by Eric Elkins –
Summer in Colorado is all about being outside. Hiking, camping, patio sipping, al fresco dining, lazy days by a rooftop pool. The dry heat and sun have truly settled in, with the cooling punctuation of afternoon rainstorms breaking up the day.
And the faceted festivals across the state roll out week after week, with something fun to experience all the way into September, when the days stay warm but grow a little shorter.
How to decide where to spend your precious weekends of warmth and wonder? Just depends on what you love.
Whether you want to taste a ton of seasonal brews or dig into bites of locally sourced treats, Colorado still has quite a few food festivals left this season.
The Slow Food Nations festival is celebrating another big year in Denver July 19-21. This year’s theme celebrates “Where Tradition Meets Innovation,” and you won’t want to miss the Taste Marketplace in Larimer Square, where the street is shut down to celebrate a diversity of cultures and traditions while advocating for “good, clean, and fair food.” Supported by workshops, talks, and other festivities, the three-day experience will leave you with deeper intention about what you eat and why.
If you’re on the Western Slope of Colorado, you’ll want to hit up the Palisade Peach Festival from August 15-18 (see page 14 for more details about peach season), but don’t miss the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival about an hour down the road at Montrose County Event Center on August 3. Celebrate the joys of those precious kernels and live music all day while supporting local nonprofits.
If you’re in Downtown Denver on August 15 and are hit with the smell of grilled meat wafting through the city, hoof it over to RARE, the Denver Steak Championships, in the Galleria space at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Help judge the steak stylings of more than 20 Denver chefs as they compete to serve perfect bites paired with unique cocktails. With both classic and traditional competitions, RARE is going to be very well done.
And at the end of August, over Labor Day Weekend, be sure to attend The Taste of Colorado in Civic Center Park, where you’ll dig into menu items from 50-plus local restaurants. With sample bites or full dishes, you can stroll and graze for three days straight. If that’s not entertaining enough, stick around for live music, arts and crafts booths, and activities for the kids.
Finally, the Denver Food and Wine Festival runs September 4-8, and it’s an elevated experience. The Grand Tasting at the Pepsi Center Fairgrounds hosts more than 40 Colorado restaurants with hundreds of wine and spirits to go with the fancy dishes. Other events over the course of the four days include wine seminars, The Shakedown bartender competition, a brunch festival at the Dairy Block, and even Dinner Under the Stars. Colorado’s food scene just gets better and better, and this festival showcases just how that’s happening.
Speaking of music, summer is made for outdoor shows. And whether you’re looking for a dusty mosh pit or a refined strings serenade, you’ll find it in Colorado.
A celebration of local music, The Underground MusicShowcase (aka The UMS) takes over South Broadway the last weekend of July, and it’s a rare treat. Literally hundreds of bands representing a dramatically diverse array of styles, will play over the course of the festival. From indoor venues to rooftops to outdoor stages, bands, singer-songwriters, DJs, and more will keep you dancing for three long, happy days and nights. Wear comfortable shoes.
Several thousand bluegrass lovers will convene on the little town of Westcliffe, Colorado for the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival July 11-14. Set in the gorgeous high plains of south central Colorado, the event will feature more than a dozen bands over the three evenings — a mix and match of bands and singers in one of only 14 Dark Sky regions in the world. Which means stunning mountain views during the day and stellar sky-watching each night.
Want to celebrate local brews with your bluegrass? Then zip up I-70 for Keystone’s 23rd annual Bluegrass and Beer Festival, August 3 and 4. With three stages and more than 40 featured craft beers, expect serious mountain music mayhem. Keystone also hosts its Wine and Jazz Festival July 13 and 14, and Mountain Town Music Festival on August 17. Lots of opportunities to enjoy high-country hijinks.
Not to be outdone by Keystone, Vail has its own celebration, with the 31st season of the Vail Dance Festival; a full two weeks of movement and music. With dancers and troupes coming in from all over the world, you’ll experience a range of styles and experiences, and even the chance for a bit of education, if you’re so inclined. The Martha Graham dance company is among the featured performers, as is the American Ballet Theatre and renown choreographer Alonzo King.
And if you’re deeper in the Rockies, Jazz Aspen Snowmass is legendary, both for its stunning venues and the high-caliber talent making their music at high altitude. This year’s luminaries include Sting, Weezer, H.E.R., Luke Combs, and Portugal. The Man, among others.
You say you still didn’t get enough live bluegrass this summer? Don’t fret (get it?), because the 29th Annual Folks Festival in Lyons, CO will fill your craving before the season winds down. This three-day event is bonkers, and the lineup this year is especially stellar. Ani DeFranco, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Josh Ritter, Ben Folds, and even the legendary Violent Femmes will bluegrass your socks off (whether or not you’re donning them with Birkenstocks).
The Cultural Connoisseur
Sometimes you want it all — the food, the music, the arts, the culture — in one place, with a chance to learn and grow. And maybe eat deep-fried food on a stick.
Mountain towns love their hot air balloon festivals — the cool, calm mornings and majestic vistas lend themselves to gorgeous flights and epic photos. Steamboat Springs hosts their 38th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo July 13-14, supported by Art in the Park when the morning flights are over. The Snowmass Balloon Festival is September 6-9, and with the main launch area on the golf course, catch mirror-image reflection photos as balloonists “splash and dash” through the water hazards, gently drifting their gondolas along the surface. You’ll want to be on the field by dawn for these festivals, because hot air balloons are up and out early.
Saddle up to experience the wild west at Golden’s Buffalo Bill Days, July 25-28. With the titular entertainer entombed just above the city (his grave is a popular tourist destination), the festival is a celebration of a time long gone. Enjoy their “Best of the West” parade, Cody’s classic wild west show, “mutton bustin’” (where kids ride sheep bronco-style), and of course all the food and live music to go with it.
For even more western culture, visit Leadville Boom Days August 2-4. At two full miles above sea level, the historic mining town is a delight. Check out the parade, the Boom Days Car Show, mining competitions, and even an actual burro race!
The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival on the shores of Sloan’s Lake in Denver is an annual favorite — a celebration of Asian and Asian-American heritage, complete with dragon boat races, an array of vendors in the Taste of Asia food court, performers on five stages, and an arts and culture marketplace. This year’s highlighted country is Vietnam, so show up hungry.
If you want to high step to a celebration of Celtic culture, head up to Estes Park for the Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival, September 6-8. With Celtic music all weekend long, along with feats of strength and skill (jousting, dancing, even a strongman competition), this 40-year tradition is the largest of its kind in the country.
For something a little more informal, the Union Station Buskerfest (August 1-4) honors street performers and their particular skills and talents. Comedy, magic, fire dancers, an acrobatic street circus — artists travel from all over the world for the festival. It’s also a celebration of Colorado Day —143 years and counting!
And the Cheesman Park Art Fest is consistently ranked as one of the top craft festivals in the nation, with 150 artists from around the country participating in the juried competition. Food trucks supply the snacks, while live bands supply the tunes. Cheesman Park is home to some of the oldest trees in the city, which means lots of gentle shade when you need it.
On September 7 and 8, just outside downtown Denver in the Belmar neighborhood, celebrate Italian culture with 10,000 of your fellow aficionados at the 15th annual Festival Italiano. And though the food is the star of the event, the live music and entertainment, activities and artisans make for a fun and festive couple of days.
Hungry for more culture? The Denver International Festival takes over Civic Center Park on August 3, and celebrates our global community through music, dance, food, and traditional art. It’s a family-friendly all-day event, with dozens of food trucks, world music, and programs for kids.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention PoloFest Denver 2019. On August 31, participants will enjoy a day of entertainment and outdoor fun, amazing polo matches and great music. PoloFest benefits the Equine Partnership Program, which helps horses rehab from bad situations and helps children overcome trauma, neglect and abuse through the beautiful friendship and healing power of connecting with horses.
Now about that food on a stick. The Colorado State Fair runs August 23–Sept 2 in Pueblo, and it’s a serious extravaganza. The Fairgrounds is transformed into a small city, with rodeos, a full-on carnival, live music (Hi, Beach Boys and 38 Special!), and livestock competitions each day. Get your fill of monster trucks, enjoy the demolition derby, catch some bronco bustin’, or just wander the grounds with your deep-fried Twinkie and a cold beer. What could be better?
If you’re venturing into the sun and fun of a Colorado festival, be sure to carry water with you, reapply sunscreen regularly, and keep your smile ready!
But Wait … There’s More!
If you didn’t find the festival you wanted to attend or you want to pack in all the fun you can this summer, here are some more great events.
July – August 4
Vail Music Festival brings world-renowned musicians to picturesque venues throughout the Vail Valley for nearly seven weeks.
Weekends in July through August 4
Colorado Renaissance Festival
Take a magical tour through time and legend, as you wander down the village streets and pathways of the Colorado Renaissance Festival.
Stampede Arena, Greeley
A festival of rodeo events, concerts, and family fun.
Crested Butte Wildflower Festival
An incredible symphony of wildflowers in a stunning setting.
Winter Park Jazz Festival
Rendezvous Event Center
The 37th Annual Winter Park Jazz Festival has Grammy-nominated artists all weekend, including a concert by Boys II Men.
Arise Musical Festival
Sunrise Ranch, Loveland
A unique celebration of music, yoga, camping, art and community.
Aug. 9 – 18
Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA)
A 10-day program featuring music, dance, film, visual arts and family entertainment.
Aspen Festival Orchestra
Benedict Music Tent, Aspen
Featured conductor, Michael Stern with The Percussion Collection and Jan Lisiecki on piano.
Brews and Views Beer Festival
Craft beers, fine dining and great music amid landscaped gardens.
Aug. 30-Sept. 2
Telluride Film Festival
One of the top film festivals in the U.S., Telluride Film Festival is putting on its 46th annual festival.
Aug. 31-Sept. 2
A Taste of Colorado
Civic Center Park
Denver’s ultimate music weekend: music, art, food, and kid friendly!
PROST! Breckenridge Oktoberfest
Breckenridge Ski Resort
The largest street celebration in the Rocky Mountains filled with fall colors, parties, and German cuisine.
Stanley Arts Festival
National and local art, fun for families with interactive art exhibits and live entertainment.
Boulder Valley Wine Festival
Louisville Community Park
Featuring 200+ wines from local Colorado wineries, along with food, live music, and retail vendors.
Breckenridge Wine Classic
Raise your glasses and join us at this four-day wine classic where you can sample hundreds of wines!
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival
Town Park, Telluride
Three days and nights filled with great music, craft beers, and breathtaking views.
Sept. 20-22 and Sept. 27-29
Celebrating its 50th year, Denver Oktoberfest is the place to be.