Thousands of drunk and stoned people packed together can wreak a world of havoc — especially if their host is ill-prepared to receive them. But at Grandoozy, which took over Overland Park Golf Course from September 14 to 16, I saw none of the mistakes that can mar a music festival into oblivion.
Yes, it was hot. Some people didn't like that they had to buy clear bags to cart their stuff around. Others complained about bartenders shmoozing customers and holding up already long lines and outhouse doors not shutting properly. Still more complained about the lack of parking.
Transportation issues seemed to be the biggest hiccup in the otherwise smooth, enjoyable experience. I decided to test the three recommended modes of transportation, including ride-sharing, using public transportation and biking. On Friday, I spent $40.55 on an Uber that took an hour and a half to arrive, and on Saturday I found that the nearby RTD stops were too crowded. I chose to bike on Sunday, and it was by far the most enjoyable way to get to and from the festival. Superfly, Grandoozy's organizer, had even arranged a free bicycle valet that handed over my ride in less than a minute after the festival was over.
Though Grandoozy was billed in part as a food, arts and outdoors festival, the music was the standout experience. Artists from Miguel to Stevie Wonder to Kendrick Lamar to Mavis Staples electrified the audience and shared inspirational messages between songs.
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“It’s not about making any particular place great again,” Wonder said at his Sunday-night set, evoking Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. “It’s about making love great again.”
Perhaps it was the exhaustion I was feeling after standing in the sun for three days or the inevitable contact high I got from being around so much pot smoke, but as Wonder closed out Grandoozy and the temperature dropped, I found myself open to everyone — even the necking couples, drunk bros and cops that would usually infuriate me.
Lovers slow-danced, children played in the grass, drunks stumbled about. I didn't even mind the fans who were texting during Wonder's set or photographing, which he had prohibited.
Saturday headliner Florence + the Machine's Florence Welch used her set to not only bond with the audience, but to encourage her fans to connect with each other: to hold hands and embrace. Even the taken-aback man standing next to me who joked, “What’s she going to do next? Have us touch wieners?" eventually held hands with a stranger at Florence's behest.
Grandoozy had organized what it called "activations." There was the Flight School, an airline-themed bar. There was Devour Denver, otherwise known as the space where all the high-end restaurants and food trucks were slinging their best to hungry fans. There were a few pop-up walls where artists painted fresh murals each day (that were largely ignored, unfortunately). And there were outdoor-industry panels in a small building far from the music that didn't add much to the overall event. Each activation had its strengths and weaknesses, but they at least proved that Grandoozy worked with the community to make this an event fit for Denver.
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The main event was the music and the artists who brought more than their lyrics to the stage.
The Chainsmokers organized an over-the-top production full of fire and colorful lights. Florence Welch twirled on stage in her ghostly white dress, clutched the hands of her fans and talked about her anxieties. Fans screamed “Ay ay ay” in admiration as Snow Tha Product celebrated her Mexican identity and blasted Trump. Logic challenged a fan who knew every word to keep up while he attempted to throw her off; no matter how hard he tried, he failed to stump her. They pounded their heads to Cherry Glazerr and sang along to The Soul Rebels' brass-hip-hop-funk fusion.
Whether they were celebrating thirty years of De La Soul, standing in awe at Kendrick Lamar, or praying eardrums wouldn’t blow out as Bayonne’s bass blasted, they listened, open to the music. In those moments, no one was worried about how they'd be getting home.