Aural gratification 

Yes, there's that big mountain off in the distance, and that incline going up it, and whatever else people around here pay attention to that doesn't involve music.

But all that pales — well, for some of us, at least — before our summer musical offerings. Whether it's one of the acclaimed World Music Series bands breaking the international sound barrier as the sun sets over the Rockies, or your favorite musicians giving the performance of a lifetime as the moon rises over Red Rocks Amphitheatre, this summer's outdoor concerts will once again breathe new life into a music scene that sometimes struggles to make it through the winter months.

We begin with Memorial Day weekend (May 25-27), and with it, the annual Meadowgrass Festival. Now entering its fourth year, the three-day weekend festival features a solid lineup of indie-folk, Americana, bluegrass and roots musicians performing in the idyllic splendor of Black Forest's La Foret Conference & Retreat Center. In addition to Saturday night headliner Son Volt, music fans can catch the return of Grammy winners Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, widely regarded as the highlight of last year's festival. Elizabeth Cook, Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, the Barr Brothers and Big Daddy Love are among the nearly two dozen acts who'll be gracing this year's Meadowgrass.

For a balanced musical diet, let's return to the free World Music Series, which kicks off June 11 with Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, the much-celebrated West African band-in-exile that was the subject of a PBS documentary co-produced, curiously enough, by Ice Cube. The series continues on July 2 with Peruvian electro-folk collective Novalima, followed Aug. 10 by Aurelio Martinez and Garifuna Soul, a Honduran act signed to famed indie label Sub Pop. Shows are free and held at Colorado College's Armstrong Quad, unless weather requires moving indoors to Armstrong Hall.

Then on July 21, Blues Under the Bridge returns in a big way with a rhythm 'n roots lineup that includes Marcia Ball, Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials, Phat Cat Swinger, Zora Young, Marquise Knox and Molly Boyles & Lipstick Voodoo.

Saturdays in the park

In more free music news, the good folks at Modbo are again curating the Acacia Park summer concert series, which this year looks better than ever. The Saturday series, which runs from June 2 to Aug. 18, includes such impressive combinations as Moonhoney with Edith Makes a Paper Chain (June 9), Grant Sabin with the Flumps and El Toro de la Muerte (June 23), We Are Not a Glum Lot with Men of Deep Throat (June 30), and Burn the Maps with the Bottesini Project (August 18). There'll also be a special one-band show featuring the Haunted Windchimes on Aug. 4.

The Windchimes will also be on the bill at this year's Happy Ass Ranch Festival, along with Grass It Up, the J. Miller Band and others. The singing, picking and camping run from June 29 to 30 at the Lake George location whose name it bears.

If you prefer livestock with your music — and really, who doesn't? — head down to Pueblo for the Colorado State Fair. This year's highlights include Thompson Square on Aug. 25, Merle Haggard on the 29th and the Steve Miller Band on the 30th.

You can also head north to Denver for the venerable Vans Warped Tour, which takes place at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High, on June 17. Or catch Girl Talk, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Battles, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears and about 150 Denver bands June 23 at the Westword Music Showcase.

Of course, no outdoor music survey would be complete without a visit to Red Rocks, which has a packed schedule this summer. My personal picks would include the Shins (May 29), Michael Franti & Spearhead (June 8), Wilco (June 22-23), Foster the People, Kimbra and Mayer Hawthorne (July 3), the Beach Boys* (July 9), Florence & the Machine with the Walkmen (July 25), and Justice (Aug. 7). But yours might just as easily include LMFAO (May 28), Feist and Bon Iver (May 31), the Avett Brothers (June 29-30), Cake with the Lumineers (July 28), Pretty Lights (Aug. 17), and Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples (Aug. 26). Actually, given the beauty of the Red Rocks experiences, I'd recommend pretty much everything but Yanni. Oh yeah, and Train. Everything but Yanni and Train.

Must-see shows

Meanwhile, for those who despise sunshine, you are not forgotten. Depending on your musical inclinations, this summer's must-see shows include, but are not limited to: Van Halen, with a reunited Dave & Eddie, at the Pepsi Center (May 24), reggae legend Lee "Scratch" Perry at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom (May 25), Jane's Addiction at the Fillmore Auditorium (May 29), dance-pop "it" girl Santigold at the Ogden Theatre (May 29), Detroit rockabilly punks the Koffin Kats at Union Station (June 1), indie-glam sensations Foxy Shazam at the Black Sheep (June 20), rowdy country outlaw Ray Wylie Hubbard at Stargazers (July 21), Aerosmith and Cheap Trick at the Pepsi Center (Aug. 1), and South African rave-rap deities Die Antwoord at the Ogden Theatre (Aug. 6).

And finally, the most important outdoor event of the summer: The Indy Music Awards Festival. Last year's inaugural fest featured three stages and 15 performers, ranging from the Haunted Windchimes to Black P to El Toro de la Muerte and the list goes on. This year's ballot will appear in the June 20 Indy and the three issues following, with winners announced in our Aug. 29 Local Music Issue. Then come see them all perform at the festival, which will be held in and around Stargazers on Sept. 6. The perfect end to a great summer.


*I can't help it: The harmonies on their new reunion single "That's Why God Made the Radio" give me chills, and make me think that seeing Brian Wilson, Mike Love and all the other surviving members at Red Rocks would be a transcendent experience, especially if they somehow forgot to play "Kokomo."


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