Phoenix. Miguel. The War On Drugs. Kendrick Lamar.
A glorious stretch of my Friday night this past weekend included consecutive sets from all four of those massive acts, a collection of artists that would normally be the cherrypicked highlights from a full weekend of programming at a music festival, all delivered in a single two-hour slot. And those were just the first four acts I managed to see while balancing travel to Colorado, a full day of work, and attending the first night of Denver’s Grandoozy festival, a new music event produced by an event company that recently popped up in the city: Superfly.
Superfly is already well-known in the music space for helming massive, beloved live music events like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, so their decision to found a festival in Colorado was met with excitement and intrigue from interested parties. Denver hasn’t had a music festival of its own since the Mile High Music Festival ended in 2010, with the founders citing economic reasons for the cancelations. So the main question seemed to be, was Denver ready for its own full-fledged music event?
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@Miguel, @wearephoenix, @thewarondrugs… (And we're just getting started.) Tickets for Saturday and Sunday are still available! #Grandoozy! 1. @miguel 2. @tydollasign 3. @thewarondrugs 4. @wearephoenix 5. @jadebirdmusic 6. @thatgirlbishop 7. @tennisinc 8. @bayonnemusic 9. @andyfrasco 10. @djheidi . . . (📸: FilmMagic) #Denver #Music #Colorado #Festival #Fest #Miguel #Phoenix #TheWarOnDrugs #JadeBird #BishopBriggs #LiveMusic #TyDollaSign
This weekend answered that with a resounding yes, as the city turned out in droves for a bill anchored by aforementioned hip-hop heavyweight Kendrick Lamar, Florence And The Machine, and the inimitable Stevie Wonder. But, as it was a Superfly event, the headliners weren’t the only story — as other inclusions like Phoenix, The War On Drugs and Miguel illustrate — and in fact, the music wasn’t the only story at all; plenty of other installations, art, and refreshments were spread out across the Overland Golf Course, making Grandoozy an instant competitor in the same realm as already-established coastal fests.
Denver itself comes in just under 700,000 population-wise, but the greater metropolitan area hits around 2.8 million, which puts it on the playing field to compete with cities like LA (around four million), New York (between eight and nine million), and Chicago (close to three million). And if the Uber surges and throngs of people crammed around every stage are any indication, plenty of Denverites are ready to embrace festival culture. Plus, Denver is one of the quickest growing cities in the country, increasing in population by 100,000 in under a decade.
Currently, the city hovers around the same size as Seattle, and though that area is well known for its musical roots, central cities like Denver, which have been untapped in the new festival era might be more desirable for founding new events. The country as a whole seems to be looking inward, toward other regions that aren’t New York and LA, and not just because of emphasis on “coastal elites” rhetoric stemming from the 2016 election.
The momentum building out around Denver and other cities like it that aren’t coastal is typified in the growth of places like Boise, Nashville, and Austin, as millennials saddled with higher education debt seek out places where they can have a higher quality of life — and actually afford to live. As these cities surge with an influx of young, new residents, it seems auspicious that one of the foremost festival producers is launching an event in Denver, and it wouldn’t be surprised if more fests and events follow suit.
In this case, the ethos of Grandoozy is a great template for other events looking to move into newer markets. Given the extreme focus lately on how festival bills are predominantly men — predominantly white men at that — the fact that Grandoozy was headlined by two Black men and a woman is another feat that speaks to its forward-thinking nature. Grappling with a radius clause from Denver’s infamous venue Red Rocks, the bill was still diverse and engaging, with R&B ladies from the legendary Mavis Staples to the boundary-pushing Kelela, a festival-stealing rock set from St. Vincent, and the rare festival appearance of an icon, Stevie Wonder, closing out the weekend. The bill was packed on the hip-hop front too, Kendrick aside, De La Soul, Logic, Big KRIT and Ty Dolla Sign all made big appearances throughout the weekend.
In between sets, attendees could entertain themselves at The Break Room, a slow disco party geared toward relaxation and recovery (which hosted free yoga early on in the day), the party-focused ’80s Ski Lodge, or get locally-sourced refreshments from the myriad of options that Superfly events are known for including. Not only did they set out to entertain Denver with their very own fest, but they brought the community into the mix as well, arranging a cabal of local chefs to bring in their own food, and call up their friends to get involved. Similarly, a dedicated craft beer tent slyly called Arts & Crafts featured a bevy of local brewers and taprooms, and next door, Flight School offered up liquor of all kinds, including the all-local Colorado Whiskey flight.
As a festival veteran (I’ve been attending multiple music fests a year for six years now), it’s become my habit to duck out a bit early during the last set of the weekend and walk through the grounds one last time before it’s all packed up. Stevie Wonder’s perfect voice carried well out into the night, past the gates and serenaded me as I walked out into the city. When it stopped carrying, I popped in my headphones and put on Songs In The Key Of Life, happy to be just where I was, and hopeful that this event will get to build a legacy that matches Stevie’s.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Grandoozy Festival. You can read more about our policy regarding press trips and hostings here.