Mile High Music Fest: Who to watch and what to watch out for

For years, we here in Denver watched enviously as festivals such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Rothbury and Sasquatch cropped up in cities across the country, and wondered when the Mile High City would have a major gathering of its own. We've had great festivals in the mountains for years, of course, but there was never one within throwing distance of the city. Then, finally, AEG Live — the same folks who put together Coachella, Rothbury and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival — brought the Mile High Music Festival to the grounds of Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, where we spent two wonderful, back-to-back twelve-hour days last year.

Seasoned veterans that we now consider ourselves, we're full of advice on how to get the most out of this year's fest, which runs from Saturday, July 18, through Sunday, July 19, at Dick's.

ACTS TO WATCH: The band we're most amped to see this weekend is Tool, an act we've caught several times — most memorably at the Buell in March 2006 — that's always mesmerizing. (Guess that's why Tool's headlining, eh?) We're also very eager to see how some hometown acts fare. After all, The Fray hasn't played a show in town since its tuneup this past February at the Gothic; 3OH!3, which has been touring non-stop for the better part of the past year, has had the hottest song on the radio for the past two weeks; and DeVotchKa is coming off a stint supporting David Byrne at Red Rocks, as is Big Head Todd and the Monsters, which just keeps going and going like the Energizer Bunny. It will also be interesting to see if India.Arie gives props to her former home town. And we have our eye on a gaggle of up-and-comers, from the Northern Way (formerly Set Forth), which is riding the wave of a hot single on KTCL right now, to Strange Condition, which just inked a development deal with a major label, to Paper Bird and Gregory Alan Isakov, acts that have both cultivated substantial local followings. And, of course, there's Rob Drabkin, who earned the most votes on the Westword Music Showcase ballot, earning him an invitation to perform at the fest.


Mile High Music Festival

Mile High Music Festival, featuring Tool, Widespread Panic, the Fray and much more, 10 a.m.-2 a.m., Saturday, July 18, and Sunday, July 19, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, 6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, $90-$162.50, 1-866-461-6556.

Obviously, a slew of imports will be performing, too. We're stoked to check out Band of Heathens, a rootsy, soul-drenched outfit from Austin that earned a nod as best new band at the Austin Music Awards in 2007 and has a well-earned reputation as a great live band (the group's first two records were recorded live, if that tells you anything). Gomez has been around for over a decade, but didn't really receive mainstream recognition until releasing How We Operate in 2006, which features three singers with equally compelling vocals. If you've heard The Duke Spirit, most likely it's because of the breakout single "The Step and the Walk," which features Liela Moss's forceful wail over a brooding bass line; the rest of the band's material is just as alluring, propulsive and affecting. Buddy Guy is a legend who needs no introduction, and the Black Keys are always a can't-miss act, as is the gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello. And Matisyahu is worth seeing just to take in his otherworldly skills as a beatboxer.

For a complete rundown of the Mile High Music Festival lineup, more picks from us and much more coverage, visit the Backbeat Online blog (

WHERE TO WATCH THESE ACTS: Due to the openness of the setup and the massive video screens that flank the main stages, there really isn't a bad seat in the house, and sightlines are excellent. The distance between the stages substantially limits any bleedover in terms of sound, and even though that distance makes for a bit of a walk, it's a small price to pay. While the sound at large outdoor gatherings is generally so-so, the sound at last year's Mile High fest was excellent, thanks in part to the satellite speakers stationed about half- to three-quarters the length of the field at the main stages.

HOW TO GET THERE: If you must drive, parking is plentiful — and those who arrived before the gates opened last year not only missed the stop-and-go traffic, but found some great parking spots. Driving to Dick's involves finding one of three main entrances: two that head off of Quebec Street north of I-70/I-76, on either East 60th Avenue or Prairie Parkway (64th Avenue); and one off the Havana Street exit from westbound I-70 north to 56th Avenue.

Or you can just let someone else worry about all that. To encourage carpooling, Dick's has special carpool areas where you and your tribe can disembark. Even better — at least for our money — is taking one of the Green Pass Shuttles ( For as little as ten bucks, you can park at Northfield and then ride a bio-diesel or hybrid SUV shuttle to Dick's. For $30 or $40, you can catch a shuttle at the Pepsi Center in Denver or the Hill in Boulder, respectively, and get the same round-trip treatment. Shuttles run every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. And $50 to $70 nets you a weekend pass: If you plan on imbibing, it's a lot cheaper than a DUI. Just saying.

If you have your very own shuttle — i.e., a very understanding spouse who'll drop you off and pick you up — then you just need to remember this: The designated drop-off point is in the field east of Quebec at 59th Avenue. Look for signs that direct you to the spot.

Oh, and one other transportation tip: Save some money for a pedicab to take you back to your car or pick-up point at the end of the night. Your feet will thank you.

BEAT THE HEAT: If you've lived in Denver for any amount of time, you know that late July can be punishingly hot. Granted, we don't have the sticky, unbearable humidity of the East Coast and the Dirty South — but we're a mile closer to that burning fireball in the sky. So you do the math. Fortunately, the folks at AEG Live know that it's hotter than the sweatband in a fireman's helmet out under that sun and have done their part to make sure everyone's as comfortable as possible this year, from adding more shade areas to bringing back the expansive, wildly popular overhead misters.

There are other basic things you can do to beat the heat, and while this advice may seem rudimentary, even patronizing, last year we spied a whole mess of folks who didn't exercise common sense and paid the price. So stay hydrated! We know that drinking beer and listening to rock and roll go hand and hand — after all, we do this for a living — but fact is, beer is a diuretic, and that means you'll be returning your rentals with greater frequency, if you catch our drift. If you're not drinking water to replace those fluids, sooner or later your engine's going to seize. Remember: If you're drinking alcohol under the white-hot sun without a water chaser, you're just asking for heat stroke.

Finally, remember that sunscreen is your friend. Unless you fancy being cloaked in a deep shade of crimson, apply liberally and often. It's better to be pale than a member of the walking wounded.


Dietary and medical food

Push strollers for children

Small backpacks (15"W x 20"H x 9"D)

Chairs (designated areas only)

Small, compact umbrellas without a metal tip

Sunblock, hats, sunglasses

Empty water bottles/empty Camelbacks

Cell phones

Blanket/small beach towel

Bug spray

1 bottle of factory-sealed water, up to 1 liter

Fanny packs

Non-pro cameras (film, disposable and digital)

Medical prescriptions (must be labeled, photo ID necessary)

Eyedrops for contacts (must be labeled)



Service animals


PROHIBITED ITEMS (list subject to change without notice)

No tailgating

No re-entry

No overnight camping

No unauthorized vending

No video recording (strictly enforced)

No audio recording (strictly enforced)

No alcoholic beverages (alcohol sold on site)

No coolers

No pets

No glass

No tents

No laser pointers

No footballs, Frisbees, or any projectiles

No bikes or other wheeled transportation

No SLR cameras

No weapons

No illegal drugs or paraphernalia

No chains or chain wallets

No fireworks or explosives

No framed or large backpacks


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