As if the packed schedules at all the local venues weren't enough, Colorado had more festivals this year than we could keep track of. While not every one was worthy of a year-end mention, many were. From the small to the massive, from the noise to the punk, from the mountains to the city, here are our picks of the best festivals of the year.
Communikey April 10-13, Boulder, CO
Most music festivals don't have a specific conceptual guiding principal behind them. But for Communikey 2014, the phrase "Take Time," was the theme. As they explained it, the demands of the modern world have created a climate of artificial boredom, overtaxed reserves of emotional and physical energy and instant but meaningless gratification. Communikey's organizers took that idea seriously, finding ways in even the smallest details to relish the taking of time.
FoCoMX April 25-26, Fort Collins, CO
FoCoMX, a two-night celebration of northern Colorado's music scene, has a creative solution to the lack of proper venues in Fort Collins: Stuff musicians in every nook and cranny of downtown Fort Collins. The 150 bands and DJs of the festival play in bars, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, and the science museum; a handful spend their sets playing in the lobby of a movie theater. Some of the most interesting moments of the weekend happen in some of the smallest venues. Almost as interesting as the bands themselves is seeing the way the downtown transformed. While the Fort is rowdy with college students on any given weekend night, FoCoMx feels like a real community experience, with music streaming out of storefronts as you stroll down the street.
Denver Noise Fest is now one of the biggest of its kind in the country. And it isn't just harsh noise. The festival is a celebration of a love for weird noises, by a wide-ranging group of generous artists. This festival, and its artists, which feature local and national acts alike, demonstrate that noise, as a genre, is much more expansive than a guy with guitar pedals chained together or some hacked device used to spew aggressively fractured noises.
In late June, Telluride changes hands from locals to tourists to festivarians -- those that come from all over fro the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. From the crazy festival goers to the daily tarp run to the breathtaking views, it's no surprise this is one of the most popular festivals in Colorado. In addition, the single stage creates a laid back vibe, and plenty of time to socialize, explore, and even take a chairlift up to take in the view from above.
Sonic Bloom June 19-22, American Safari Ranch Sonic Bloom is an annual music and arts festival deep in the mountains, but that only scratches the surface. It's a jam-tronic party and the premier festival for Colorado electronica fans. Music aside, there's art galleries, live painting, hiking and a pre-party right in the heart of Denver.
Westword Music Showcase is always a good time, and 2014's edition brought over 11,000 people to the Golden Triangle to watch more than 150 bands of every possible variety. From King Khan and DIplo on the mainstage to local acts new and old packing every coffee house and bar in the Golden Triangle, it's a celebration of all the creativity Denver contains. This past year was the 20th anniversary, it was a pretty amazing party.
Real life stops at Ride festival. Sheer rock faces in the distance and a heavily forested backdrop for the small wooden stage make it easy to feel a sense of escape for a weekend. No wi-fi signal, no cell phones out, with the focus on music and the people around you -- the way a music festival should be. The strong lineup makes the festival feel something like a secret club. It's an eclectic mix, featuring everything from folk to rock and gospel to electronic. Now in its third year, the festival has built an audience of three and a half thousand that suits the vibe well. There is always room to dance or set your chair or sun shade with no competing for grass space.
Global Dance Festival -- by some metrics the largest EDM festival in the region -- brought a typically powerhouse lineup of bass purveyors to Red Rocks over for this year's addition. Over three days, thousands of fans flocked to the park for sets by the likes of Adventure Club, Zedd and Waka Flocka Flame (GDF has recently been experimenting with new genres). By all accounts, it was a solid progression for a music festival a decade-plus in existence.
Underground Music Showcase July 24-27, Baker Neighborhood
All festivals are focused on the music, but UMS always seems to be especially so. It's a four-day long party where every musician and fan in Denver converge to listen and enjoy. From ex-CU students StaG putting on three amazing shows to Spires saying goodbye and everything in between. This past year showed it is the festival to catch new bands and Denver staples, be it at the Hi-Dive, the outdoor stage, or some dedicated resident's backyard.
We named Denver Black Sky the best metal fest for a reason, it's huge. The second edition brought fury and aggression and plenty of fantastic metal music. Curated by lauded metal man Sherwood Webber, this was the must attend for metal fans. This past year included includes grind core legend Brutal Truth, Virginia thrash band Municipal Waste and affiliated band Cannabis Corpse, and many many more bands that would make any hardcore fan drool -- or maybe in this case scream.Folks Festival
August 15-17,Planet Bluegrass
Planet Bluegrass is nothing if not durable. That durability became a widely-disseminated story as the ranch and music festival operation in Lyons rebuilt when a historic flood utterly wrecked it last September. But this year's Rocky Mountain Folks Festival proved another kind of resilience, one that relates not to backhoes but to a line of people standing at the box office at midnight, swapping stories of Folks Festivals past. Planet Bluegrass, like many similarly minded organizations and bands, has earned enough loyalty to have developed a culture rich with specific traditions. Of its three major events (it also operates Telluride Bluegrass and RockyGrass), Folks is the youngest (this was its 24th installment) and least demonstrative of those traditions. Still, there are plenty of oddities and fun to be had.
Every August, a faithful crowd of thousands reports to Snowmass for a diverse musical lineup. The event has hosted the legendary likes of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. It's featured jam bands and accomplished jazz statesmen, up-and-coming singer-songwriters, local bands made good and reggae superstars. This year, the event, for it's 24th year, became an experience, but was still just as great, and focused. With its single stage, small roster of artists and roots as a nonprofit organization devoted to music education, the Labor Day gathering is distinct from other epic affairs, and makes it a unique experience for music lovers.
Goldrush Music Festival has always featured a meticulous lineup of local and national artists working with unusual sounds and approaches. This year was the biggest in the four-year history of Goldrush, with headliner Wolf Eyes joining a slew of other exceptional noisemakers on three stages at Larimer Lounge and the Meadowlark. One thing that sets Goldrush apart from so many other festivals is how none of the music overlapped, so that if you wanted to catch everything you could. That's not possible with a much larger production, but Goldrush is smaller and such considerations can easily be part of the planning. But it's also not aimed toward that large production or designed to be many things to a ton of people. And that was the vibe of Goldrush: inviting, but it demands a bit of you. It asks you to be open to something that isn't fully catering to established expectations.
Riot Fest September 19-21, Sports Authority Field This year, Riot Fest lost it's original home of Mays Farms in Byers, but found a new one at Sports Authority Field, and the quick venue change did nothing to stop the momentum of the riot. There were punks and rockers galore, as well as some softer bands, thousands of fans and even rides, carnival games and a mini golf course. It was also considerably bigger than last year, with three days instead of two and an added stage (bringing the total to four). The reunited bands and throwback performances of some classic albums (like Weezer's Blue Album and The Descendent's Milo Goes To College) helped make it one of the essential festivals this past year.
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