Festival season is upon us, and here’s the best part: Coloradans celebrate everything from American Indian heritage and tulip fairies to gluten-free grub, honeybees and whitewater. So open your iCal, and block off the following dates for artisanal food, local beer, live music — and a whole lot of fun.

by Jamie Siebrase –
Palisade International Honeybee Festival

The Basics: This free, community-driven celebration will have the town of Palisade buzzing on Saturday, April 13, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Palisade Town Plaza, 175 East Third Street, Palisade. For all the details visit palisadehoneybeefest.org.

Palisade might be known nationwide for its mouthwatering peaches, but this month it’s all about honeybees, which are threatened by everything from mites and viruses to climate change. “The bee decline is a serious subject, but we think a spoonful of honey helps the message go down,” says Jean Tally, a volunteer coordinator for the Palisade International Honeybee Festival.

Approaching its 11th year, this delightfully sweet street fair has doubled in size since its inception in 2008, when community activists from Colorado’s agricultural core rallied to bring awareness to the honeybee crisis through education and the arts. This month, 500-plus guests are expected to turn out for a daylong gala centered around speakers from area organizations such as Bookcliff Gardens, expounding on topics surrounding pollinator-friendly gardening.

Beekeepers bring their hives to Main Street, joining an array of informational booths manned by experts discussing commercial and backyard beekeeping. Nearby, local chefs will demonstrate innovative ways to cook with products derived from bees, including, of course, honey. The whole thing is set to the tune of bluegrass from the Pollinators, a local band Tally describes as, “A group of pickers roaming the festival.”

Aimed at educating the next generation of beekeepers, the International Honeybee Festival is a kid-friendly spectacle incorporating craft tents, face painters and a mid-morning story hour at the Mesa County Library, at 119 West 3rd Street. Young festivalgoers also are invited to participate in an annual spelling bee, along with an adorable bee costume contest that entices pet owners and a few grownups, too.

You won’t go hungry while perusing the fair. Onsite vendors serve everything from gumbo to ice cream, says Tally, and can’t-miss restaurants include 13 Brix Cider Bistro and the Palisade Café. Festivities kick off Friday, April 12, with a welcoming reception at Blue Pig Gallery, 101 West 3rd Street, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. After sampling honey wines from Meadery of the Rockies, guests are invited to peruse bee art and learn about beekeeping practices, high-altitude farming and bee-friendly insects. Making a weekend of it? Consider bunking at the Wine Country Inn, offering special festival rates.

Nourished Festival

The Basics: Focused on topics in specialty diets, this unique festival runs Saturday, May 18, through Sunday, May 19, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the National Western Complex, 4655 Humboldt Street, Denver. Tickets, available at the door, are $15 for adults and $5 for kids, with a 20-percent discount offered for online purchases through May 17. For all the details visit nourishedfestival.com/expos/denver.

Presented by Enjoy Life Foods, Nourished Festival (previously the Gluten-Free Allergen-Friendly Expo) is a multicity extravaganza created for gluten-intolerant festivalgoers, designed to “nourish the needs of the entire food community, whether it is those with celiac disease, autism, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions — or anyone committed to living a healthy lifestyle,” says Nourished Festival founder and CEO Jen Cafferty.

Cafferty launched her homegrown festival 11 years ago in Chicago, where the first few gatherings were modest affairs with small cooking classes and a few retailers. This year’s Denver exhibition is expected to draw 2,500 attendees to the National Western Complex for one-on-one moments with more than 100 allergy-friendly brands exhibiting their best products for food sensitivities and modified diets.

It’s a good idea to show up hungry. In addition to sampling the latest gluten-free, nut-free, Paleo, Keto and plant-based products, treats also are available for purchase at Nourished Festival. Don’t even think about skimping on baked goods, pizza and grain-free chocolate protein bars.

Guests supplement their cravings with a slew of educational presentations hosted by industry veterans, restaurateurs, authors and bloggers. Highlights include a workshop on healing autoimmune disorders with Dr. Peter Kan, Saturday, and a lecture on the gut-brain connection from Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietician with an integrative approach to health. Cooking-related classes range from gluten-free meal prepping with Cassy Joy Garcia to the Sauce Goddess lecture on infusing flavor into gluten-free meals. (Yes you can!)

If you’re visiting with your children, check out the “Kid Zone,” where families gather for crafts, toys, books, games and more. There’s a lot to absorb in a few short hours. As Cafferty puts it, “An event of this scale being accessible to the general public offers a rare and exciting way to explore new food options.”

Courtney Kerin-photo sam aiken
CKS Paddlefest

The Basics: Kick off summer at Colorado’s premier (and free) whitewater event, held Memorial Day Weekend, Friday, May 24, through Monday, May 27, in Buena Vista. For all the details visit ckspaddlefest.com.

Situated smack-dab on the Arkansas River, it’s no wonder the scenic little town of Buena Vista gets giddy over the start of summer paddling season. Since 2005, thousands of whitewater aficionados have converged in central Colorado to rub elbows with big-name paddling manufacturers, top professional athletes and other industry leaders during a weekend chock full of education, entertainment, demonstrations and steeply discounted gear, the latter available at the annual CKS Gear Swap and Storewide Sale on Main Street.

If you’re new to paddling – or Paddlefest – start with a flatwater demonstration at the Town Pond at McPhelemy Park, behind the intersection of Highway 24 and Main Street, where festivalgoers can test a variety of gear from participating brands. Along Main Street, gurus from Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center put on more than a dozen clinics and workshops, covering a range of topics designed to appeal to paddlers of all ages and ability levels.

Whitewater courses are available on the Arkansas River, too, home to the Kayak Rodeo, a multiday freestyle paddling competition. [This is] “one of our most popular spectator events,” says Megan Kingman, owner of CKS Main Street, the retailer hosting Paddlefest. Amateur and professional SUP competitions follow the Kayak Rodeo, and – new this year – Paddlefest will be the official host for the 2019 U.S. National Freestyle Championships, the official team trials for Team USA’s freestyle kayaking team.

Informal group paddles offer an opportunity for visitors to explore sections of the river with fellow paddlers. Beyond paddle sports, CKS Paddlefest is a celebration of Colorado’s coveted outdoor lifestyle. So look for fitness and yoga workshops throughout the event, as well as the Yucca Classic disc golf tournament, Saturday at 9 a.m., Peak Fitness’s bouldering competition, Sunday at noon, and a Badfish River Surf Competition on Sunday at 2 p.m. — and consider registering for the 5th Annual Paddlefest Spirit Half Marathon, a trail run beginning Sunday at 8:15 a.m.

After you’ve sought sustenance from local food trucks and vendors – including the Buena Viking – wind down with live music, offered afternoons and evenings at the Beach at South Main, 701 Front Loop. Cocktails on the patio at Deerhammer Distillery are always a good idea. Did we mention Elevation Beer Co. is stocking its beer garden with local libations?

Indian Market and Powwow
Indian Market and Powwow

The Basics: Saturday, June 1, and Sunday, June 2, Tesoro Cultural Center brings its annual Indian Market and Powwow to The Fort Restaurant, 19192 Highway 8, Morrison, where $10 gets ticketholders access to a bustling marketplace and artsy gathering on the grounds of one of Colorado’s most iconic restaurants. Parking is free, as are kids 12 and under. For all the details visit tesoroculturalcenter.org/19th-annual-powwow-2019.

Entering its 19th season, the Indian Market and Powwow is a two-day celebration of American Indian art and culture created by Holly Arnold Kinney, proprietor of The Fort Restaurant and Tesoro Cultural Center’s executive director. After relocating to Denver from Santa Fe in the late 1950s, Kinney’s parents – amateur historians with a penchant for southwestern lore – set out to build an exact replica of Bent’s Old Fort, a fur trading post that operated along the famous Santa Fe Trail in the 1830s.

After procuring property near Red Rocks, the Arnolds began fabricating their one-of-a-kind home with 80,000 handmade adobe bricks. But when they ran out of money mid-construction, lenders urged the Arnolds to turn their residence into a profitable business — so they opened a ground-level restaurant paying homage to area history with regional dishes made from bison, elk, quail and plenty of heirloom grains.

Kinney grew up in The Fort, and she learned the restaurant biz while inheriting from her parents a deep interest in local history. “It was always Holly’s dream to open a living history experience,” explains Chelsea Coe, spokesperson for Tesoro Cultural Center, the nonprofit organization Kinney founded in 1999 to protect and celebrate the history and shared experiences of Colorado’s early settlers.

Kinney unveiled the Indian Market and Powwow a year later, to highlight award-winning American Indian artists – Jesse Hummingbird, Pahponee and Eddie Morrison, among others – who demonstrate and sell their authentic artwork in a juried show alongside a Powwow honoring, for 2019, Sergeant First Class Cindy Littlefeather.

“The powwow is like a juried dance competition,” explains Coe. Performers from over a dozen tribes compete in individual and team categories, presenting an array of native dances including fancy, grass and jingle. “Dances are performed traditionally, in a big circle with live music,” Coe continues. Guests will also hear original songs from award-winning singer and songwriter Rose Red Elk, also known as Red Feather Woman.

“Many of the musical performances, and some of the dancing, will be interactive for guests,” Coe says, noting that children usually jump at the chance to participate in the show. Denver Museum of Nature and Science sponsors a kid-friendly booth with hands-on activities, and HawkQuest will be onsite, too, with live hawk and eagle demonstrations. Don’t forget to sample Indian fry bread from the Tocabe food truck, and stick around for dinner at The Fort, offering a special festival menu on Saturday and Sunday.

Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado
Denver Cherry Blossom Festival

The Basics: If you’re into sake, teriyaki chicken and taiko drumming, head to Sakura Square, on Lawrence Street, between 19th and 20th streets, on Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23, for a free festival opening at 11 a.m. both days. For all the details visit cherryblossomdenver.org.

In late June, Denver’s modest Japanese-American district is packed – and we mean packed – with kimono-clad shoppers, and a handful of anime cosplayers, delighting in Sakura Matsuri, Denver’s yearly Cherry Blossom Festival, drawing upward of 35,000 festivalgoers from across the nation.

Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple’s primary fundraiser – and the only outdoor Japanese festival in the region – the Cherry Blossom Festival stretches back to the 1970s, when the inaugural gathering marked the grand opening of Sakura Square, the last remaining section of Denver’s onetime Japantown, originally a nine-block concentration of Japanese-American homes and businesses that cropped up in the late 1940s, post-internment, when approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans relocated to downtown Denver.

Deemed blighted, the Japanese-American district was leveled in the 1960s — except for one square block bordered by 19th and 20th and Lawrence and Larimer streets. Members of the temple purchased that space in 1971, and built Sakura Square in an effort to preserve their local heritage.

Taiko drumming is one of the most-popular offerings at the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it is accompanied by a range of authentic entertainment including Japanese singing and dancing on a main stage at the temple.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Street is transformed into a marketplace where vendors sell t-shirts, handmade soaps, posters and plenty of Japanese artwork. “All vendors are required to have items that are Japanese or reflect Japanese-American heritage,” explains Stacey Shigaya, program director for the Sakura Foundation, an organization created to help sustain the temple and further its mission.

In a designated art area below the temple, Japanese artists exhibit work rooted in culture, and many are happy to teach curious guests about their technique. But sometimes the best way to learn about another culture is through food — and there’s plenty of that at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

“Look for Japanese food throughout the street fair,” Shigaya suggests, pointing to teriyaki chicken, sushi, cold somen noodles and a dessert called manju (pounded rice filled with sweet bean paste). Inside the temple gymnasium, visitors will find craft beer and sake for sale, along with a few mouthwatering snacks. Nearby, a Buddhist minister will give dharma talks throughout the day.

Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival
Just for Kids! The Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival

The Basics: Boulder’s free, family-friendly springtime festival lands on the Pearl Street Mall, 1301 Pearl Street, on Sunday, April 7, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., with a rain date scheduled for Sunday, April 14.

“It’s like springtime Halloween,” says Terri Takata-Smith, Downtown Boulder Partnership’s vice president of marketing and communications, referring to a seriously charming festival surrounding a vibrant spring parade led by the town’s beloved Tulip Fairy.

“Our Tulip Fairy has been with us for a decade, and she’s very serious about her job,” Takata-Smith explains, noting that pint-sized festivalgoers dressed up as fairies, elves and superheroes love helping the Tulip Fairy “wake up” the tulips along Pearl Street Mall as she waves her magic wand across 15,000 budding flowers imported annually from Holland.

Drawing up to 3,000 guests, this local tradition includes tons of free activities, from face painting and crafts to live stage performances by a local theater company and Jeff & Paige, playing ecologically focused tunes for kids. There’s always plenty to eat on Pearl Street Mall, but the new grilled cheese restaurant, Ruthies Boardwalk Social, is a must for hungry families.

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