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Music Lover’s Guide to Summer Festivals


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Sure, there are many bigger, more acclaimed and more nationally known festivals than the ones that are hosted right here in the Centennial State. But Colorado is not lacking in its summer music festival cred. There are festivals that bring in big names on multiple stages for numerous nights. There are intimate venues with all the mountain charm one can handle. There’s even a free festival funded by a one of our favorite Colorado billionaires. Don’t believe us? Read on, and prepare to get rocked (and rolled).

Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest
Fort Collins, Aug. 20-22
Once upon a time, NewWestFest was pretty much an arts and crafts fair celebrating Fort Collins’ birthday. These days, after billionaire Pat Stryker opted to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at the festival, NewWestFest has transformed into a full blown, totally legitimate music festival named Bohemian Nights. The entire Old Town area turns into part carnival, part concert, part street fair and families, college students, and wandering music fans mosey from stage to stage. See local, regional and national acts of all breeds—from local rockabilly to last year’s headliner Melissa Etheridge. 2010 Line-up: To Be Announced.—AC

Mile High Music Fest
Commerce City, Aug. 14–15
Here, there are moments of small-venue intimacy. There are also moments of huge, roaring crowds, strobe lights and giant names in music. There are moments of defeat—when the wind disappears, you don’t care who’s on stage, you just want to escape. And then there is victory. Like when Eugene Hutz looks me right in the eye and yells “PURPLE!!!” Like when John Mayer abandons his pop inclinations and goes bluesy. Mile High Music Fest, if nothing else, has made our summers a lot more interesting. It’s a true music festival—with music being the one thing that will inspire a trek out to the windless tundra that is Commerce City. The crowd is all young things with barely there tank tops and flowy dresses. There are always good finds within the line up, bands you never knew existed but now love with all your heart and the band you always wanted to see. 2010 Line-up: Steve Miller Band, Dave Matthews Band. Weezer, My Morning Jacket. —AC

Jazz Aspen
Snowmass, Sept. 3–5
The sun always comes out. How do I know? A higher power seems to shine down on the Snowmass valley, where Jazz Aspen/Snowmass sets up shop. There will be rain and clouds. But the sun always comes out as the headliner is taking the stage. I’ve seen everyone from the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend and Kanye West to Bob Dylan (twice), Sheryl Crow and Tom Petty…maybe only one or two actual jazz performers in the mix over the last few years. But it’s a crazy unique venue—with postcard perfect views, crowds of Aspen’s finest juveniles and WASPY elites mixed with throngs of traveling music lovers. Prepare for mud and getting trampled by those who ferret toward the front mid show. Prepare to see an amazing performance just as the sun comes out. 2010 Line-up: Wilco, the Black Crowes and the rest to be announced.—AC

Folks Fest
Lyons, Aug. 13–15
Folks Fest blows my mind—always in the best of ways. Every year, I’m constantly surprised and utterly in awe. Because no matter the young singer-songwriter or the folksy old-timer or the musical master taking the stage at Planet Bluegrass’ ethereal setting in Lyons, it’s always amazing and new. In its 20th year, Folks Fest continues to be a beacon for the hippie-yuppies of Boulder County and beyond and bring in artists from all over. Last year, lesser known Blind Pilot made a crowd of fans who had only heard about their cycling adventures on NPR; you may not know everyone in the line-up but you know they’ll be good. 2010 Line-Up: Ani DiFranco, The Swell Season, Jenny Lewis, John Prine.—AC

Rockygrass
Lyons, July-23–25
Here’s the coolest thing about Rockygrass: I can sit and chill in a creek under a towering cliff with hawks circling while listening to some of the best musicians on the planet. Where Telluride is a big tent musically, Rockygrass concentrates on bluegrass, both traditional and contemporary, with some other acoustic relatives included. The music suits this more intimate venue in Lyons with a smaller crowd that skews a little older and more toward families. For some the highlight of the weekend is to sit and pick their own instruments around the campfire late into the night. I love Rockygrass in part because it’s a commuter festival where you can sleep at home and return the next day to sit in reverential awe at the guitar genius of Doc Watson, Tony Rice and Bryan Sutton. 2010 Line-up: Patty Loveless, Seldom Scene, Bobby Osborne, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Greensky Bluegrass and Infamous Stringdusters.—JL

Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Telluride, June 17–20
Even after attending the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for 30 years, I still get giddy every June when I come around that corner and see Bridal Veil Falls. That high-mountain setting has never failed to spark over-the-top sets of jamgrass, country, swing, gospel, rock, soul and folk music. Even though the bluegrass greats have played here, I love Telluride precisely because it is NOT a bluegrass festival. I love the traditions, like the morning “running of the tarps” by folks who stayed in line all night to secure front-of-stage space and the fact that a cast of virtuosos—Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan and Edgar Meyer—are on the bill every year. I love the multi-generational audience that is famously open-minded about new acts, how the music shifts from quiet acoustic in the morning to rock and beer toward midnight, and how “Killer Flank Steak” aroma wafts across Town Park. I’ll make the pilgrimage again to recharge my musical batteries with new tunes and to commune with the spirits of John Hartford, Bill Monroe, Dan Fogelberg, Johnny Cash, Richard Manuel and other passed festival goers. 2010 Line-up: Alison Krauss, Edward Sharpe, Del McCoury, Josh Ritter, Keller Williams, Lyle Lovett, Court Yard Hounds, Hot Rize, Yonder Mountain String Band, Brandi Carlile, Bela Fleck and the Drepung Monks.—JL

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email no info send march17th/09

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