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photo by tim benko photographics

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates’ debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose.
—“Mrs. Robinson,” lyrics by Paul Simon

By Dave Kirby

Election-year summers are commonly associated with a pitiless parade of political TV ads, brain-bending media obsession with gaffes and speeches, and pointless horserace predictions. And with most all of us carrying shiny little devices that tweet and blip and shimmy at every disturbance in the ’Netosphere, how do we escape?

Ziggy Marley plays at both Chautauqua and Arise this summer. (Photo by Jeremy Bojorquez)
Ziggy Marley plays at both Chautauqua and Arise this summer. (Photo by Jeremy Bojorquez)

Here’s an idea. Put that fiendish contraption away (or, leave it in the car … OK, OK, at least turn it down) and go out and mingle with real people, to hear real live music. The area is gearing up for another embarrassment of musical riches again this year, so there’s no excuse. And don’t forget that live music isn’t a distraction from real life, it is real life. All that politics stuff is just silly noise.

See? Wasn’t that easy?

Ask just about anyone and they’ll tell you that Colorado is the string-music center of the observable universe, and that all things Colorado ’grassy emanate from the sweetly scented pastures of Planet Bluegrass, in Lyons. The 2016 lineup for the three day RockyGrass festival (July 29-31) includes newgrass pioneer and Certified Good Guy Sam Bush and his band, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, a zesty banjo duet gig featuring Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, and the enduring partnership of Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer.

Later in the summer, the 2016 Folks Festival (Aug. 19-21) features headliners The Decemberists and their uniquely compelling narrative songcraft, the incomparable Lucinda Williams, and Charleston, W.Va.’s favorite daughter, singer/songwriter Kathy Mattea.

Also see Top 10 Music Events for this summer.

Down the Peak-to-Peak (or up Boulder Canyon, depending on where you start), Nederland’s own NedFest (formally known as the Nederland Music and Arts Festival) stages this year on Aug 26-28. Call it a “local festival” if you like, but the talent is terrific this year, it’s family friendly (except please leave the dog at home—you could give him your smartphone to play with while you’re away!), and odds are pretty good you’ll run into friends there. Look for the immortal Taj Mahal, the angelic harmonies of Paper Bird, String Cheese Incident’s keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth and his band, and the Appalachia jam groove of West Virginia’s Fletcher’s Grove.

And rounding out the festival scene, northern Colorado has never seen anything quite like Arise, which launches its acts from multiple stages and extends over three days (Aug. 5-7). There’s something for everyone at this large, colorful, sustainability-focused and surprisingly family-friendly event, which also features workshops, yoga, art installations and vendors in a postcard-perfect valley west of Loveland. Headliners include Ziggy Marley, Jurassic 5, Jeff Austin, Gipsy Moon, Hard Working Americans and dozens more.

Colvin and Earle, Aug. 30 at Chautauqua. (Photo by Alexandra Valenti)
Colvin and Earle, Aug. 30 at Chautauqua.
(Photo by Alexandra Valenti)

Closer to home, the Chautauqua Summer Series features some old favorites and new collaborations up at the auditorium. Keller Williams and the great Leo Kottke trade licks on June 17, Marc Cohn celebrates 25 years on July 23 (with the Blind Boys of Alabama as supporting act), and David Grisman walks the dawg on Aug. 12. Melissa Etheridge rocks the rafters on Aug. 16 and Shawn Colvin teams up with Steve Earle on Aug. 30. The two have been mutual admirers and erstwhile collaborators for years and have a new album coming out in June.

Chautauqua also features the Colorado Music Festival series, opening at the auditorium June 30 with “Narratives of Heroism,” featuring violinist Jennifer Koh. The Young People’s Concert “Machines and Dreams!” is on Saturday, July 2, a two-part program of Brahms’ symphonies extends July 7-8, cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Orion Weiss collaborate on a program for small ensembles on July 15, and violinist Vadim Gluzman performs Tchaikovsky’s technically demanding Violin Concerto, as well as Liadov’s “Enchanted Lake” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in a two-night program of Russian music July 21-22.

Bands on the Bricks, Wednesdays June 1-Aug. 3. (Photo courtesy Downtown Boulder Inc)
Bands on the Bricks, Wednesdays June 1-Aug. 3. (Photo courtesy Downtown Boulder Inc)

Boulder’s downtown music series Bands on the Bricks kicks off their summer lineup with the funky brass of Eufórquestra on June 1 and stages the spikey-haired retro-trib of That Eighties Band on June 15. Look for Hazel “Force of Nature” Miller and her band to stop by on June 29, the ska-reggae vibeage of Judge Roughneck on July 20, and longtime favorite Wendy Woo and her band on Aug. 3.

The Louisville Street Faire continues its tradition of great neighborhood live music events this year, featuring appearances this summer by string masters Hot Buttered Rum (June 24), the stinging blues guitar work of Samantha Fish (July 15), one of the Southwest’s most revered club acts Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers (July 29) and the one and only Junior Brown (Aug 5). (Did you know that Junior played with Dusty Drapes and the Dusters during the Boulder band’s alt-country heyday in the 1970’s?)

And of course, we have that huge sandstone amphitheater an easy sally down CO 93. Red Rocks features some great shows this year, and it WON’T RAIN, so have a look: The Disco Biscuits shimmer on June 4, the Lumineers play June 7-8, old-timers will be squeezing into their T-shirts for Steely Dan and Steve Winwood on June 13, Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples take the stage June 19, Blues Traveler plays their annual July Fourth gig, String Cheese Incident subverts the paradigm July 15-17, blues guitar monster Joe Bonnamassa tempts seismic apocalypse on July 19, the Avett Brothers take over three nights July 28-30, Michael Franti and Spearhead reminds you how good life really is on Aug. 7, and Bonnie Raitt serenades on Sept. 8.

Election? What election?


Dave Kirby is an award-winning writer who has covered music for various publications since 1978. He and his wife live in Boulder with their white German shepherd, Saxon, and rescued Carolina dog, Jute.