Known best for its bounty of tucked-away mountain towns and world-famous ski resorts, Colorado has in recent years become a global destination for music lovers of all types too. The state’s well-programmed calendar of diverse music festivals highlights Colorado’s renowned, four-seasonal beauty, the charm of Rocky Mountain life, and the rich cultural offerings of the West. To help prepare for the busy season ahead, here are the 10 festivals that promise a caliber of music and grandeur found only in the Centennial State.
1. Mountain High Music Festival, January 16-18, Crested Butte
Give those knee ligaments a quick, high-season break from skis for three nights of country shimmer in Crested Butte. Tucked in a valley between areas of dense national forest land, the festival hosts artists like CMA-winner and crossover star Lee Ann Womack, the resonant Craig Morgan – who recently won the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, the highest honor the Army bestows on citizens – and the young hit machine Luke Combs. Afterward, check out the vibrantly-colored, Victorian charm of the town’s main drag, Elk Avenue. (If you like what you see, be sure to return in July to find out why Crested Butte is called the wildflower capital of Colorado.)
2. WinterWonderGrass, February 21-23, Steamboat Springs
Though bluegrass took hold in the hills of Appalachia, this mountain state has taken a liking to the American roots genre and shows it off with this fete in Steamboat Springs. Nashville’s Molly Tuttle is an up-and-comer in the genre – her 2019 debut record, “When You’re Ready,” shows off a deft picking style and quick wit – while Greensky Bluegrass from Michigan hits the stuff hard and heavy. The can’t-miss attraction is Margo Price, whose voice has a twang of Loretta Lynn and the soul of the outlaw era. Signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records, she’s played on SNL and was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2019 Grammys. Between sets, don’t forget to take a dip in Steamboat’s titular attraction, whether at the classic Old Town Hot Springs or the slightly more rustic Strawberry Park Hot Springs. A trip to one of the state’s best dispensaries, Rocky Mountain Remedies, may be worth exploring before taking a thermal dip or a show.
3. Snoe Down, March 20-22, Frisco
The jam band and Woodstock ’99 alum Moe. bring their long, wandering riffs to Colorado for the first time for three early spring days in Frisco with Snoe Down. At 9,000 feet and surrounded by 14ers, the old mining town has plenty of opportunity for half-day hikes, fishing, and snowshoeing.
4. Country Jam, June 11-14, Grand Junction
This festival, with 2019 headliners like Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, and Little Big Town, serves as a perfect opportunity to enjoy the red rock bliss of western Colorado. Country Jam encourages camping, so you might as well get dirty in the Grand Valley’s gorgeous arches and canyons, and clean up on a rafting trip of the Colorado River. Grand Junction is also the state’s unofficial wine country capital, with more than 20 nearby wineries boasting Old World-style cabs (like Two Rivers Winery’s cabernet sauvignon) and floral rieslings (like the award-winning bottle from Whitewater Hill Vineyards).
5. Telluride Bluegrass Festival, June 18-21, Telluride
A top ticket of the Colorado festival season, TBF returns for its 48th year. Some 12,000 attendees are expected for each day’s twangy session. Buying tickets to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival requires a lot of advance planning since the event has become so popular. Though the lineup isn’t out until the new year, recent headliners include Kacey Musgraves, Jim James, Sturgill Simpson and Norah Jones. June is officially camping season in Colorado, though Telluride’s spread of boutique hotels may convince festival-goers to drop a little extra for something special. The Mountain Lodge Telluride has that warm alpine appeal and rooms that start around $169, while the Lumière with Inspirato offers exquisite comfort around $500. For something that taps into Colorado’s Southwestern roots, consider the Ice House Lodge (from $248). Or try the New Sheridan Hotel (from $163) which opened in 1891, and was remodeled in 2008, and is smack in the middle of the town’s historic district.
6. Sonic Bloom, June 18-21, Rye
It’s a busy weekend in mid-June, but if the classic festival in Telluride isn’t doing it for you, head to Rye in the foothills of the San Isabel mountains for Sonic Bloom, a new-school stop on the electronic music circuit. In addition to 2019 headliners like Slovenian trip-hop legend Gramatik and Australian bass head Opiuo, Sonic Bloom hosts dozens of performance artists and light displays.
7. The Ride Festival, July 10-12, Telluride
Back in Telluride, the weekend after the Fourth is The Ride Festival, Colorado’s rock purist festival, with recent acts such as Sheryl Crow, Pearl Jam, Beck and Big Something. With summer in high gear, Telluride is an SPF-heavy wonderland for outdoor lovers. A free gondola from town rises up to a 10,540 foot peak (open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer) to offer unparalleled views of the valley and access to many biking, hiking and skiing trails. For those more inclined to earn their viewpoint, nearby Bridal Veils Falls (the tallest free-falling waterfall in the States) and the Ophir Wall just outside of town feature classic sport and trad climbing lines put up by luminaries like Lynn Hill.
8. ARISE, August 2-4, Loveland
Head to the northern front range for ARISE, an eclectic fest featuring recent headliners like Thievery Corporation, Jurassic Five and Beats Antique. Loveland, originally a trading post, is just an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, the most-visited destination in the park system for a reason – Bear and Emerald lakes are stunning alpine features, and there are still a few glaciers dotting the area. If you’re all peopled out from the weekend, Bobcat Ridge Natural Area in Loveland is known for common sightings of its namesake feline as well as other fauna like elk and occasional mountain lions.
9. Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, August 7-9, Lyons
Run by Planet Bluegrass – the same association that puts on RMFF’s big-brother fest in Telluride – this festival in Lyons strays from the genre a little more willingly, featuring recent headliners like Ben Folds, Violent Femmes, Indigo Girls and Jeff Tweedy. A particular treat of this fest is the North St. Vrain Creek, which cuts through the festival grounds and offers a tubing opportunity for those who aren’t quite ready to commit to the whitewater park in Lyons’ Meadow Park. The must-stay in town is Lyons’ quaint WeeCasa resort, which features Insta-ready micro-trailers that can somehow still sleep four to six.
10. Seven Peaks Fest, Late August (Date TBA), Buena Vista
Held in 2019 on Labor Day weekend, Seven Peaks Fest hosted country haymakers like Luke Bryan, Travis Tritt and Dierks Bentley on campgrounds that live up to the town’s name. To be in Buena Vista at the end of August is to have the Arkansas River Valley at your fingertips: In the surrounding area are 10 picturesque 14ers, world-class fly-fishing, the Mount Princeton Hot Springs to ward off the night’s pre-fall bite, and the ghost town of St. Elmo. Buena Vista is also the premier whitewater destination in the U.S., featuring a fine whitewater park and fantastic options for rafting trips of all lengths.