Tom Heidger has missed the Telluride Bluegrass Festival just once in the past 30 years. Known around the campground as Telluride Tom, he’s the de facto ringleader of Town Park’s longstanding community of festivarians, who organize their own annual events beyond the music on stage. Heidger, 64, was officially dubbed the “Mayor of Town Park” by promoter Planet Bluegrass in 2003. That distinction came with a lifetime pass to the festival and its most revered campground.
How long is Telluride Bluegrass Festival for you every year?
Planet Bluegrass takes over Town Park the Saturday before the festival starts. I get there the week before that.
What are your responsibilities as mayor?
Every year I post a list of all the different organized things we have going on in Town Park. Some constants include a big oyster barbeque that feeds hundreds of people. At a different camp we make rum balls, which contain all kinds of different fruit soaked in rum and whatever other kind of alcohol is contributed. We soak them for days and then a huge group gathers around for a big toast the day before the music starts. That’s when I get up on a ladder and proclaim the festival has officially started.
Favorite festival memory?
In 1991 Carlos Nakai—a Native American flute player. He told a story during his set about the spirit of the wind. As his playing got faster and faster, the wind in the box canyon picked up and started swirling paper plates and napkins above the crowd. Then as he mellowed out, it stopped. Incredible.
Band not to be missed?
The Telluride House Band with Sam Bush, Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas.
Advice for newbs?
Be prepared for any kind of weather. It’s hot during the day, freezing at night and it rains out of nowhere.
FREAKER BY THE SPEAKER
I may be into bluegrass now, but I didn’t start out that way. Back in 1996, I was still working on getting techno beat out of my head. All that Boom-Boom-Boom was a consequence of spending way too much time clubbing in Minneapolis. Coming to Colorado turned out to be a perfect form of therapy.
The jam band concerts at Red Rocks, Mishawaka, Keystone delivered me from the mindless beat. First it was Widespread Panic, Leftover Salmon and SCI that moved me from techno to what could be termed aucustic house music. Just trancy enough to keep me mellow, but entertained.
Colorado mountain music sounds so much better that any Midwest moshfest. Sure, the venues were good, but the acoustics were what chanegd the way I heard music. Almost overnight, I became a Red Rocks Snob. Then I found The one-man-band known as Keller Williams.
I got so into his music that I became the Freaker by the Speaker. I became obssesed with meeting Keller. I admit, I turned into a stalker.
I had a plan. I’d use my KGOAT radio show as an excuse to talk with him. It worked—sort of. I started playing Keller’s Celler during my show. Soon, Keller’s Cellar took over my two whole hour show. I eventually scored that coveted phone interview with Keller. But it was, as it sounds, low-fi and impersonal. Not satisfied, I went to plan B. I started talking with Keller’s sound guy, Louis Gosain. I got to meet Keller a few times that way, but it was always just after he came off-stage. This time hi-fi, but impersonal.
Then I went to Plan C, I gave up. I continued to play Keller’s Celler as my radio show. But I no longer was that weird person who was too enthusiastic for his own good. Over the next few years, I picked up the mandolin and fell into bluegrass. I stopped chasing musicians and started chasing music.
Then I got the call, “Keller’s playing at the Mish this weekend, you wanna do an interview for your show?”. I scored a full backstage interview with Keller. Something changed, though. I got a glimpse of what it must be like to be a musician on the road. It’s a really lonely place. The only people that truly want to see you on the road are starry-eyed fanatics like me. I had changed. Once I stopped with the mystified thing, I started to realize that the music is in all of us. And thanks to Keller, I’m now the Freaker with the Speaker.
Fruita Fat Tire Festval
April 29–May 2, Fruita
Sponsored by New Belgium Brewery, the bike fest that kicks the season off is the perfect place to learn the trails here that have been built by bikers for bikers. It’s a flurry of group rides, bike culture, demos and of course, lots and lots of beer.
May 29–31, Buena Vista
Created by local shop, Colorado Kayak Supply. this core paddling happening offers a little something for everyone—from pros duking it out in the playhole to demos where you can put new gear through the wringer. Many manufacturers attend as well so you can get inside info on new boats.
Teva Mountain Games
June 3–6, Vail
There is as of yet no other event like the Mountain Games, a spectator friendly celebration of outdoor sports. The kayak action in the middle of town is the big highlight but we are partial to the big splashes of the mountain dog contest. And it’s not just for watching—amateurs can enter events and maybe even surprise some people.
Lyons Outdoor Games
June 11-13, Lyons
What began as a little local whitewater fetival has grown into a big multi-sport celebration. The action includes competitons and demos in everything from whitewater to chainsaw carving to skateboarding. Add in a bike rodeo, live music and local beer at Oskar Blues and it’s a party.
June 18–21, Salida
For 62 years boaters have converged on the Arkansas River in Salida to celebrate the joy of paddling. Anything you can race downriver gets you in on the competion here—the festival takes in everything from raft races to freestyle comps to non-river events that include a bike race and skate park comp.
5Point Film Festival
April 29-May 2, Carbondale
5Point is focused around athletes who want to make movies that go beyond the athletic achievement and actually make some type of difference in the world. The main focus of the event is commuinty and panel discusions encourage attendees to discuss issues beyond the films.
MountainFilm in Telluride
May 22–25, Telluride
MountainFilm is an artistic happening including art, conversation and, of course, movies. This year’s thematic focus will be on the extinction crisis—a species disappears form the earth every 20 minutes and films and panels will discuss the seriousness of that catastrophic loss of biodiversity on the planet.
October 9–12, Taos, New Mexico
Since 2001, this mountaineering-focused film festival has featured impassioned work from across the globe. Special guests this year will include famed mountaineer Sir Chris Bonnington and legendary ski-film director Greg Stump, who will be presenting three films. We think it’s worth it just for that.