Two years ago, local bluegrass band Trout Steak Revival shot the music video for their song "Brighter Every Day" on land nestled among the mountains in Buena Vista, Colorado. Later, they heard through the rumor mill that a music festival was being planned for the 274 acres. They couldn't believe it.
“We were hearing about the festival and they were saying ‘oh, the stage will go over there’ and we were looking at this cluster of cottonwood trees like ‘no way,” says Trout Steak Revival's mandolin and guitar player Steve Foltz.
But Cottonwood Meadows ranch owner Jed Selby knew that a three-day festival with stages, vendors, art installations and high-energy music would work on his property.
Selby was right. The first-ever Vertex Festival, held August 5-7, proved to be a quintessential slice of Colorado, attracting open-minded attendees to gather in the company of good friends and good music.
At the ranch, past rows of cars and campsites, was a musical oasis. In the morning, electronic beats wafted from a hot-air balloon structure on the “beach,” which had been constructed along Cottonwood Creek. String lights crossed from tree branches over make-shift living rooms, and food trucks and vendors were everywhere.
One stage hosted yoga classes each morning and music in the evening while headliners rotated between the two main stages, set-up across from each other. The weekend’s schedule allowed attendees to enjoy as much music as possible, as there weren't any conflicting set times.
Denver native and festival attendee Calvin Smith noted the convenience of the overall set up. “Having such a small affair and being able to waltz 50 yards to the next stage is awesome,” Smith explained. “[You] could skip to the front or hang in the back, no problem.”
The weekend’s line-up boasted headliners spanning genres from rap to bluegrass, rock and roll to electronic. Stand-out performances came from the Emancipator Ensemble, Lettuce, Anderson .Paak, Rüfüs du Sol and Odesza.
High-energy and enthusiasm were some characteristics artists expected from Colorado audiences. “Colorado people…I feel like they dance very unpretentiously,” Sajeeb, who performs as Jai Wolf, says. “No matter what music is playing, they’re always down.”
The Revivalists felt it was a no-brainer to perform at Vertex. “Maybe it’s the air, maybe it’s the beautiful nature, but [people in Colorado] are just open to different types of music,” drummer Andrew Campanelli said. “They appreciate people who are [making music] earnestly so it attracts really good music of all kinds.”
Uniting under a passion for music, attendees of all ages took part in the familiar and unfamiliar, whether it was watching a new band perform or going on a rafting field trip off-site. Eddie and Kim Logsdon, a couple from Denver, first heard about the festival from the land owners (they're all acquaintances) but agreed the music sealed the deal. “I’m a sound engineer and know [Selby] through mutual connections in the industry,” Eddie explained. “But for us, it’s all about the music. Odesza was great, but Lettuce is what did it for me. They brought it all style-wise from New Orleans funk to classic R&B. It’s close to a DJ, but they’re doing it live.”
“People here really love music,” Lettuce guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff explained. “They are very appreciative of the artists and are very kind and genuine. That genuineness is something really beautiful and I think Colorado is full of it.”
The bands also appreciated the relative remoteness of the festival location.
Rüfüs du Sol hails from Sydney, Australia. “A lot of the bigger festivals in Sydney and Melbourne, they’re great and everything, but it’s really nice to get away somewhere,” drummer James Hunt explained. “Here you can really switch your phone off and have a chance to be here. [Vertex] is tailored to an actual experience instead of being just a bill of music acts.”
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