Workers have been sweating for the past few days under the glare of the Colorado sun, erecting stages, climbing scaffolding, rigging lights, testing cameras and, as one Grandoozy rep put it, building an entire city in less than a week — a city that will be taken down just as fast.
If all goes as planned, Grandoozy — Bonnaroo promoter Superfly’s three-day Denver music festival boasting one of the city's most high-profile lineups of 2018 — should come off as effortless. Nobody will be thinking about all the toil these non-union workers put into pulling off such a feat; fans will be dancing along to their favorite artists and enjoying the various cultural and culinary offerings. With so much joy to be had, who’s thinking about the people who lugged the makings of this fantasyland to the Overland Park Golf Course? Nobody.
Too bad. It’s hard work — and mostly thankless — like most behind-the-scenes labor in the music industry.
The buildings, stages and tents that have popped up on the Overland Park Golf Course are made of up of tens of thousands of components screwed and wired and tied by people most of the musicians will forget to acknowledge; after the weekend, all this will be unscrewed, untied and transported out by another army of people. The grass itself will be repaired, and the course will be handed back to the golfers in better condition than it was found, Superfly has pledged.
Unlike other festivals — say, Westword Music Showcase or the Underground Music Showcase — that set up in well-trodden areas of Denver, Grandoozy is taking place in a relatively unknown, quiet corner of the city with little traffic — so little traffic that the festival, which is hoping to attract tens of thousands of people, has no onsite or nearby parking. That’s a grand doozie for attendees in a car city where allergies to riding public transit and biking abound.
All that means that there will be more unappreciated workers making this thing happen: Uber and Lyft drivers, bike valets and already overtaxed RTD operators making sure festival-goers actually go. No parking also means more grumbling customers throwing temper tantrums — never a good response, but always a predictable one.
Bags of trash, recycling and compost will be hauled off, merch and booze and food will be sold, setups will be erected and broken down by people in the shadows, and guards will put their bodies on the line trying to keep fans safe from each other. Some workers will be screamed at, bullied, perhaps even threatened by indignant entitled customers; many will be brushed aside or never noticed.
Union or not, obviously, the workers are paid. And sure, Grandoozy’s providing water and food for staff, according to a spokesperson — but that just keeps people from passing out. Dealing with nagging fans? Somebody should give staff a shrink session or ten.
Whether attendees are there for headliners Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar or Florence + the Machine or local acts like Gasoline Lollipops and AMZY or legacy acts like De La Soul, the chances that most audience members will take a break from three days of partying and genuinely thank one of the people who make this event happen is low. But they should.
And not just if things go perfectly — they probably won’t. After all, it’s the first year of a massive music festival.
“Friday will be a learning experience,” says the festival’s executive producer David Ehrlich, who has done the bulk of negotiations with neighbors — both enthusiasts and detractors. He expects lessons to be learned and everything to be running flawlessly by Saturday.
Local nonprofits have space at the event. Youth on Record will be setting up an onsite recording studio; Mo' Betta Green MarketPlace will be showcasing its urban farming business. Levitt Pavilion, the adjacent amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park that offers more than fifty free concerts each summer and which Ehrlich says has received $25,000 from a Grandoozy neighborhood foundation, will serve as a staging ground. Restaurants like music-scene champion Illegal Pete's and various distilleries and breweries will share the festival grounds with massive corporations.
At a Thursday media tour, when Ehrlich caught me shooting a photo of the Capital One Cardholders Lounge — probably aware I would write something snarky about it, he pulled me aside to note all the local restaurants that would be dishing up food.
“We focus very highly on local,” he said, and he’s right.
Grandoozy’s aspirations to celebrate the local don't detract from the prominent messaging of mega-corporate sponsors. Good thing for them. And at least the Capital One branding throughout the grounds is authentic in its full-throttle embrace of capitalism. That starkly contracts the hokiest spot — the Bud Lite Dive Bar, the sorriest corny excuse for a dive bar I’ve ever seen.
Those gripes aside, Grandoozy — an out-of-state import — is offering something unique in Denver: a space to celebrate creativity apart from the rest of the city, a sanctuary from the bustle of daily life, and a lineup of music that more than justifies ticket prices.
If people show up, Grandoozy looks like it’s going to be more than a doozy. It should be a good time.
Now, off to the festival.
Grandoozy, September 14 to 16, Overland Park Golf Course, 1801 South Huron Street.