As local music fans may know, our festival scene has managed to lose two of its highest-profile events. In 2010, Red Rocks' two-day, indie-centric Monolith Festival pulled the plug due to the previous year's bad weather and worse box office.
Monolith's demise left a significant void when it comes to indie and alternative music, one that the comparatively mainstream Mile High Music Festival could easily have incorporated into its own two-day schedule. But instead, last year's Mile High lineup ended up even less diverse than in years past, with mainstream warhorses like Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Steve Miller, Rusted Root and Train dominating the event.
In uncertain economic times, playing it safe must have seemed like the best way to go, even for a company like AEG Live, whose pockets were deep enough to handle Michael Jackson's comeback tour. (The company reportedly collected on a Lloyds of London insurance policy it had taken out on Jackson's life.) But earlier this year, organizers put Mile High on indefinite hiatus anyway.
So if one of the country's two biggest promoters can't keep a festival going, what are the chances that anyone else can?
Quite good, actually. It's just that in today's atomized music market, the biggest and blandest common denominator is no longer the best bet. Maybe it never was.
All of which brings us to this year's Front Range summer offerings. While festival season technically began with last weekend's Llamapalooza festival on the Colorado College campus, there's still plenty more where that came from.
Like, for instance, the MeadowGrass Music Festival, which runs from May 27 through 29 and features artists like Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band (see interview, p. 60), former X-man John Doe, Frazey Ford, D.B. Rielly, and much more in the pastoral splendor of Black Forest's La Foret Conference & Retreat Center.
Also essential to any summer plan is Blues Under the Bridge. The always-impressive celebration of 12-bar blues and passing trains will keep on rolling this year with headliners the Holmes Brothers and Otis Taylor on July 16. The Harlem-based sibling act is most likely the greatest gospel-soul crossover since the Staple Singers. And Chicago-by-way-of-Boulder bluesman Taylor needs no introduction in these parts, having won hearts, minds and souls by using his banjo to create a rootsy yet intensely original approach to the blues. Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys and Eden Brent round out the bill.
For the more internationally inclined, there's the highly recommended annual World Music Series, which is held at either CC's Armstrong Hall or the adjacent quad, depending on weather and such. This year's free series kicks off June 6 with Mexican Institute of Sound, who are led by DJ Camilo Lara. Then it's Khaïra Arby, who's Ali Farka Touré's cousin and collaborator, on July 27, followed by Brazilian chanteuse Luisa Maita on Aug. 24.
You'll also want to check out this summer's schedule at the wonderfully scenic Denver Botanic Gardens. Their must-see show this year will feature New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Buckwheat Zydeco, who'll bring the bayou to town on July 15. (If you can't get up to Denver, the latter two acts will be coming here to play outside the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center on July 14, though it'd be a shame to miss Toussaint.)
Other Botanic Gardens highlights include Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings on June 1, India.Arie on July 21, and Rosanne Cash on July 29.
Red Rocks is a pretty nice venue, too, from what I hear. This summer's lineup is a completely schizophrenic mix that includes Peter Gabriel on June 13; the Avett Brothers with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals on July 9; the Flaming Lips on Aug. 3, and two nights of Kings of Leon on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, as well as your minimum yearly requirements of classic rock acts and spaced-out jam bands. This year's essential Red Rocks show, since you asked, is the Family Vacation Tour on Aug. 19, which features top acts from Minneapolis underground rap label Rhymesayers, including Atmosphere and Blueprint.
Returning closer to home, there are tons of absolutely free evening performances throughout the summer, beginning with a Saturday concert series at Acacia Park featuring some of the Springs' best musicians.
The series opens with Out to Dry and Broken Spoke (June 4), followed by Lisa Show with Lindsay Weidmann and Jeremy Facknitz (June 11), Burn the Maps with Tina Collins & Her Pony (June 18), the Mitguards and Mango fan Django (June 25), the Hydes and Edith Makes a Paper Chain (July 2), Grant Sabin with John Alex Mason & Friends (July 9), Joe Johnson and Changing Colors (July 23), the Flumps and HEADHUM (July 30), and Tango Red Tapestry with El Toro de la Muerte (Aug. 6).
Christ, I hope I typed all that right.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday nights, Hillside Gardens & Nursery is continuing its own free series of evening performances, which will include the Lo-Fi Cowboys (July 27), Chuck Pyle (Aug. 10), Big Valley String Band (Sept. 14), Big Jim Adam (Sept. 21), and more than a dozen other area talents.
Friday nights? That would be the time to venture out to the park in front of the Cinemark at Powers Boulevard and North Carefree Circle for the succinctly named Seventh annual First & Main Free Summer Concert Series. There you'll find Phat Daddy & the Phat Horn Doctors (June 3), Tempa & the Tantrums (June 17), Young Austin & No Difference (July 8), and BJ Estares & Route 61 (July 22), along with a bunch of bands who have chosen not to put ampersands in their names.
OK, here's a weird one: Locals Barber Shop, which has been doing the occasional indoor concert, will step outdoors this summer for a Frontyard Concert Series. Dates booked so far include The Field. The Ocean. and Take It to Eighty Eight on June 4; Lost Point and the Frequency on June 11; and Juke Joint Cruisers on July 23.
A few other ideas
There are additional options, of course, including the Vans Warped Tour, that venerable caravan of dudes who whine, skank and scream, which pulls into Invesco Field at Mile High on Aug. 5. Down in Pueblo, there's Bluegrass on the River from June 3 through 5, as well as the Colorado State Fair, which runs from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 and serves up familiar favorites like the Beach Boys, Martina McBride and Los Lobos.
And finally, for those who insist that their festivals bear a corporate media stamp of approval, there's the Westword Music Showcase on June 18, and the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, which takes place July 21-24.
Artists who'll be playing this year's UMS include the Springs' own El Toro de la Muerte, a host of national touring acts like Ha Ha Tonka, Mark Mallman, the Bottesini Project, Photo Atlas and the Royal Bangs; plus a few hundred other bands neither of us has ever heard of.
As for Westword's event, which bills itself as "Denver's Biggest One-Day Music Festival," be sure to catch headliners Chromeo, Yo La Tengo and Del the Funky Homesapien, along with a sampling of some 150 Denver acts scattered across town.
Hey, maybe Mile High and Monolith won't be so badly missed after all.