For as long as I can remember, Denver and the surrounding suburbs have been an occasional festival home. Which meant if a young music fan on a budget like myself wanted the festival experience, they were out of luck.
For three years, the city hosted the Mile High Music Festival in Commerce City, but due to attendance struggles and a challenging economic climate, it didn’t last. Vans’ Warped Tour almost always made a stop here and Riot Fest visited for a few years, but that was about it.
Huge festivals with exotic, over-priced sounding names like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Sasquatch became like sites in the Holy Land — you work and save your whole life just for one pilgrimage.
Once Denver became the site for a huge influx of young people, it seemed like only a matter of time before the city took another crack at the whole festival thing.
“We’ve always enjoyed spending time in Denver, just as fans of the city and as one of the top-tier music markets in the country. We saw a real opportunity to create something special here,” explained Jonathan Mayers, co-founder of Superfly. Superfly hosts Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Outside Lands in California. “We’ve really been inspired by this community.”
Out of that inspiration, Grandoozy was born. And I finally had my first music festival experience.
Spread out over Overland Park’s 139 acres, Grandoozy was home to three stages and more than 60 musical acts from Sept. 14 through 16. In addition to the musical performances, the festival included everything from food trucks and interactive art installations to a giant recreation of South Park to an 80’s ski lodge.
As a music festival first timer, the best thing that hits me about the festival is that it really cuts down on the agonizingly slow wait for a musician to take the stage. On Friday afternoon, I’m able to enjoy Ty Dolla $ign’s blend of sweat-drenched R&B and hip-hop at the Rock Stage, then rush over to the Paper Stage to catch Big K.R.I.T.’s southern rap dispatches.
For a first-time festival, Grandoozy is expertly run. That’s not to say there are no frustrations or things that could be streamlined, but Superfly’s years of experience clearly paid off. There is plenty of space in the park so that attendees don’t feel totally hemmed in, use of public transport options cuts down on car traffic, and the official Grandoozy app puts the entire festival at my fingertips.
“There are always going to be unforeseen challenges when you’re doing something in a new place, for the first time,” Mayers explained. “To get ahead of any of those challenges, we make sure our team is spending as much time on the ground to build relationships with key players in the market and better understand the region and find out what makes it tick.”
The festival feels very Colorado, and that might be the highest compliment I can pay Grandoozy.
As to if it will return next year, that remains to be seen.
“The success of the festival is based on its ability to reflect the local culture while showing people a great time in a truly unique and exciting space,” Mayers said. “Creating that experience is primary focus at the moment to set Grandoozy up for success in the future.”
Discoveries and reaffirmations one can have at Grandoozy:
• Discovery — All music sounds better right as the sun is dipping behind the horizon.
• Reaffirmation — The world of fashion is beyond understanding. If you see an outfit and wonder to yourself, “Could I pull that off?” the question has already been answered.
• Discovery — One of the best ways to explain why so many people like rap is to stand in the middle of a crowd with a DJ who has really, really good speakers.
• Reaffirmation — “1901” by Phoenix is a perfect song.
• Discovery — At a certain age, sitting in the middle of a field can be just as hard on the back as standing in one.
• Reaffirmation — Music has a tremendously unifying power. At a festival with electronic, country, rap, R&B, jazz and pop performers, you’ll get to meet all kinds of people you’d never expect and connect about music. And learn you have more in common than thinking Kendrick Lamar is this generation’s Bob Dylan.
“Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel is one of that those songs that everyone seems to know, despite the fact that it is 35 years old. If you need the proof, here it is: the song soundtracked the defining moment of my Grandoozy experience.
At the end of the first night of Grandoozy, brimming over with the kind of joy that only comes from spending hours with music you love, I joined a bunch of strangers in a shuttle taking us to a light rail station.
As we pulled onto the road, “Uptown Girl” came on the radio. Everyone in that bus must’ve been feeling that same musical joy as me, because someone up front turned the radio as loud as it could go, and we all sang along at the very top of our lungs for the entire ride.
In its purest form, that community is what a music festival can do. Grandoozy gave everyone in that bus that for a moment, and that’s the only metric I need to call it a success. Here’s hoping it returns next year.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.
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