Pat Mowry, left, and her partner Doug Walsh dance to music by Paa Kow at the Main Stage during the Jazz Festival Saturday, May 20, 2017 in on Welton Street in Five Points. (Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver Post)
Does music own the festival world? Most of the ink about new events in recent years has gone to multi-stage, crowd-pleasing, band-centric confabs that command huge public spaces for the better part of week — with the attendant crowds, hype and cultural sniping.
But that obscures the reality of a diverse and enduring festival ecosystem in Colorado, and the simple promise of buffet-style discovery the format has always offered: A nibble of a dance performance here, a gorging of movie screenings or acoustic jamming there.
Here are our chronologically ordered bets for the most interesting, affordable and family-friendly arts festivals coming to Colorado in the next few months (and yes, they include some music).
Vail Film Festival
The 15th installment of this high-country event will harness the power of #metoo by focusing on women filmmakers, with 37 female directors, 34 female writers and 50 female producers among the nearly 50 featured films, from narrative and documentary features to short and student films. “Discovering and supporting creative talent is what we’re all about,” said newly appointed director Corinne Hara in a press statement. “Especially when it tilts the scale towards the underrepresented.” The competitive event, presented by the Colorado Film Institute, also features workshops, panels, networking receptions and, of course, plenty of parties. April 5-8, vailfilmfestival.com.
It’s been about a year since ousted Aspen Film executive director John Thew filed a suit claiming wrongful termination from his company, and while some of that dust has yet to settle, Aspen Film’s big spring party is still the high-country fest to beat in prestige. New director of programming Landon Zakheim (also of the Los Angeles, Overlook and Sundance film fests) has arranged a lineup worthy of its Oscar-qualifying status with more than 70 shorts from 30-plus countries. The juried screenings take place in Aspen and Carbondale, with receptions, networking and (because it’s Aspen) the return of the “pop-up fútbol” match in Wagner Park. Ah, so Aspen. April 3-8, aspenfilm.org.
As one of the Denver Film Society’s micro-fests and year-round programming categories, Women+Film offers six days of women-centric programming by and about women. Culinary-focused cinema, social-justice issues, history, drama, documentaries and shorts will all get their due, with brunches, guests and customizable ticket packages available. April 10-15, denverfilm.org.
What began as a savvy but heartfelt cash-in on the resurgent ukulele has become an unexpected argument for the instrument’s staying power, trends be damned. Swallow Hill Music’s 11th annual Ukefest will span the nonprofit folk-music school/venue’s home base as well as The Brew on Broadway for three days of performances (including notables Taimane, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, and Christopher Davis-Shannon), jam sessions and workshops. May 10-12, swallowhillmusic.org.
Colorado Children’s Book Festival
Less a performance-oriented event than a celebration of childhood reading, this inaugural fest — sponsored by the mighty Tattered Cover book stores — zeroes in on middle grade books and authors, but subsequent years will include picture books, according to organizers. With its partners at OMG BookFest! this free gathering brings games, activities, readings and meetings to the Tattered Cover on East Colfax Avenue. Authors include David Bowles, Julia DeVillers, Stuart Gibbs, Shannon Hale, Varian Johnson, Sarah Mlynowski, Brandon Mull, Lauren Myracle, Courtney Sheinmel and many others. May 19, tatteredcover.com.
Five Points Jazz Festival
As the population in this walkable Denver neighborhood swells from rampant condo construction, we hope to see another robust turnout for this free event, which celebrates the area’s historically black heritage in a lively, family-friendly atmosphere. Multiple stages along a closed-off Welton Street will celebrate a diversity of styles and performers, with sets from Dinosaurchestra, Hazel Miller Band, Maria Ho Quintet (with Richie Cole), Jakarta, Denver Jazz Heritage Orchestra, Southside Jazz Project, Carmen Sandim Septet, Quincy Avenue Rhythm Band, Latitude Experience and many more. Did we mention it’s free? May 19, artsandvenuesdenver.com.
Denver Day of Rock
More a celebration of nonprofit educational causes than a niche-curated music fest, this five-stage, Amp the Cause-run behemoth takes over downtown Denver with a kid-friendly lineup of rising singer-songwriters and local and established acts, including Elle King, The Blue Rider, Kyle Emerson, Brent Cowles, Maggie Rose, Delta Rae, Dwayne Dopsie and The Zydeco Hellraisers, The Railbenders, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, A Thousand Horses and more roots, folk, rock and pop. It’s free, but nonprofit-supporting VIP passes are available. May 26, denverdayofrock.com.
Campout for the Cause
Presented by Wondergrass, this Buena Vista-based event directs enthusiasm for live music, yoga, the outdoors and environmental activism toward charitable causes. In its 10th year, the profits from Campout for a Cause — which features bluegrass and jam-centric headliners Mandolin Orange, The Lil Smokies, Bonfire Dub, Tierro with Bridget Law, Intuit and Grant Farm — will benefit the “local grassroots fund” Emmy’s Friends and the South Main Arts and Park Trust. Camping, RV parking and killer views readily available. June 1-3, campoutforthcause.org.
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Recognized as one of the liveliest and longest-running in the country, this bard’s delight returns to the University of Colorado in Boulder — at both indoor and outdoor venues — with new stagings of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Richard III,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “Edward III” and “You Can’t Take It With You.” June 9-Aug. 12, coloradoshakes.org.
Vail Dance Festival
This event has the effortless pedigree to back up its world-class reputation, but it’s still encouraging to see programmers embrace high-profile premieres (thanks in part to dance-celeb artistic director Damian Woetzel) in addition to its usual slate of classics, mixed-bills and marquee performances from American Ballet Theatre, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Ballet Hispánico, The Blues Project, BalletX and more. Start planning your trip now, as some events at this 30th annual festival will sell out well in advance. July 28-Aug. 11, vaildance.org.