The fall of Denver’s feature festivals

How will Denver fill the festival void? Illustration: Alex Gomez · The Sentry

Velorama and Grandoozy will not return in ‘19

Denver’s first major music festivals, Grandoozy and Velorama, have announced that they will not be returning to the Mile High city in 2019. While the former suggested that their departure will only be a temporary “hiatus” and is likely to return in 2020, Velorama seems to have fully abandoned Denver.

While Grandoozy was met with excitement by many local music-goers, it also faced controversy. Neighborhoods and commuters surrounding the Overland Park Golf Course didn’t prepare for the colossal number of attendees and traffic found at a festival of that size. Westword spoke to Overland resident Helene Orr, who threatened to sell her home if the festival were to persist in coming years. 

CU Denver MEIS student Lane Newlin disagrees with the criticisms of major festivals. He praises Grandoozy as “a really good way to bring culture and economic benefit to Denver.” However, he also acknowledges that the infrastructure might not be ready for large festivals like that in Overland Park. Andrew Ward, another MEIS student, agrees with Newlin on this point but also posits that “Some of these bigger festivals are opportunities for local bands to open up for these larger artists, which is a cool opportunity to branch out of Denver.” 

How will Denver fill the festival void? Illustration: Alex Gomez · The Sentry

This isn’t the first instance of a major festival abandoning the Denver scene, however, festivals like the Mile High Music Festival and Denver Riot Fest have tried and failed to adhere to the city for more than a couple years. 

The Denver Post’s music site, The Know, claims that the cause of these festivals’ flightiness stems from the distinct Rocky Mountain music scene itself. Of course, there’s Red Rocks, which already hosts nearly every artist that might partake the festival circuit, alleviating the need for a large-scale weekend festival like Grandoozy. At the same time, these festivals struggle to capture the dominant trends of the Denver scene as they schedule more generally appealing acts. The Post article cites the two most prevalent styles of music in Denver as jam and EDM, both of which appeal to die-hard niches that make up most of the audiences in the state. Large-scale festivals would have to forego mainstream acts in order to stake a long-term spot in Denver. 

This isn’t to say that Colorado is devoid of a festival scene. Smaller, locally-grown festivals, like ARISE, cater specifically to local EDM artists and jam bands, also incorporating a naturalistic ethos to fit the rocky mountain attitude. Telluride’s The RIDE Festival has been going strong since 2012, similarly combining a scenic mountain setting with “rootsy, rocking talent.” 

The lack of grandiose festivals may give space for these smaller festivals to flourish naturally. Events like the Underground Music Showcase are a great example of this, inviting a few mid-tier national acts like Alvvays and BJ the Chicago Kid in 2018 but mostly providing the space for local talent to perform.

Whether Grandoozy or some other major festival will return to Denver in the coming years, or if the city will continue to stick to independent local events, is uncertain.

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