Ten Up-and-Coming Outdoor Colorado Music Venues

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5. Alma, Colorado

At 10,578 feet above sea level, Alma is the highest incorporated municipality in the nation. The nineteenth annual Festival in the Clouds takes place July 16 and 17; the outdoor art and music festival usually hosts around 25 bands and forty artists each year. Given that the population’s only 300, the festival pretty much takes over the entire town – in a good way.

4. Side Yard, Gold Hill Inn
401 Main Street, Gold Hill (Boulder)

It’s exactly what it sounds like: a cute little space about the size of a playground. But it’s attached to the Gold Hill Inn, which has been around since 1872 and still serves great prix-fixe meals all summer long, as well as providing lodging and hosting for special events. The Yard has seen a number of stellar performances over the years, especially at annual events such as the upcoming Fourth of July Twang-Fest and barbecue, and the 27th annual Charles Sawtelle Mountain Jam on July 19, named for the late, great Hot Rize guitarist.

3. Challenger Golf Club
4905 County Road T, Crestone

Crestone, nestled up against the western flank of the Sangre de Christos, made a name for itself as a spiritual center; it's now home to a Carmelite monastery, a Zen center, a Hindu temple, and several new-age disciplines. “CrestFest,” set for August 14 through 16, has been going on for eighteen year, and always brings a wide-ranging, innovative selection of artists from around the world to play each year. In the past, artists such as Leon Russell, Edgar Winter, and Tower of Power have played here; this year, the headliners are the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The super-funkiest vibe of any festival on this list.

2. Jeff Guercio Memorial Ballfield
151 E Street, Nederland

Founded by “Michigan Mike” Torpie in 1996, NedFest outgrew its original home, Chipeta Park, rapidly, and has been staged on the Guercio ballfield ever since. It’s scheduled for August 26 through 28, and the lineup is always eclectic. This year it includes Taj Mahal, Paper Bird, and members of the String Cheese Incident. It’s just a ballfield (Idaho Springs’s Rapidgrass is staged on a similar one), but the small-town feeling is what makes the venue so pleasant.

1. Cottonwood Meadows
One mile west of Buena Vista on County Road 306

An as-yet-untested location. The inaugural Vertex Festival, slated for August 5 through 7, is an ambitious project that aims to create a complete festival experience from the ground up – a kind of pop-up, mountain Burning Man. There will be camping, a “village,” and a Creekside bazaar as well as music, set along a creek formerly occupied by tourist lodging and hot springs. The setting is breathtaking – but will the festival live up to its surroundings?

Other small festivals to keep an eye on: Palisade’s Bluegrass and Roots Festival; FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) in Salida; Rapidgrass in Idaho Springs; Meekerpalooza in Meeker; and the Golden Music Festival.

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Brad Weismann became an award-winning writer and editor after spending years as a comedian. He's written about everything from grand opera to movies for a diverse array of magazines, newspapers and websites worldwide.