Sad Summer Festival Returning to Denver for Fifth Anniversary Show | Westword
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Sad Summer Fest Returns to Denver for Fifth-Anniversary Show

"When Warped came to an end, it felt natural for bands like The Maine and Mayday Parade to pick up the mantle and try to build something in its place.”
The Mayday Parade will return to Denver with the Sad Summer Festival.
The Mayday Parade will return to Denver with the Sad Summer Festival. Bridget Craig
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When the iconic Warped Tour folded in 2018 after an incredible 23-year run, Brooks Betts and the other members of veteran emo band Mayday Parade wondered, “'Well, what do we do now?' We were used to having a two-month run filling up our summer," Betts remembers.

Having basically grown up on the Warped Tour since its inception in 1995, and having performed regularly at Warped since forming as a band in 2007, the musicians wanted to “carry the future of pop punk and emo on for a new generation of kids and younger bands,” Betts says. Their sentiment was shared by friends and tourmates in The Maine, and Sad Summer Fest was born in 2019 out of that sense of loss and a desire to fill the void.

Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, Sad Summer is returning to Denver for the first time since its inaugural year; it will be at Mission Ballroom on Tuesday, July 16. In the meantime, the festival has become one the most consistent, well-run and popular traveling summer tours for the emo-pop-punk-alternative crowd. In fact, it’s one of the few tours still traveling to multiple cities, in contrast with iconic fests such as Bonnaroo, Coachella and When We Were Young, which are single-location events. The Denver show will include headliners The Maine and Mayday Parade — performing together for the first time in five years — along with the Wonder Years, We the Kings, Knuckle Puck, Daisy Grenade and Like Roses.

Mike Marquis, festival co-founder and agent with Creative Artists Agency, says he “grew up in the punk scene and went to the Warped Tour every year. It was a rite of passage to be a part of it. Warped was the one opportunity for this kind of music to get that exposure and have a platform. So when Warped came to an end, it felt natural for bands like The Maine and Mayday Parade to pick up the mantle and try to build something in its place.”

And so, Sad Summer Fest was born.

This fifth-anniversary tour feels special to Marquis, and the most like the first year; organizers wanted to return to the original format and lineups. “Let’s celebrate being around five years later,” Marquis says.

Jared Monaco, guitarist for The Maine, feels the same way. “Our band was raised on summer festivals; we grew up in the summer tour circuit," he notes. Those early years on Warped were formative ones for the band's members, and with the obvious void following the tour's demise, they looked forward to carrying on the culture, camaraderie and tradition. “Mike Marquis is such a pivotal force in making it happen,” Monaco says.

Touring with Mayday Parade is appealing for the chance to get back on the road with good friends, and the bands “have the luxury of a shared fan base," he continues. The tour is also developing a sense of community across generations, as “people who’ve known us since the beginning are coming to the show and even bringing their kids," Monaco adds.

Sad Summer Fest is a unique musical offering, filling an emo-pop-punk niche that has seen a resurgence in the years since the pandemic. And with the alliteration and the irony, it has one of the best tour names out there.

“Yeah, Sad Summer definitely reflects the genre,” Betts agrees, laughing. “You know, we write sad songs.” All the bands are connected through the genre, and “emo music is emotional, and humans are attracted to sad music. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism,” he speculates.

“To listen to sad songs and realize you’re not alone" — especially within the communal nature of concerts — “that’s why we make music,” he adds. “Whatever our backgrounds, whether it's angsty or rebellious, we’re not hiding our feelings.”

Sad Summer Fest is also unique in its one-stage format, so that each band gets the benefit and attention of the full audience. That necessitates smaller venues and also having “stuff to do” between bands.

“For the Denver show, the folks at AEG have been great, building an outdoor courtyard, so the show has an indoor-outdoor space,” Marquis notes. The bands and festival organizers leaned into having exclusive cool merch, too, and the groups try to hang out and support each other. There’s a “Barbie Box-like” structure for photos, making Sad Summer Fest a perfectly Instagrammable event; there's even been a festival bouncy castle.

"While the show has hints of nostalgia for fans who grew up in emo and pop punk, we’re not just looking back," Marquis says. "We always try to have new artists for the next generation.”
click to enlarge band with five musicians in dar.
The Maine will be at Mission Ballroom on July 16.
Lupe Bustos
An integral part of Sad Summer Fest is collaboration with social organizations and nonprofits. “It’s important that the tour is about more than just making money,” Marquis explains. To that end, the tour has partnered with the Ally Coalition, dedicated to supporting and improving the lives of LGBTQ+ young people; the festival will donate $1,000 to the Ally Coalition for every day of the tour.

“In the fifth year of Sad Summer Fest, we are excited to be partnering with more nonprofits than ever before," says Chelsea Dunstall, who leads the activist team. "I believe the impact of the tour can extend beyond music, and we have a responsibility to use our platform to highlight important issues, and those doing the crucial work within those spaces.”

Dunstall partners with local groups, giving away tickets and providing a platform for important messages. “If you're trying to be a part of kids’ lives, then having these connections matters a lot," Marquis notes.

HeadCount and Punk Rock Saves Lives will have representatives in Denver helping with voter registration and the national bone-marrow registry. The tour is also committed to reducing the single-use plastic waste at music festivals, so it’s partnering with REVERB to raise money for the Rock-n-Refill program. All festival staff are participating in the #HereForTheMusic training program through Calling All Crows as well, to help ensure that shows are safe, consent-based spaces.

One more offering new this year is a raffle. Fans who arrive before 2:30 p.m. will receive a ticket, and later that afternoon, the festival mascot, a bear named Saddington, will come on stage and award one concert-goer a $1,000 Visa gift card.

“It’s a cool, fun fresh idea,” says Marquis. “As producers, we want the crowd there earlier to experience and enjoy the whole day.”

Sad Summer Festival 2024, Tuesday, July 16, Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street. Tickets are $59 for general admission.
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