Ten festivals you don't want to miss this summer
Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, Sloan's Lake Park.
Summer is all about festivals: There's no better way to get away for a day without ever leaving town. International fests take you to faraway places right in your own back yard, others celebrate ethnic cultures, urban enthusiasms, arts-and-crafts, the joy of eating or just being yourself in a judgmental world. Following is our list of ten tried-and-true festival recommendations, listed in chronological order.
June 14-16, free (small cover after 8 p.m.)
Now in its 48th year, the Greek Festival is one of Denver's longest-running cultural events, and there's a reason that it's been around so long. Actually, several reasons: The mood is joyful, the food authentic and delicious, and the music and dancing folksy and participatory. Other highlights include cathedral tours featuring murals of religious icons painted around the church's main dome; after dark, thick Greek coffee, Greek beer and shots of ouzo fire up the night. And it all ends with a concert by Ethos Elias and its national lineup of musicians.
June 15, free
Denver's annual celebration of African-American freedom and achievement is one of the largest in the nation. This year's edition kicks off at 10 a.m. with a colorful parade from Fuller Park, at 29th Avenue and Williams Street, to Welton Street in the heart of Five Points, where the fun continues with food and craft vendors, cultural activities, an art walk and plenty of live music, with everything from blues to hip-hop. New this year at the fest is the first annual Juneteenth Car Show. Let the dancing in the streets begin!
June 15-16, free
PrideFest might be Denver's most exuberant outdoor celebration: The two-day homage to LGBT culture and heritage is famous nationwide, drawing national acts to its stages and one of the most colorful audiences you're likely to see this summer. PrideFest's ongoing slate of entertainment includes everything from drag queens and go-go girls to gay square dancers and '80s pop stars (diva Taylor Dayne and Weather Girl Martha Wash are this year's name guests); Sunday's traditional parade up Colfax Avenue from Cheesman Park to Civic Center is the very definition of spectacle, with floats, costumes and Dykes on Bikes leading the way.
Continue reading for more festivals.
June 22-23, free
This annual paean to the culture of Japan is a community effort from start to finish, with whole families pitching in to serve homemade food in the social hall of the Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temple. Outdoors, vendors hawk arts both traditional and pop-cultural, while nonstop entertainment includes traditional dance, martial-arts demonstrations and music, as well as athletic, thunderous -- and crowd-pleasing -- taiko drumming. Indoors, visitors can tour the temple sanctuary and check out elegant bonsai and ikebana displays.
July 5-7, free
Denver's biggest and best-known arts event, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival spreads out along Third Avenue from Josephine to Steele streets, attracting more than 350,000 visitors to browse outstanding artworks by 260 juried artists. The annual festival is up-close and personal, with opportunities to learn more about the artists and their work. And on the side, strolling art-lovers can sample fine cuisine from vendors lining the street, take part in hands-on art activities, and enjoy performers of every stripe. After a hot day of viewing hot art, the fest cools off on Friday and Saturday nights with a beer garden that pours from 6 to 10 p.m.
July 12-14, free
There's no better place to immerse yourself in Denver's African-American and pan-African culture than at this annual fest in City Park. There's something for everyone here, beginning with the authentic Watu Sokoni People's Marketplace; radiating out from there, you'll find ethnic cuisine in the food court, a children's pavilion with activities focusing this year on the Ndebele people of southern Africa, and a stage featuring African dancers and drummers, jazz bands, hip-hop groups and gospel singers. Looking for something different? Take part in the new "Amateur Night at the Apollo" scavenger hunt, or Saturday morning's Boogaloo Celebration Parade.
Continue reading for more festivals.
July 16-19, free
McNichols Building (and other locations citywide)
After a three-year hiatus, Denver's Biennial is back, with a clearer vision and big plans for its four-day run. Partly a meeting of minds and community members and partly a citywide arts festival, the Biennial brings together thinkers, politicos and curators from Canada and the frozen north to the southernmost tip of South America for symposia, workshops and cultural events celebrating intercontinental similarities and differences. The biennial's sub-theme, "Draft Urbanism," will cleverly address both the future of modern art and architecture and Denver's own preoccupation with beer and brewing.
July 27-28, free
Explore all things Asian at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, one of the city's fastest-growing cultural festivals since its inception in 2001. It's focused on the ancient Chinese sport of dragon-boat racing, and there are competitions on the lake throughout the two-day fest, with teams from local Asian organizations and sponsoring companies facing off on the long, brightly painted boats. But the CDBF also offers visitors a full palate of pan-Asian foods, as well as a full palette of pan-Asian crafts at one of the best festival markets of the summer; there are also traditional performances from every corner of the East. Get your race on.
August 9-11, ticket price TBD
Entering its third year, the Denver County Fair is kind of like cotton candy with bacon on top: the perfect blend of old-fashioned, agrarian fun and edgy, Denver-centric urban enthusiasm. Enter a cherry pie to win a blue ribbon and take in a doggie agility show or go for the drag-queen beauty pageants and speed-texting competitions. The fair offers everything Denver-ific, from food-truck fare and Andrew Novick's Extreme Pancake Breakfast to daily themed activities and this year's brand-new History Pavilion. Into fashion? Geekery? Art? Sewing? Backyard chickens? Unicorn rides? You'll find all that -- and more -- at the Denver County Fair.
August 30-September 2, free (tasting tickets purchased separately)
Denver's traditional last hurrah of summer, A Taste of Colorado is both an eat-fest of major proportions and a fun-fest for the whole family. More than 500,000 hungry people visit the Taste during its four-day run, which features arts-and-crafts vendors, seven stages with national headliners and, most important, food from more than fifty area restaurants, including the requisite turkey legs and roasted corn on the cob.
For information about even more festivals, both in town and up in the high country, visit Westword's online Summer Guide listings.
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