Five Festival Failures: Paying Respects in Denver's Music Fest Graveyard
Colorado is the capital of skiing, beer, legal weed — and failed music festivals. Sure, smaller festivals have thrived in this music-loving state (and the music-rabid city of Denver) — take the Westword Music Showcase, the Underground Music Showcase, Folks Fest and Ride Festival as standout examples. But not every endeavor is successful.
With the announcement of the new Project Pabst, which will bring Courtney Barnett, Violent Femmes, FIDLAR, local gods Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and others to RiNo in May, we got to thinking about the graveyard of dead Colorado music festivals.
PBR, we're sure you don't need our advice, but take note.
Note: We also included the successful Riot Fest, which, if it was a seven-year-old kid playing soccer, would definitely win the “most improved” trophy.
These fans want another festival at Red Rocks.
Monolith Music Festival (2007-2009)
Standout Acts: Flaming Lips, Spoon, Cake, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Chromeo, Mars Volta, STRFKR, Avett Brothers
Monolith Festival was probably the closest Colorado ever got to a Coachella-esque event. Hosted at the famous Red Rocks Amphithteatre, this two-day festival featured multiple stages around the iconic bleachers, giant national headliners, and view to rival Coachella Valley or the Gorge Amphitheatre.
However, trying to build up a giant music festival in the midst of a horrible recession proved too tough an endeavor. “A tough economic year and an opening day of chilling rain combined to put a serious dent in our humble operation,” organizers said in an open letter after the 2009 fest. The founders tried to find investors, and even started a kickstarter, but no hero flew in to save this festival.
A bundled up Best Coast at Chive Cultivate Festival 2012.
Chipotle Cultivate Festival (2012-2013)
Standout Acts: Cold War Kids, Best Coast, Tennis, Group Love
Hometown restaurant chain Chipotle had the great idea in 2012 to throw a little festival. The City Park festival featured food, information and some fantastic bands — all for free. It seemed destined for success, even doubling attendance (from 13,000 to 30,000) in its second year.
But after 2013, Chipotle decided to abandon its home base for other cities. Chipotle said that it was always the plan to move on after a couple of years in Denver. Can’t even stick around to grow a local festival? That one hurts, Chipotle.
The last edition of Snowball, 2014.
Avon, Winter Park, Mile High Parking Lot,
Standout Acts: Pretty Lights, Kendrick Lamar, TV on the Radio, Flying Lotus
SnowBall was the epitome of a winter festival. Held up in the mountains in the spring, the festival involved skiing all day and dancing to the likes of Pretty Lights and Flying Lotus all night. But after 140 arrests, the festival was kicked out of Avon. It tried to find a new home in Winter Park, but that failed. In 2014, the festival found itself in the parking lot of Mile High Stadium in Denver. As far as aesthetics and winter vibes go, well, a parking lot might just be the worst location possible. Not surprisingly, the festival cancelled its 2015 edition, and then, its 2016 edition. “It is with a heavy heart that we can confirm SnowBall will unfortunately not be returning for 2016,” the festival announced via Facebook back in January. “Despite our best efforts and thorough exploration and evaluation of all potential options for a new home, we ultimately did not find a location that we felt perfectly synched with the experience and environment that is central to our festival’s spirit.”
Technically this festival isn’t "dead"; it’s more like it’s in a coma and you know as soon as the doctor walks in he’s going to tell you there’s nothing they can do and you should start making arrangements. Sorry, SnowBall, but we aren’t holding our breath for a revival.
The oh-too-brief Chive fest.
Chive Fest (2014)
Standout Acts: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Delta Spirit, Talib Kweli
Chive Fest was more or less doomed from the start, which is tragic considering the makers of the bro-loving site The Chive actually put on a decent little one-day festival. Between the ideal location in the middle of City Park, the great lineup, and the overall vibe of community and fun, it should’ve been a success.
But there was serious opposition from neighborhood groups and the complicated nature of hosting ticketed events in City Park. Alas, Chive has yet to announce a re-Chive-al in Denver.
We miss you, Mile High Music Festival.
Mile High Music Festival (2008-2010)
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
Standout Acts: Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Weezer, The Black Keys, Atmosphere
Mile High Music Festival might have been the most "Colorado" of these failed major festivals. Tailor-made for white people who love both money and weed, the festival featured Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, G.Love and the Special Sauce and all those other dudes your mom sings along to when she’s had one too many wine coolers. But even stacked lineups couldn’t save this festival. After being kicked out of City Park by the zoo, the festival moved to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, but that lasted just two years before the festival met its end.
In March of 2011, the festival made the following statement on Facebook:
“Today we announce Mile High Music Festival will not happen in 2011. We are extremely proud of our past events and very grateful for all of the wonderful support of this community.”
Five years later and the festival has never reappeared.
Now, for a success story...
Riot Fest, the festival that could.
Riot Fest (2013- present)
Byers, Mile High Stadium Parking Lot, National Western Stock Show
Standout Acts: Modest Mouse, Pixies, The National, Weezer, The Descendents, Babes In Toyland
Riot Fest is the punk who just won’t stay down. The first edition in 2013 was held in the sleepy farm town of Byers, Colorado. It was a success, despite a brief evacuation due to a serious storm. But when plans were announced to return, the residents of Byers were not ready to welcome the Riot Fest crew back. With just months to scramble, the team put the festival at Mile High Stadium. Between the bales of hay, mini-golf course, and fun rides, the festival went off without a hitch. The next year the festival took on a rodeo theme and made the National Western Stock Show its home, where again, it was all rowdy fun.
Riot Fest will, thankfully, be back for 2016, and we cant wait to see what blend of punk, indie and hip-hop the Chicago-based team will be bringing to Denver.
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