Summer's coming. While Denver newbies may think of ski resorts as just snowy-season destinations, the warmer months offer many reasons to head for the mountains, too. Sure, hiking, backpacking and rafting are all good reasons to go west. But when you're tired of nature but still can't get enough of the Rocky Mountain high, consider attending these stunning live-music events, venues, concerts and festivals – some of which are free.
1. GoPro Mountain Games
The GoPro Mountain Games bring you pretty much every extreme sport that doesn't require snow: Mountain biking, disc golfing, kayaking and slack lining will all be available June 8-11 in the Vail Valley. If you're bold enough to compete, you might just win cash and prizes. The games include three nights of free music at the Amp — what locals call the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Headliners include Moon Taxi, Keller Williams' Grateful Grass, and Nahko & Medicine for the People. To view the full music lineup for the GoPro Mountain Games, visit the festival's calendar.
2. Belly Up
Aspen's Belly Up is one of the best mountain venues for national touring acts. This summer, catch acts including Jurassic 5, Gary Clark Jr., Miike Snow, Thomas Jack, Thievery Corporation, Blues Traveler and Spoon. To plan your visit to this intimate venue, check out the Belly Up calendar.
3. Club Red Presents: Langhorne Slim & the Law
Club Red in Telluride was voted the second-best ski-country venue by Skiing magazine. To get to the venue, take the Telluride Mountain Village Gondola up the mountain to arrive at your musical destination. On June 9, Langhorne Slim & the Law offer up bluesy and soulful tunes sure to please all rock lovers' palates.
4. Crazy Mountain Brewery's Hot Summer Nights
Tuesdays, beginning June 13
Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
Head to the Vail Valley early in the week, because Crazy Mountain Brewery is providing you with free concerts every Tuesday this summer. From June 13 through August 22, catch acts such as Hurray for the Riff Raff, Donovan Frankenreiter and the Shooter Jennings Band at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Visit the calendar to plan your night of music in the valley.
5. Sonic Bloom Music Festival
Spanish Peaks Country
Sonic Bloom Festival, which brands itself as "Colorado's Premier Electronic Music Festival," is probably more accurately described as the headiest mountain-music festival in the state. The headliner is an all-star compilation of jam bands most loved by Coloradans: Big Gigantic, the String Cheese Incident and the Disco Biscuits, who have baked themselves into a new supergroup, Gigantic Cheese Biscuits. Among other electronic and jam artists, attendees of Sonic Bloom have access to different activities from June 11 to 14, including yoga, slacklining, acroyoga, visionary arts, music production and permaculture. For more information, go to the Sonic Bloom website.
6. Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Telluride's Bluegrass Festival is a great entry-level bluegrass event for newcomers to the genre. The 44th edition of the festival will include headliners like Jason Mraz, Norah Jones, Dierks Bentley With the Travelin' McCourys, and Brandi Carlile — all great artists, albeit not all that bluegrass. The mountain town is taken over by festafarians who flock annually to Telluride for the event and its many Nightgrass after-parties. Visit the Bluegrass Festival website for the full list of artists, lodging information and a roster of Nightgrass shows.
7. Country Jam Colorado
To be clear to the transplants, Grand Junction isn't technically in the mountains; it's over them. So for those going to Country Jam Colorado, you'll be driving smack-dab through the Rocky Mountains. Country Jam showcases some of the biggest – and richest – artists in the genre. Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett, Justin Moore and Randy Houser all top the bill. Go to the festival's website for more information.
8. Cover Rock Festival
Nottingham Park, at the base of Beaver Creek
If you're looking to jam out to the music of the ’60s and ’70s, Cover Rock Festival is the perfect mountain jamboree for you. A British-invasion-themed festival brings you covers of the Beatles, the Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin and Queen, plus a Pink Floyd laser show. For more information, visit the Cover Rock Festival website.
9. The Ride Festival
The Ride offers a mix of rock and singer-songwriters. Beck, Ben Harper and John Butler Trio top the two-day bill. The festival will be held in Bear Creek Field in Telluride. For those looking to continue the fun after the sun goes down, a separate lineup of shows are spread across small venues around the mountain town. General-admission passes start at $234, which does not include camping options. Visit the Ride website for more information.
Read on for more of the summer's best Rocky Mountain music events.
10. The Jas June Experience
Benedict Music Tent
Before the full Aspen Jas Experience on Labor Day, a taste of what's to come hits Aspen in June, with free performances by Jon Batiste, Lisa Fischer, Morgan James and Paa Kow. Ticketed artists include Michael McDonald and Earth Wind & Fire. To find out more about all the artists at June Experience and the free lawn and brunch parties, visit the June Experience portion of the Jas website.
11. Vail Summer Bluegrass
Wednesdays, beginning June 28
The Arrabelle at Vail Square
The best way to start your summer bluegrass listenin' is with these free shows in the heart of Vail Village. Free fun in Vail is rare, and these bluegrass shows are a great way to stomach a ski town with double-digit beer prices. Bluegrass Generals, Chatham County Line, Donna the Buffalo, and The Lil Smokies are playing Wednesdays in June and July. For information, visit the website.
12. Blue River Series and Performances: Turnpike Troubadours
Among the artists rolling through Breckenridge for performances this summer, the country act Turnpike Troubadours are definitely a highlight. Featuring one of the world's best young fiddler players, this outfit soulfully delivers slow ballads and touching lyrics. Tickets to Turnpike Troubadours are $30 in advance; find those and information on other shows in Breckenridge at this music festival website.
13. Bluebird Art + Sound: Drive-By Truckers
Snowmass Village, just outside of Aspen, is throwing a celebration of art music: Bluebird Art + Sound. For three days from June 30 to July 2, art lovers can enjoy an interactive art exhibition, an art walk and a free DJ show. On Friday, June 30, Georgia band Drive-By Truckers will perform on the slope of Fanny Hill, with the beautiful Aspen Valley as the backdrop. Tickets for the concert are $30, and the weekend activities are free.
14. Lyle Lovett
Avon Performance Pavilion
Lyle Lovett brings his famous country revue to the Rocky Mountains. After an indoor performance at Belly Up Aspen, Lovett will take the stage at an outdoor show in Avon. Lovett has won four Grammy awards for his songwriting and performing, and has thirteen albums to his name.
Once you get into the mountains, they're all about the grass, man. And if you're looking for good bluegrass, Rockygrass is one of the state's most authentic events. Just beyond Boulder, in the quarry town of Lyons, pickin' fills the air both day and night at this shindig. This year's festivities include performances from Sam Bush Bluegrass Band, Earls of Leicester and the Infamous Stringdusters, among others. Single-day and three-day tickets for the 45th Rockygrass are sold out, so look to re-sale websites to find a way in.
16. Telluride Jazz Festival
Telluride Jazz Festival showcases extraordinary jazz acts, but also includes soul, funk and brass bands during the three-day celebration. Notable acts include Mavis Staples, Macy Gray, and Bootsy Collins & World-Wide Funk Drive. For more information, visit the Telluride Jazz Festival website.
17. Arise Music Festival
Similar to Sonic Bloom, Arise prides itself on creating a holistic experience, with yoga, activism and workshops happening alongside eight stages of live music. However, Arise features more than just electronic musicians. Hip-hop, jam bands and rock-and-roll acts accompany headliners like Atmosphere and Tipper. Two additional headliners will be announced in late May. Three-day early-bird passes start at $189, with walk-in camping included. For more information, visit the Arise website.
18. Bluegrass and Beer Festival
River Run Village
The only way bluegrass gets better is combining it with cold beer. Peter Rowan Band will be headlining for a crowd sipping on beers from more than forty Colorado breweries at this year's Bluegrass and Beer Festival in Keystone. The best part of this festival is that music and activities are free; you just have to pay for beer, with unlimited samples that cost just $40 per person, in advance, per day. For more information on this family-friendly event, visit the Keystone festival's website.
19. Rocky Mountain Folks Festival
Lyons hosts another festival, this time with folk music: the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. One of the benefits of attending this festival (or Rockygrass) is that food and drinks are welcome – except alcohol, so feel free to pack a picnic, but leave glass containers at home. Moreover, festival-goers can cool off in the nearby St. Vrain River. To purchase tickets to the festival that has been described as the "Nashville of the Rocky Mountains," visit the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival website, where you'll find three-day passes for $150.
20. Mountain Town Music Festival
River Run Village
The second music festival in Keystone's series of summer events, Mountain Town Music Festival is another free family-friendly event! Two days of music plus a celebration of all things Colorado make the Mountain Town Music Festival worth the drive. Be sure to stick around after the music ends on Saturday night for a free fireworks show. For more information, visit the Mountain Town Music Festival website.
21. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real / Rodrigo y Gabriela
Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
In the beautiful Gerald R. Ford amphitheater in Vail, two headliners will offer a great one-night mountain performance celebrating the venue's thirtieth anniversary. First up will be Lukas Nelson, a singer-songwriter whose blues jams secured him a spot on tour with legends Willie Nelson and B.B. King. The latter are Rodrigo y Gabriela, two Mexican guitar dynamos who play with emphatic speed and style, often covering famous rock and metal songs. For more information, go to the Vail Valley Foundation's website.
22. Dead Man Winter / Third Eye Blind
Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
On Saturday, August 19, the Vail Valley Foundation will host Dead Man Winter, a band led by indie-rock artist Dave Simonett, one of the founding members of the bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles. The late performance is by none other than ’90s alt-rock band Third Eye Blind. For more information, or to buy tickets for one or two nights of performances, visit the Vail Valley Foundation's website.
23. Reckless Kelly
Avon Performance Pavillion
A regular performer at Musicfest in Steamboat Springs, Reckless Kelly returns for a night of country-music magic. The act infuses a little more rock into its sound than radio country, and definitely offers more depth in the lyrics department. For tickets and more information, visit Reckless Kelly's website.
24. Four Corners Folk Festival
Way down yonder in the very southwestern corner of the state, three days have been reserved forthe Four Corners Folk Festival on Labor Day weekend. Los Lobos are among the headliners. Tickets can be purchased at the festival website.
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25. Jas Aspen Snowmass Experience
Snowmass Softball Fields
JAS Labor Day Experience is one of the biggest music festivals in the mountains. The lineup is a top-notch collection of artists including Nathaniel Rateliff, Daryl Hall and John Oates, the Roots, Maroon 5, Keith Urban and more. Prices for a general-admission three-day pass start at $230. For more information, go to the Labor Day JAS Experience page.