Best of Denver

Festival Fun

How do summer music festivals get started? Are they products of some mammoth marketing machine, designed to milk as many dollars as possible from a public hungry for entertainment? Or are they like a suburban-neighborhood block party that starts out as two families grilling together one summer afternoon and then balloons into a Major Happening?

Since Colorado is the land of the summer music festival, I thought it might be useful to provide interested concert-goers with this taxonomy -- age appropriateness included -- of what the season has to offer:

The I'm Young, Broke and Pissed Off That My Mom Wants Me to Move Out of the Basement Touring Show (Ages 16-24)

This breed of summer show can probably trace its origins back to Woodstock, but it didn't really hit the road until the more senior Urban Hipsters (you'll see them at the Corporate Street Party) got to college in the early '90s, when Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza was the very expensive ticket to cool. These days, everyone from headbangers to skate punks to aging hipsters clinging desperately to their youth has a road show to check out, from the Warped Tour to the resurrection of Lollapalooza.

Some players in this scene have dropped off the radar, though, including the fuzzy-wuzzy Lilith Fair (the tour for girls) and the H.O.R.D.E. Tour, which was basically an excuse to smoke pot outside in a big group while listening to post-hippie bands like Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band and Phish. But angst is still the name of the game, and that's what the kids will be paying big bucks to hear this summer.

The "Street Party" for the Urban Hipster (Ages 25-35)

Within Denver city limits, big corporate festivals are pretty much the only game in town -- and that's a shame. A mass Moonie wedding has a greater sense of community than anything held here. Besides, how can you make friends and influence people when you're becoming one with the asphalt? And with beer as the most effective means of cooling yourself down, your propensity for bad choices increases exponentially.

Still, the AT&T-sponsored downtown music festival, now celebrating its eleventh year, draws the widest variety of names and (mostly interesting) bands, including this year's appearance by the Ohio Players. Granted, the band is merely a shadow of its hipper '70s self, but it's definitely a show to take the kids to: Isn't it time they knew what their parents once shook their groove thangs to? And it beats forcing them to look through several decades' worth of old photo albums, doesn't it?

The Blue-Collar Vanity Project (Ages 40-45)

While the inception of many music festivals can be attributed to a particular band's need to play anywhere, anytime, with unexpected results, the best example of this genre would be Hawgfest. Six years ago, morning-zoo-type radio personalities Lewis and Floorwax (an Ellis Island bastardization, perhaps?) expanded their day jobs at 103.5 The Fox to include their band, the Groove Hawgs. Thanks to a few connections, the group opened for the Doobie Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Things mushroomed from there, culminating in the Fox-sponsored Hawgfest, which will celebrate a half-dozen years of existence this summer. Catering to the Harley-Davidson and still-wearing-acid-washed-jeans set, Hawgfest features performances by David Lee Roth, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent, as well as two performances by the Groove Hawgs themselves, one on each day of the festivities, which take place in Winter Park. Everybody wins (according to musical tastes): Lewis and Floorwax get to strut their stuff at an event sanctioned by their bosses, the proceeds go to the duo's children's fund, and really, who else is hiring the Nuge to play these days?

The Relaxing Festival in the Snooty Mountain Town, Far Away From All Those Damn Kids (Ages 45 and up)

Oldsters looking for a respite from the obnoxious youth populating the Denver area, and also seeking good music in a temperate mountain hideout, should look toward Telluride, which boasts four big-deal festivals throughout the summer. Along with the internationally renowned jazz and bluegrass shindigs, there are also events for the chamber-music lover and those who love blues and beer. The Telluride Blues and Brews festival has grown noticeably over the past ten years, going from hosting only the String Cheese Incident in its first two years to this year including acts like the Allman Brothers, Buddy Guy and G. Love and Special Sauce (a nod to the younger folk who might wander in). Additionally, the festival now features the handiwork of more than forty Colorado microbreweries, which means that while you are still using beer as a cooling device (and culinary treat), you can just stagger to your (inevitably nearby) hotel room without having to worry about navigating Colfax Avenue while still under the influence of your lunch. Now, that's evolution.

Because Coloradans are so diverse, there's something for everyone this summer, no matter what your musical tastes. But if you don't see anything really interesting among this year's offerings, why not start your own festival? Invite a friend's band over to play in your back yard, slap something on the grill and get a keg. Who knows? Maybe ten years from now, we'll be poking fun at you, too.

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Melanie Haupt