Life can be ephemeral, and so can music festivals.
Over the course of the last five years, the Waldo Canyon Fire put an end to the Gathering of the Shadows, an annual off-the-grid event where, for seven years, black-metal bands from around the country gathered in a secret forest location "lit only by the full moon and flame of torches." The altogether alternative Monolith Festival lasted three years at Red Rocks before officially calling it quits, while the considerably more mainstream Mile High Music Festival did the same at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
But the news wasn't all bad. During this last decade, we've seen the arrival of the Americana-inclined MeadowGrass festival at La Foret, the eclectic Llamapalooza at Colorado College, the atmospheric Blues Under the Bridge, and the roaming Riot Fest, which is now moving to its third location in just three years. And then there's our own Indy Music Awards festival, which in its fifth year will become part of the new Bristol Music Festival at Ivywild School.
In fact, the Southern Colorado music festival scene is looking pretty healthy these days, especially given the precarious state of the industry as a whole. Summer 2015 promises outdoor festivals catering to a wide variety of musical tastes, all of them within driving distance of Colorado Springs. Here's our preview of upcoming highlights.
Five Points Jazz Festival (May 16, various Five Points neighborhood sites, artsandvenuesdenver.com): Located in a historic district once known as the Harlem of the West, the Five Points Jazz Fest is now in its 12th year. The free festival draws more than 10,000 people with its mix of music, food and street vendors. This year's event will feature some 30 acts — from Carl Dixon & The JazzKats to Willie Houston & His Blues Band — performing on eight stages.
MeadowGrass (May 22-24, La Foret Conference Center, rockymountainhighway.org): Over the course of its seven-year history, this Memorial Day weekend festival has grown into the area's most ambitious outdoor music event, with increasingly impressive lineups in a serenely rustic setting.
Headliners Blue Rodeo, who'll be interviewed in next week's Indy, are a Canadian Americana act who've earned a dozen Juno Awards and sold 4 million-plus albums. Other acts to look for include Stephen Kellogg, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, Roosevelt Dime, The Stray Birds, The Ragbirds, Trout Steak Revival and a Sunday Morning Gospel Bluegrass show featuring Briar Branch Road. Admission includes campfire performances and artist workshops.
Westword Music Showcase (June 20, various downtown Denver locations, westword.com): Altweekly Westword's answer to the Denver Post's Underground Music Showcase features a dozen stages and a high percentage of local bands, all compacted into a single day. While acts are still being announced, the lineup so far includes The Black Angels, Flume, Bud Bronson & the Good Timers, Ian Cooke, Casey James Prestwood & The Burning Angels, and Wheelchair Sports Camp.
Bands in the Backyard (June 19-20, 23344 E. U.S. Hwy. 50, Pueblo, bandsinthebackyard.com): In most cases, a music festival is only as good as its headliners. Last year's Bands in the Backyard was headlined by Uncle Kracker, and we'll let you draw your own conclusions from that. But this year's event has moved in a distinctly more country-rock direction, with Toby Keith heading a lineup that includes the Eli Young Band, Kelsea Ballerini and 38 Special.
Gutfest (June 19-21, Sunshine Studios, sunhinestudioslive.com): The defunct Gathering of the Shadows' Scandinavian-influenced bands boasted more corpse-paint, but Gutfest 7's grindcore and death metal acts can be just as guttural. The aptly named two-day festival this year features 30-plus bands from around the globe, including Compulsive Mutilation, Diminished, Flesh Hoarder, Supperation, Fleshpile, Torn the Fuck Apart, Fetal Disgorge, Try Redemption, Axe 2 the Face, and Leprous Divinity. The names may change, but the charm remains.
Underground Music Showcase (July 23-26, various Denver locations, theums.com): The Denver Post-sponsored UMS has grown into a sprawling outdoor festival that takes over the whole city for four days with a couple dozen stages and some 500 acts. The festival is essentially Denver's version of SXSW, albeit with fewer top-knots and pedicabs. This year's UMS will feature performances by critically adored artists like STRFKR, Tennis, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Brick + Mortar, and tons of others, including Colorado Springs' own Eros & the Eschaton.
RockyGrass (July 24-26, Planet Bluegrass Ranch, Lyons, bluegrass.com/rockygrass): It doesn't take all that long to be considered "venerable" in an era of short attention spans. But a festival that was co-founded by the legendary Bill Monroe more than four decades ago has clearly earned the adjective.
The 43rd annual RockyGrass can also lay claim to unmatched scenery, courtesy of red rock cliffs and the St. Vrain River. David Grisman, who headlined last year's Fiddles, Vittles & Vino festival, will be on hand, as will the Del McCoury Band, the Infamous Stringdusters, Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers, the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Jerry Douglas & the Earles of Leicester, Crooked Still, Wood & Wire, Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O'Donovan, and the Sam Bush Bluegrass Band. If you're even a casual fan of bluegrass, you could hardly do better.
Blues Under the Bridge (July 25, 218 W. Colorado Ave., bluesunderthebridge.com): Naomi Shelton may not be the first crossover gospel artist to grace this uniquely scenic event — past headliners have included The Holmes Brothers and The Slide Brothers — but there's no question that this veteran will do her genre proud. Along with her backing band The Gospel Queens, Shelton has enjoyed a surprising career resurgence since signing to Brooklyn's Daptone label.
Now in its ninth year, BUTB will also feature Austin Music Award winner Carolyn Wonderland, as well as Mulebone, Mr. Sipp and BJ Estares & Route 61. Look for a series of pre-festival shows in the days leading up to the event.
Fiddles, Vittles & Vino (July 26, Rock Ledge Ranch, fiddlesvittlesandvino.com): Now entering its second decade, this festival of music, food and wine will be headlined by The Hot Club of Cowtown. As its name suggests, the Austin trio infuses its western swing with a dose of gypsy jazz. They'll be sharing the stage with The Stanleytones, Songs of the Fall, and Caribou Mountain Collective, who were a big hit at last year's RockyGrass Festival.
Warped Tour (Aug. 2, Pepsi Center parking lot, Denver, vanswarpedtour.com): For the last two decades, Warped has earned a reputation as the most-loved and most-hated of all summer music festivals. "All the guys in the bands remind me of the jocks I hated in high school," old-school punk singer Joe Queer once complained; others have bemoaned the high quotient of pop-punk, emo and screamo acts. Not that it matters much, since the festival still draws throngs of fans who feel otherwise. This year's tour includes Black Veil Brides, Kaya, Never Shout Never, Silverstein, MC Lars and Pierce the Veil, as well as Warped mainstays like Asking Alexandria, Escape the Fate and We Came as Romans.
Riot Fest (Aug. 28-30, National Western Complex, riotfest.org): Riot Fest started out 10 years ago in Chicago as a multi-venue event largely devoted to mostly local bands of the underground variety. It's since expanded to three cities, and Denver is lucky enough to be one of them.
The first two years' lineups have been impressive — including epic performances by The Replacements, The Cure, Die Antwoord, and Wu-Tang Clan — but the locations have been less than ideal. The inaugural event was held in Byers, 30 miles east of Denver, on a treeless farm that offered no shelter from blazing sun and pouring rain. Last year's fest was forced to relocate to the parking lots outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High, after Byers pulled the plug for fear that the event would, as opponents put it, turn Byers into "the wrong kind of town for families and farmers."
Indy Music Awards, in partnership with the Bristol Music Festival (Ivywild School, csindy.com): A new music festival at Ivywild School, this two-day event will feature an eclectic mix of music on three stages, from national, regional and local artists — including winners of the Independent's Indy Music Awards. Look for your 2015 IMA ballot in mid-June.