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Summer Guide: Ten Best Outdoor Music Venues in Colorado — 2016 Edition

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Summer is finally here, and few things pair more perfectly with Colorado’s scenery than great music. Fortunately, the state has long been a destination for musicians, and some of the most stellar concert experiences have taken place here under the stars...or in bright sunshine, or rain or snow. A few tips for newbies: Bring a blanket, plenty of layers of clothing, and rain gear. Recreational drinking and smoking is a whole new ballgame at elevation, so pace yourself, party monster, lest you end up in the first-aid tent. And be good guests: Don’t despoil the landscape. In alphabetical order, here are ten of the most beautiful outdoor music venues in Colorado.

10. Benedict Music Tent
960 North Third Street, Aspen

The Aspen Music Festival is one of the most prestigious classical-music festivals in the country and has nearly reached its seventieth anniversary. Stravinsky, Ellington, Britten and Copland have taken center stage here; this summer, artists such as Renée Fleming, Midori and Sarah Chang will join the list. The crystal-clear air of Aspen is perfect for hearing orchestral harmonies. And don’t forget the Jazz Aspen Snowmass festival!

9. City Park Bandshell
1700 York Street

The original City Park Pavilion dates back to 1882, but the current building went up in 1929, as did the Bandshell. Once the site of genteel brass and wind ensembles, the shell now hosts City Park Jazz over the summer. This year, audiences will be treated to local faves such as Lannie Garrett, Hazel Miller, Otis Taylor, Chris Daniels and many more. The sound booms out over Ferril Lake at dusk, rolling across the broad lawn to the foot of the Museum of Nature & Science. Events like these bring out the small-town spirit of the Mile High City.

8. Fir Summit Amphitheater
La Veta Pass, Huerfano County

There’s only one way to get to the show: You have to take the train. Passengers at Alamosa and Fort Garland can board the Rio Grande and chug to the top of La Veta Pass, where they disembark and enjoy a Mountain Rails Live concert. Barbecue, beer and good acoustic music is the order of the day at the venue, and this summer (the program’s ninth), guest artists include the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Michael Martin Murphey and the Burrito Brothers.

7. Fred Shellman Memorial Stage
500 East Colorado Avenue, Telluride

The most breathtaking setting in the country in more ways than one. The “Town Park” stage, as it’s also known, was thrown together for the town’s first Bluegrass Festival, in 1974. (Telluridian Fred Shellman played it as part of the Fall Creek Boys.) Now that Telluride’s calendar is filled with all kinds of festivals, the well-used stage is getting its fourth upgrade and expansion just in time for this year’s season. At 8,750 feet above sea level, set in a box canyon in sight of beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride demands that you take it easy, kick back and enjoy.

6. Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
530 South Frontage Road East, Vail

This awesomely designed, fan-shaped, cantilevered structure neatly splits the 3,000 seats between covered rows and the open-air slope behind them. Long the home of the Vail International Dance Festival, the Ford’s summer’s programs also include the Bravo! Vail Music Festival, which features guest artists such as violinist Joshua Bell with the Academy of St. Martin in the Field, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Eight Hot Summer Nights concerts will bring more contemporary artists such as Cracker and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe to the stage.

Read on for five more of the most beautiful outdoor music venues in Colorado.
5. Hudson Gardens & Event Center
6115 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton

One of the area’s best-kept secrets, this thirty-acre garden was in private hands until 1996 and just recently began staging concerts. The 3,250-person venue will see acts such as Super Diamond, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Foreigner this summer.

4. Planet Bluegrass Ranch
500 West Main Street, Lyons

Attendees of the beloved annual RockyGrass Festival and the up-and-coming Folks Festival know that this place holds the epitome of the festival experience. Fans camp, eat and shop here, jam together, go tubing down the St. Vrain, which skirts the grounds, and, oh yeah, listen to the music. The spot holds two stellar stages: The main stage, which entertains the 3,000 or so fans that it can fit; and the new, exquisite all-wood Wildflower Pavilion, which has open sides but can function in winter, too. The twenty-acre site is also founder Craig Ferguson’s home; the day after the devastating flood of 2013, Ferguson bought a bulldozer and started rebuilding. Now Planet Bluegrass is better than ever.

3. Red Rocks Amphitheater
18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison

The gold standard, Red Rocks is simply one of the best concert venues in the world. This natural setting is acoustically perfect: You can hear someone speaking unamplified on stage clearly from the top of the 9,525-seat auditorium. The titanic, weathered sandstone bluffs that frame the stage are awe-inspiring, seemingly unreal. (They also inspire climbers, but avoid the temptation: Many climbers have been hurt or killed trying.) Acts slated for this year’s concert season include Bob Dylan, LCD Soundsystem, the Flaming Lips and more. The venue also hosts the fabulous Film on the Rocks series.

2. Reservoir Hill Park
Park and San Juan Streets, Pagosa Springs

One of the most basic venues on the list, and one of the most beautiful. What is basically a tent set up in a park overlooking the town of Pagosa Springs, Folk West hosts, among other events, the Four Corners Folk Festival — the new go-to fest for artists such as Del McCoury and Sara Watkins, both of whom will be there this summer — and the Pagosa Springs Folk ’n’ Bluegrass, which will feature acts such as Tony Furtado and the Railsplitters.

1. UMB Bank Amphitheatre, Denver Botanic Gardens
1007 York Street, Denver

This unique stage sits at the center of four canted, grassy slopes nestled at the heart of Denver’s jewel-box arboretum. Given the DBG’s inner-city location, the fare is quieter and more mellow here. This summer’s lineup includes appearances by Marc Cohn, the Steep Canyon Rangers and George Benson, among others.

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