Best of Denver

The Fest of Times

Summer is here, and for music lovers, that can only mean one thing: It's festival time! Love them or hate them, festivals are the quintessential summer music experience. Sure, it can be exhausting to spend an entire day (or two, or three...) at a concert, but there's nothing quite like seeing your five favorite bands one after another.

This summer in Colorado offers an almost overwhelming number of options for music fans, with several major festivals and an even greater number of niche events vying for your attention and disposable income. It would take a superhuman effort to catch them all, but here are some highlights you won't want to miss.

June 9, Broomfield

This day-long, family-friendly free concert in Broomfield Community Park gets summer off to a great start. Since the event started seven years ago, it's featured local bands on the rise, including the Fray, and this year's lineup looks just as promising.

Westword Music Showcase
June 14, Denver

Westword's own festival promises to be one of the best events of the season, as usual. This year, national acts Drive-By Truckers and Ra Ra Riot are the featured bands, but everyone knows this party is really all about letting the locals shine, with more than fifty of Denver's best bands playing on ten stages. Everything from winsome indie pop to blistering hardcore will be present, representing the healthy diversity and incredible talent of our homegrown scene.

Electric Daisy Carnival
June 14, venue TBD

At least 45 DJs, 6 live bands, 22 hours: Catch the rave of summer. This festival has been held in California since 2001; details for the Colorado incarnation (16 and up) have yet to be ironed out, but organizers promise full-sized carnival rides and a stocked bar. Glow sticks are optional.

Sonic Bloom
June 19-21, Winter Park

There's a surprising amount of crossover between the electronic dance-music world and the jam-band scene, and no festival celebrates that overlap better than Sonic Bloom. Highlights include the atmospheric jungle and breaks of Bassnectar, the improvised dance grooves of Zilla and the future hip-hop mutations of the Glitch Mob. Fusing the freewheeling spirit of jam-based acts with the dance-floor-driven aesthetics of electronic music, this festival offers a fresh take that frequently manages to tame the excesses of both scenes without losing the appeal of either one.

Telluride Bluegrass
June 19-22, Telluride

Now in its 35th year, the Telluride Bluegrass festival is a genuine tradition. The name should tip you off as to what to expect, but even if old-timey mountain music isn't quite your thing, there are still a few good reasons to head west. Acts such as Ryan Adams & the Cardinals and the Ani DiFranco Band will offer a less grassy sound, while Béla Fleck, Uncle Earl and Leftover Salmon get to the heart of what the festival is all about.

Colorado Music Festival
June 21 through August 1, Boulder

If you prefer your music to be Art with a capital A, the Colorado Music Festival is playing your tune. This six-week series focuses on classical, romantic and contemporary art music. Highlights this year include Beethoven Rocks, a series of all nine of the master's symphonies and one concerto (July 6-13), and the Colorado premiere of Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio, a contemporary work by Mark Grey and Laura Tohe. All that — plus pieces by Mahler, Brahms and plenty of other dead guys — should make for an excellent alternative to pop pleasures offered elsewhere.

SoCo Music Experience
June 28, Denver

Summer festivals can get expensive quickly, so it's nice of Southern Comfort to foot the bill for this one: The promotional touring festival is coming to the parking lot of Coors Field for a free day of whiskey-fueled tunes. Gnarls Barkley and Bassnectar are confirmed, and more acts are being added daily. The only catch is you have to be 21 — and willing to put up with a lot of advertising.

Mile High Music Festival
July 19-20, Denver

The brand-new Mile High Music Fest promises to be one of the summer's big draws. Perennial frat-boy favorite the Dave Matthews Band is the main attraction, but the lineup has plenty of depth. Those with a hankering for classic rock will be thrilled to catch Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; John Mayer, the Black Crowes and Steve Winwood are just a few of the other heavyweights on the bill. There are even a few splashes of local color, including Born in the Flood and the Flobots, with a bit of indie cred supplied by Spoon and Pinback.

September 6, Denver

So far, this acoustic-music festival organized by R.C. Griffin Jr. has a venue (Skyline Park on the 16th Street Mall) and a ticket price (free!), with more details to come. But since SunStock was named Westword's Best New Outdoor Concert in 2007, based on its inaugural year in Littleton's Clement Park, you'll want to make sure to save the date.

Telluride Blues and Brews Festival
September 12-14, Telluride

Monolith's indie rock is for the kids. For the older folks, the Blues and Brews Festival combines classic artists such as Etta James, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Canned Heat with a microbrew tasting on Saturday afternoon, near the halfway point of the event — and the "Juke Joints" concerts at venues around town help ensure that the party continues throughout the festival's three days and nights, offering a more affordable option for music lovers. Among the can't-miss acts: the insanely talented Derek Trucks, who plays solo and with the Allman Brothers.

Monolith Music Festival
September 13-14, Red Rocks

Say goodbye to summer and the festival season with the biggest, baddest local festival of all: Monolith. In just its second year, the festival has managed to assemble a truly epic lineup of the hottest indie acts in the world. Justice, TV on the Radio, Band of Horses and Vampire Weekend are among the big names; joining them will be dozens of lesser known and up-and-coming acts, including a healthy contingent of local favorites such as the Photo Atlas and Hearts of Palm. As a bonus, Monolith is at Red Rocks, one of the world's best concert venues.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato