Music Festivals

Five Points Jazz Festival and Project Pabst Come to Denver This Weekend

Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, a district known historically as a hotbed of the city’s musical entertainment, will host two separate music festivals this weekend: the Five Points Jazz Festival and Project Pabst. The jazz celebration, which started in 2004, is put on by Denver Arts & Venues and features many local artists, while the inaugural Project Pabst is sponsored by the titular beer company and focuses on a lineup of diverse national acts, with local-heroes-gone-global Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats headlining. Since the two daylong music fests take place only a short walk from each other — most of Project Pabst is concentrated in the RiNo district — it will be possible for fans to hear music at both events, or even for the seemingly disparate festival audiences to overlap and cross-pollinate. Maybe soul great Charles Bradley, slated to play Project Pabst, will saunter over for an impromptu set at the jazz fest. Just saying.

Five Points Jazz Festival
Where: Five Points neighborhood (26th and Welton streets)
When: Saturday, May 21; gates open at 11 a.m.
Price: Free
Featured Acts: The Jakarta Band, Ernest Washington, Buckner Funken Jazz Band, Gumbo le Funque, Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, Fire It Up Brass Band, Dan Treanor’s Afrosippi Band featuring Erica Brown, Janine Santana Latin Jazz, Max Wagner Quartet, Lynn Baker Quartet, Calixto Oviedo & the Cuban Jazz Train, Geoff Cleveland Quartet, Sheryl Renee Quartet, Ryan Fourt Quartet and Alex Heffron Quintet featuring Francesca Rubin

When the Five Points Jazz Festival started in 2004, it was a fairly small event that took place in the parking lot of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. The fest was a celebration of the Five Points neighborhood, once dubbed the “Harlem of the West,” and its jazz legacy; the area was home to clubs that brought in many a legend, from Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole to Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

Brooke Dilling, special-events coordinator for Denver Arts & Venues, says that the inaugural event drew a few hundred people; this year, she’s anticipating 30,000 attendees, depending on the weather.

While many of the festival’s thirty-plus acts are jazz bands, its scope has expanded to include Latin jazz, R&B, blues and funk acts, as well. In previous years, there have been four outdoor stages in addition to indoor stages, but Dilling says they’ve gotten rid of the stage in the youth area, opening that space for a number of kids’ activities, including a bouncy house, a giant slide, caricature artists, a pop-culture classroom and face painting.

“Three outdoor stages will only have a half-hour break between the music, so we’ll have more music than we’ve had at the festival before,” she adds. “We think it will keep things moving a little bit better to have a lot more music outside.”

The festival’s focus reflects that of Imagine 2020, Denver’s cultural plan to “really put art and culture in every area of our city,” Dillon explains. Part of that goal, she says, is “to support and help our musicians and artists make a livable wage. The majority of artists playing in the festival this year are local jazz musicians.”

This year’s festival kicks off with a New Orleans-style parade that starts at the Arts & Venues Stage (26th and Welton streets) and will be led by two grand marshals: Cleo Parker Robinson, head of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, and bassist Charles Burrell, a longtime jazz musician in Five Points and a classical-music pioneer. The Fire It Up Brass Band will play as the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble leads the second line down to the main stage (29th and Welton). Spectators are welcome to join in the second line. Fire It Up will then finish out the hour on the main stage.

The Five Points Jazz Festival gives out three awards every year to honor people who have contributed to jazz in Denver. This year’s awards will go to El Chapultepec founder Jerry Krantz, who passed away in 2012; DJ James “Dr. Daddy-O” Walker, who owned KDKO; and trumpeter Rod Buckner (of Buckner Funken Jazz Band), who has been performing and teaching music in Denver for more than three decades.

Project Pabst
Where: Larimer Street between 27th and 28th streets, indoor and outdoor stages
When: Saturday, May 21; gates open at noon
Price: $65
Featured Acts: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Violent Femmes, Charles Bradley, Best Coast, Baroness, Big K.R.I.T., FIDLAR
Extras: After-parties at Nocturne, Larimer Lounge, Cold Crush, Summit Music Hall and Marquis Theater, as well as kickoff shows on Friday, May 20

Although this will be the first iteration of the Project Pabst festival in Denver, its location on the 2700 block of Larimer Street has hosted festivals before, including last year’s Larimer Block Party. That fest featured Del the Funky Homosapien, Joywave, Badbadnotgood and others. The weekend of the LBP, PBR representatives were in town looking for a site to host Project Pabst. According to Scott Campbell (of the Larimer Lounge and Lost Lake Lounge), “They loved it because of how cool the neighborhood is, with the brilliant street art everywhere and all the cool businesses like Matchbox, Cold Crush, Meadowlark and Larimer that all sell a lot of Pabst.” Campbell says that he suggested a bigger site, but “they didn’t go for it. They love RiNo and the vibe.”

The festival will feature shows on indoor stages at Nocturne, Cold Crush, Meadowlark Kitchen, Meadowlark Bar and the Larimer, but the main events happen on two outdoor stages. The stages face each other at either end of the block, and the lineup is staggered so that the main-stage bands will never play at the same time or in competition with each other. Traffic will be diverted around the 2700 block of Larimer that day. “We worked with the neighborhood and the city to make it happen,” Campbell says. “I attend the RiNo neighborhood meetings on a regular basis to keep the community abreast of what we are doing and to make myself available. It’s a big day for Denver, with the 4/20 celebration going on downtown and the Five Points Jazz Festival.”

Project Pabst features an eclectic slate of artists, from the gritty punk of up-and-comers the Coathangers to the riveting old-school soul of Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. “The Pabst team are tastemakers,” Campbell says, “and they have a knack for identifying bands with electrifying live performances.” While hometown favorites like the Night Sweats and partly Colorado-based acoustic-punk band Violent Femmes have coveted slots, Campbell says the overall goal was to book a lineup “that reflects the amazing momentum in music that is going on nationwide right now.”

In addition to music, the festival will feature interactive installations like a giant pinball arcade and a giant unicorn, the event’s mascot. “We really wanted the neighborhood to feel like they were part of the festival,” Campbell says, so local businesses will be running special programs as well, such as Haven Salon's offering services to performers throughout the day.

Although it’s disappointing that one of the festival’s biggest draws — Courtney Barnett — had to drop out for a Saturday Night Live performance, Campbell isn’t worried; he’s too busy looking forward to future events in the energized district. “She can come back and play a festival another time,” he says.