This august marks the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock, the seminal summer music festival pop culture has imprinted on our brains as a Mecca that called to peace-and-love seeking free spirits—hippie pilgrims, if you will—making their way to upstate New York as if called by a higher power. Drawn like moths to a figurative flame.
Ironic, then, that Woodstock 99 went down in flames of the most literal sense. I was there when it happened, and the bonfires sparked in the middle of the crowd as the Red Hot Chili Peppers left the stage, closing out the final night of the three-day music marathon.
The reality of the weekend should have scared me off festivals for life. From the moment we arrived, it was a bit of a shit show. And we found out after it was all over, the shit was real. Far too real. The misters we frolicked in to cool down from the soaring 100 degree temps had been contaminated by the overflowing porta potties. Everything was absurdly expensive; water was scarce; lines were never-ending; shade was nowhere to be found. By day three, piles of trash consisting of empty boxes that once held overpriced burritos and pizza covered the ground almost entirely. People were angry.
That was when a group lacking foresight started handing out candles for a peaceful ceremony of record-breaking size. Instead, the unhappy crowds used those candles to torch said trash while waiting for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to take the stage.
When the band did and saw what was happening, they did what any responsible decent humans would do: try to stop what was a disaster in the making.
They broke into a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” as flames grew into a bonfire in the center of the crowd.
Just kidding. They broke into a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” as flames grew into a bonfire in the center of the crowd. A hellish sight that sent panic coursing through the collective consciousness, and a burst of survival instincts sent my friends and me running for safety. People rioted, looted the ATMs, destroyed vendor tents. It was scary, it was intense, and it should have turned me off music festivals for life.
Nope! Music festivals are a rite of summer passage, gathering people seeking to immerse their senses in happiness of all sorts—and that applies to every genre I’ve had the chance to experience so far. No matter the type of music that tickles your fancy and dominates your Spotify, there’s a festival in Colorado for you.
Without further lead in or ado, here are three of the highlights from July 2019—each all but guaranteed to not be lit on fire by rioting masses. Whether or not it’s lit in a metaphorical sense is up to you. Go have fun.
Jam Bands: RIDE Fest
July 12–14 // Telluride // ridefestival.com
This destination fest, now in its eighth year, takes place in one of the most stunning settings anywhere. Telluride is perhaps the most picturesque mountain town in the country, and RIDE Fest is smack dab in the middle of it. Surrounded by fourteeners on three sides, Colorado’s favorite cul-de-sac is a little harder to get to than most towns, but the effort is worth it.
Perhaps because of the remote location or because of the attendees the lineup attracts, RIDE is a super chill gathering. Concert goers can bring their own coolers, tents, chairs and other creature comfort-supporting items into the venue, allowing for ample enjoyment during all three days.
This year’s lineup is heavy on jamming rock-and-roll. Widespread Panic kicks off the festival on Friday night for the first of a two-night set; Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit closes it all out on Sunday, and bands like Big Something, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Temperance Movement, and more take the stage in between.
Since its debut in 2012, RIDE Festival has quickly garnered a reputation among music fans for its thoughtful performance curation—handpicking rootsy, rocking talent whose music flawlessly compliments setting. Past performers include Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow, the Lumineers, Grace Potter—you get the type.
General Admission weekend passes go for $225, and single days range from $75 to $110. There are discounted lodging rates for festival goers, and camping is always an option.
EDM: Global Dance Festival
July 19–20 // Denver // globaldancefest.com
Get on a first-name basis with Denver’s landmark EDM festival. Global returns to Denver this month for two nights filled with electric beats, carnival rides, and colorful crowds. Held at Red Rocks for over a decade, GDF moved to the southern side of Broncos Stadium at Mile High in 2017, where it has more room for mind-expanding music, art, and attractions. Topping this year’s bill are Diplo and a joint set by Excision and Illenium. With multiple stages and state-of-the-art production, the fest’s lineup also includes Kaskade, SHU, and other big names that if you’re into EDM you probably already know are going to be there and if you don’t won’t mean much to you anyway.
The experience is varied and immersive, with striking flame-throwing art installations, heart-beat-raising rides, a silent disco, and other hidden gems to delight and surprise as attendees wander between stages. Roaming dancers, stilters, circus performers, and other costume-clad artists appear among the crowd, encouraging people to frolic along. General Admission Tier 1 and 2 are sold out as of press time; Tier 3 starts at $159.
July 26-28 // Lyons // bluegrass.com/rockygrass
The internationally known pickers fest in an eye-candy location is the center of the bluegrass universe every July, as it has been for 47 years and counting. It takes place in Lyons, an historic quarry town in the Rocky Mountain Foothills, where the iconic Planet Bluegrass venue is set under the red rock cliffs on the wooded banks of the St. Vrain River.
With only about 5,000 attendees, there’s an intimate vibe and sense of community. Highlights of the weekend include contests, workshops, and special performances in the 300-seat Wildflower Pavillion, along with great food, the Colorado state bluegrass championship, a family tent, and more.
But perhaps the biggest draw of is the chance to float on an inner tube while listening to some killer tunes while in the company of some great people. At night, jam circles in the woods add a bit of magic to the experience, enhanced even more by the sound of music echoing off the canyon walls.
The lineup this year features a lot of different artists over three days, including Soggy Bottom Boys, Sam Bush Bluegrass Bands, Punch Brothers Play & Sing Bluegrass, the Barefoot Movement, and others. Single-day tickets start at $75, a camping spot for an extra $50—but move quickly to snag some before they sell out.