It’s time to break out the water bottles and beach blankets and start blocking festival weekends off on the calendar
By Dave Kirby
Every year, dedicated music fans celebrate the summer concert season along Colorado’s Front Range with a little Snoopy-dance of liberation from the pitiless chill of winter. The mukluks and mittens get stashed, and it’s time to break out the water bottles and beach blankets and start blocking festival weekends off on the calendar.
In Lyons, Planet Bluegrass continues cooking up its series of gold-star string music showcases on its heavenly riverside property, enlarged somewhat last August via a voter-approved city annexation of approximately 25 acres. The annexed land will accommodate additional camping space, a wedding venue and a little more parking. The modest expansion is further validation of Planet Bluegrass’ recovery from the devastating flood of 2013, which threatened to send the institution permanently into oblivion.
RockyGrass rolls out July 27-29, featuring Sam Bush and his bluegrass band headlining Friday’s show, Boulder’s own Hot Rize—marking 40 years since their inception—will close the festival on Sunday night, and the iconic David Grisman takes the stage two nights, reuniting his Quintet on Friday and teaming up with Peter Rowan on Saturday for a trip through the landmark Old and in the Way album he first cut with Rowan, Vassar Clements and Jerry Garcia in 1973. For many years, that was the top-selling bluegrass album in history and has often been credited with bringing bluegrass out of regional obscurity and exposing it to a broader and younger audience.
The 28th Annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival lifts its curtain a few weeks later in Lyons, from Aug. 17-19, and this year features the incomparable and utterly indefatigable Los Lobos, the Indigo Girls, and Wilco founder and esteemed songwriter Jeff Tweedy. For aspiring songwriters, don’t forget the annual Songwriter’s Showcase, where artists can submit samples of their original work for a chance to win a main-stage appearance and prizes. Details are available at www.bluegrass.com.
Up the road a spell and sporting aggressively casual attire, the Nederland Music & Arts Festival, more conveniently known as NedFest, runs from Aug. 24-26. It’s hard to believe, but NedFest is turning 20 years old this summer, and will celebrate with a headlining appearance from the eternal Jorma Kaukonen on Saturday night. He’ll be heading up an electric version of his legendary Hot Tuna with his partner of more than 50 years, Jack Casady, and special guest Steve Kimock, then turning it down for a Sunday night acoustic show. Also look for Head for the Hills and Melvin Seals at NedFest this year. As always, carpool up the canyon if you can, leave Fido at home and be prepared for fickle mountain town weather.
And of course, no summer festival sampling along the Front Range would be complete, or nearly as much fun, without The Arise Music Festival—three days of music, yoga, art and sustainability at Sunshine Ranch, just west of Loveland. Taking place Aug. 3-5 and brimming with art installations, theme camps, activism booths, workshops, a dizzying array of vendors and seven stages of music, Arise has grown into one of Colorado’s most essential and forward-looking arts festivals.
Look for acts like Thievery Corporation and Slightly Stoopid holding down headliner sets, and local luminaries like the breathtaking Gasoline Lollipops, Eminence Ensemble and Bridget Law. They’ll be part of a musical lineup that includes more than 200 performances from rock to world beat, electronica to folk, alt-country to … well, you get the idea. Kids are welcome, camping areas are spacious and the vibe at Arise is loose, fun, colorful and a little like a great big tie-dyed group hug. Bring your water bottle, weather-ready attire and, if you’re staying all three days, look into the various Eco Party buses leaving from Boulder, Loveland and Denver.
Now that you’ve caught your breath, it’s time to get Jurassic and look into the original Colorado outdoor music schedule at Red Rocks. Most of us can’t remember a time without Big Head Todd and the Monsters, one of Colorado’s most beloved and enduring bands; they’ll play the Rocks on June 9th. The Avett Brothers stage a three night occupation June 29-July 1, String Cheese Incident plays July 20-22 and Sarah McLachlan croons with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra on July 26. Longtime alt-grass genre bender Yonder Mountain String Band plays on Aug. 4, followed by blues guitar monster Joe Bonamassa on Aug. 5. Denver based songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff has burgeoned into a serious national act with his band The Night Sweats and plays two shows on Aug. 22 and 23, and David Byrne plays on Aug. 27 and 28. Gary Clark Jr. will be delighting blues fans on Sept. 5, and Big Gigantic brings its grid-dimming, synapse-snapping, multimedia event RowdyTown to the Rocks Sept 28 and 29.
Not enough? Chautauqua resumes its summer music series, The Colorado Music Festival, with a night of Mozart and Mahler on July 5, two nights with acclaimed pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Brahms and Rachmaninoff, and the CMF Orchestra Musicians playing Philip Glass, Samuel Barber and Dvořák on July 21. In addition, Chautauqua’s popular music series brings us Béla Fleck and the Flecktones on July 10, Amos Lee on July 31, The Weepies on Aug. 6 and Ziggy Marley on Aug. 22, all playing in the historic auditorium on Chautauqua grounds.