Music Festivals

A Look at Denver's Tour de Fat Rehearsals

Tour de Fat — New Belgium's comedy, music, art, pageantry, beer-drinking, and bike riding fest — will be celebrating its fifteenth year later this summer. For the first time, the tour will visit ten cities, with as many as 25,000 attendees at each stop. The musical lineup for the Denver stop (September 12) includes the Suffers, the Reals, and headliners Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. The acts got a chance belt it out at the National Western Complex this past week for rehearsal, over four months in advance. 

At its roots, Tour de Fat is meant to get people excited about riding their bicycles, but it does so through a beer-hazed vaudeville variety act. The Denver stop of the tour will start with the popular costume bike parade, one that boasted over 10,000 people last year. Then it's back to City Park to drink beer, listen to music, and get weird. 

There is a lot going on. Matt Kowal, the mind behind the tour for the past 10 years, has his hands full. “What I’ve been really working to do as the Creative Director is try to get the message about bicycling to penetrate through such a dense event.” This message being, ride your bike more, or even exclusively, as Tour tradition ends the day with some brave souls swapping their cars for bikes for an entire year.

Among the challenges was finding rehearsal space — something that has gotten more and more difficult each year, as many of the empty warehouses and spaces in the Denver-metro area have been bought to serve as grow houses for cannabis and other commercial space. This year, Kowal called the National Western Complex to help. 

There was a mixed martial arts cage match going on during last week's Tour de Fat rehearsals, as well as an Alpaca trade show loading out. 

Once the unimaginable Alpaca mess was cleared, Tour de Fat got the big stadium. "We came up with some great puns," says Kowal. "Alpaca-lypse Now. You pack a breakfast, Alpaca lunch."The National Western Complex is a pretty cushy rental space. As it prepares for a decade of construction and renovation, there are even rumors of National Western putting in a bid for the 2024 Olympics. But the big stadium will remain. The New Belgium stage may have been a temporary addition, but it fit well in the space.

The extensive Tour show comprises all original content, which is why rehearsals are so important. Among the six variety acts are Yo-Yo master and comedian John Higby, the Daredevil Chicken Club and several members of the Blueman group. The Denver Tour will have three stages: the Le Tigre Grande main stage, Sputnik mobile side stage, and then an Illegal Pete's sponsored Colorado music stage. All proceeds from Tour de Fat Denver benefit Bike Denver and the Denver Cruisers, thanks to Molly North, director of Bike Denver, who works with New Belgium as an advocate for local biking non-profits.