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Summer musical festivals 

Your guide to the Pikes Peak region's finest

Since souvenir program books only go back so far on eBay, cultural historians really have no scientific way of proving when the first music festivals actually took place.

The conventional wisdom is that the earliest versions of festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza took place more than 2,500 years ago, back when Greek musicians were kicking out the jams on lyres and pan flutes during ancient Olympic Games celebrations.

Of course, that's the kind of thing you get credit for when you're the Cradle of Western Civilization. But since music actually originated some 50,000 years ago in Africa (the original Cradle of Civilization), it's likely that music festivals came on the scene shortly thereafter.

Fast-forward 49,999 years, and the summer festival season is upon us once again, its rapid growth a sign that live music is becoming the music industry's last remaining profit center. Even in the Pikes Peak region, we've seen big summertime additions in the past decade, meaning fans can indulge in communal music gathering without having to venture up to Denver or points beyond.

The longest-running of the bunch is the seventh annual Blues Under the Bridge Festival (July 20), which has brought legendary artists like Koko Taylor, the Holmes Brothers and Bettye LaVette to the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. The event's distinctive locale, next to the railroad tracks beneath the West Colorado Avenue overpass, is a perfect setting for one of America's earliest forms of popular music. This year's lineup will include Watermelon Slim, John Hammond and the Slide Brothers, as well as Blues Caravan, D.B. Rielly and JustUs League.

Meanwhile, when it comes to full weekend events, you really can't top the MeadowGrass Music Festival (May 24-26). Held at the scenic La Foret conference and retreat center, the fifth annual Memorial Day weekend event will feature camping, swimming, food and drink vendors, plus a big shady tent area in front of the outdoor stage.

Most important, of course, is the music: With an emphasis on folk and Americana, MeadowGrass has steadily grown each year, with this summer's event featuring a total of 24 artists, 11 of them national touring acts. Among the latter are evening headliners Blitzen Trapper, Dawes, and Todd Snider with Great American Taxi. But earlier performances are likely to be no less impressive, including sets by critically acclaimed musicians like Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Kristin Hersh, Joe Pug, and the David Mayfield Parade.

Another meadow-situated event is the Mountain of the Sun Music Festival (June 29) at Woodland Park's Aspen Valley Ranch. Headlining the two outdoor stages are the Tony Furtado Band and Emily Earle, who's Steve Earle's niece as well as an up-and-coming artist in her own right.

Meanwhile, Florence's Americana Music & Arts Festival (Aug. 23-25) is back for its second year, and worth the trip south even if you don't have friends and relatives to visit at the nearby Supermax prison. Last summer's event was entirely focused around Front Range musicians, but a number of critically acclaimed touring acts have already been booked for this year's festival, including the Greencards and Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside.

And finally, for those who want to get a handle on the very best and most diverse musicians that we have to offer here in the Colorado Springs area, look no further than the third annual Indy Music Awards Festival (Sept. 5). The location of this year's event will be announced in our July 3 issue, where you'll also find the ballot for this year's readers poll. Then look for the winners in categories ranging from indie-rock to hip-hop, jazz to folk, punk rock and metal, all playing on multiple outdoor and indoor stages, all for free. For a crash course in local music, you seriously can't afford to miss it.

bill@csindy.com

  • Your guide to the Pikes Peak region's finest

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