Memorial Day weekend was a bittersweet affair for the Colorado Springs live music community.
On the one hand, there was MeadowGrass, which last year was one of the first nationally known festivals to pull the plug in the early stages of the pandemic. Now in its 12th year, MeadowGrass made its triumphant return to La Foret Conference & Retreat Center with a three-day family-friendly lineup that included well-known acts like Stray Suns, The River Arkansas and the Antonio Lopez Band.
On the other hand, those who attended this long-awaited MeadowGrass spent much of the weekend shivering in the rain and dodging hailstones of various sizes flung from the heavens at high velocity.
Despite these mixed beginnings, the upcoming summer festival and outdoor concert series season is shaping up to be a very different beast than the hibernating creature that was live music in 2020.
Let’s begin with Vineland’s Bands in the Backyard (July 9 and 10, bandsinthebackyard.org), the festival whose promoters are promising that it will be “BIGGER and BADDER” than ever. While both days are sure to draw the insanely enthusiastic crowds for which the festival is known, this year’s lineups could hardly be more schizophrenic.
Day one goes heavy on country-rock, courtesy of the Brothers Osborne, who scored two platinum hits with their 2015 “Stay a Little Longer” and 2017 “It Ain’t My Fault” singles. Support acts include fellow siblings The Powell Brothers, plus Carly Pearce and The Cadillac Three.
The second day’s lineup takes a sharp 180-degree turn, with a rap-heavy roster that includes headliner Flo Rida, the emcee who helped make the term “shawty” part of the late-’90s lexicon. Flo will be joined by Fetty Wap, who released a self-titled, double-platinum album in 2015 before recording enough singles and feature vocals to make him Paterson, New Jersey’s answer to Drake.
Located on a 55-acre ranch decorated with no less than 10 bars, the festival’s amenities include camping, VIP areas and a party barn.
Prefer the blues? Happily, A Music Company promoter Amy Whitesell, who, in partnership with KRCC, was responsible for the late, lamented Blues Under the Bridge Festival, is back with the debut of Blues on the Mesa (Oct. 2, amusiccompanyinc.com/blues-on-the-mesa). There’ll be no bridges in sight at this year’s festival, but the event will boast an altogether impressive lineup.
Headliner Janiva Magness is back onstage following the release of Weeds Like Us, a memoir that traces her journey from troubled youth to one of today’s best contemporary blues musicians. Her most recent album, meanwhile, is Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty, so don’t be surprised to hear a couple reworkings of Creedence Clearwater Revival during her festival-closing set.
As with Blues Under the Bridge shows, the new festival’s supporting acts are more than impressive talents in their own right. The amazingly eclectic roots musician Alvin Youngblood Hart has headlined more than a few festivals of his own. Also on the bill is Buddy Whittington & The Atomic Fireballs, The Cass Clayton Band, and Ladies Sing the Blues (a supergroup consisting of Jessica Rogalski, Jill Watkins and Peaches Embry backed by Mojomama), so don’t be late. To top it all off, the Pikes Peak Blues Community will be hosting a “School of Blues” youth stage.
Also new on the outdoor music scene is Switchbacks Entertainment’s new concert series (switchbacksfc.com/entertain) at Weidner Field. You don’t have to be a soccer fan to appreciate Sept. 17’s country lineup of Lee Brice, Gabby Barrett and Jimmie Allen. On Sept. 30, the night will belong to Scotty McCreery, along with Matt Stell and Walker Country. Expect more Switchbacks events to be announced in the weeks ahead.
This summer will also give you a chance to catch two legendary reggae artists at Reggae on the Rocks Festival (Aug. 21 & 22, redrocksonline.com). Steel Pulse, arguably the most politically charged reggae band to emerge from England, boast a string of singles that range from the militant “Ku Klux Klan” to the feel-good ‘Steppin’ Out.” (You can read the Indy’s interview with bandleader David Hinds at tinyurl.com/d9d558yk). Jamaican fusion band Third World, meanwhile, are best known for their international hit “Now That We’ve Found Love.” The festival will be headlined by 21st century reggae act Rebelution.
Those who prefer the sublime scent of corndogs and cow dung with their music can make their way to Pueblo for the Colorado State Fair (Aug. 27-Sept. 6, coloradostatefair.com). The first three nights will feature Casey Donahew, Dustin Lynch and Diamond Rio, each performing headlining sets at the Bud Light Bandstand. The fair will also include closing-week performances by George Thorogood (Sept. 2), John Pardi (Sept. 3) and Nelly (Sept. 4), although those will be held inside the fairgrounds’ Southwest Motors Event Center.
On Labor Day weekend, we’re looking at the return of Dierks Bentley & Live Nation’s Seven Peaks Music Festival (sevenpeaksfestival.com, Sept. 3-5) in Buena Vista. Described by Esquire as a “can’t-miss” event, the three-day music festival and camp-out had yet to announce its lineup, so stay tuned.
Further afield, the Telluride Blues & Brews Fest (Sept. 17-19, tellurideblues.com) is back in action with an impressive lineup of Americana, blues and R&B artists that includes Buddy Guy, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and others.
If all this sounds a bit rootsy for your tastes, the more citified Underground Music Showcase (Aug. 27-29, undergroundmusicshowcase.com) is also back in action. The festival has been pushed back from its usual July dates to give the pandemic more time to run its course. This year’s festival has a “Back to Broadway” theme, which makes sense since last year’s event was moved online, raising in the process $75,000 on behalf of independent musicians.
The festival will return to real life with well over a hundred rock, hip-hop, punk and Americana acts playing at dozens of venues and open areas scattered throughout Denver’s SoDo district. While the lineup has yet to be announced, expect a good percentage of nationally known artists along with the more upstart acts who are sure to find their way onto indie-rock connoisseurs’ must-see lists.
Back in the Springs area, outdoor concert series will also be keeping the music alive throughout the summer. Among the most unusual is the Drive-In Tasty Freeze Summer Thursdays Concert Series (facebook.com/DriveInTastyFreeze), one of the few music events that stayed the course throughout much of last summer. This year’s season got off to a great start with Roma Ransom on June 3, and will continue throughout the summer with WireWood Station (June 17), Fire and Wise (July 1), Julia Brochey and Joe Taylor (July 15), Nikki Giron and Addison Slone (July 29), Michael Reese (Aug. 12) and Playin’ With Smoke (Aug. 26.)
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention a brand new entry in the outdoor music pantheon, namely our very own Music at the Indy series. Each month, the Indy parking lot will be transformed into an outdoor music venue that includes food trucks, wine and beer samples, and lots more.
The series opens with a June 16 performance by the Cari Dell Trio. After that, look for Tejon Street Corner Thieves (July 21), Urban Classic (Aug. 18), Tony Exum, Jr. (Sept. 15), and Edith Makes a Paper Chain (Oct. 20).
That’s a whole lot of music, especially in light of the past year’s events, or lack thereof. Granted, it’s still not the Roaring ’20s, not yet. But with any luck, the coming years could be.