Summertime in Colorado: It brings forth such rich imagery. Hiking among the Maroon Bells. Biking outside of Fruita. Rafting the Arkansas. The great outdoors — which is occasionally synonymous with live music here in the Mile High.
Camping out at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. A night under the stars at Red Rocks. A blanket, a basket of tapas and a bottle of wine at the Denver Botanic Gardens. A large group gathering on the lawn at Comfort Dental Amphitheatre. Tubing on the St. Vrain through the Planet Bluegrass Ranch.
Colorado’s legendary summer weather combined with Coloradans’ renowned passion for live music creates a maelstrom of good times. And here are 10 shows we’re especially looking forward in the next few months.
1. DRAKE, J. COLE: In a short time, Drake has become one of the biggest, suavest names in R&B. His 2011 record “Take Care” quietly captured a generation of hip-hop fans who like straightforward R&B grooves and the occasional guest spot from Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Rihanna or the Weeknd. What’s especially alluring about this show is the lead support, J. Cole, the most captivating new voice in modern hip-hop. Haven’t heard Cole’s music? Spotify the exquisite “Can’t Get Enough” and the more pop-friendly “Work Out.” (May. 13, Comfort Dental Amphitheatre)
2. THE DENVER UKEFEST WITH JAKE SHIMABUKURO, NELLIE MCKAY, ALDRINE GUERRERO: What started as a modest festival a few years ago has exploded into a powder keg of a catalyst. Yes, the ukulele is taking over Denver — from rock bands employing the tiny, simple instrument to entire families learning how to play the four-stringer. The acoustic enthusiasts at Swallow Hill are leading the charge with their many classes and this full-weekend event, which boasts its biggest-ever lineup this summer. (May 17-19, Wynkoop Brewing Co./Oriental Theater/L2 Arts & Culture Center)
3. THE SHINS: As a longtime fan of the Shins, I’ve also been quick to admit their weakness as a lackluster live band. But seeing them at the Coachella Music and Art Festival a few weeks ago changed my perspective on James Mercer and the gang — primarily because the gang is entirely different. Mercer replaced most of his band and shook up his catalog, and suddenly his band — touring the biggest record of its career, “Port of Morrow” — is one of the most interesting live bands in indie rock. (May 29, Red Rocks)
4. BASSNECTAR: Has dubstep completely taken over the planet, or is the bass-heavy electronic subgenre just dominating Colorado’s clubs, arenas and amphitheaters? Either way, San Francisco DJ/producer Bassnectar is one of the biggest names in the game — with his heavy whomp-whomp and his legendary remixes (the Pixies, Metallica, the Cranberries). His live shows are nothing if not wild. (June 1-2, Red Rocks)
5. THE DENVER POST UNDERGROUND MUSIC SHOWCASE WITH BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW, BIG FREEDIA AND THE DIVAS, A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS, SLIM CESSNA’S AUTO CLUB: The UMS is the biggest indie music festival in the Rocky Mountain region, and The Denver Post-owned event will be bigger than ever this summer. Just look at the names already released. Black Moth Super Rainbow is a total freak show, a psychedelic outfit with a penchant for spectacle. Big Freedia puts on the best dance party you’ve ever been to. Don’t forget your earplugs for A Place to Bury Strangers, which continues to channel the weight and volume of My Bloody Valentine within the melodic context of the Jesus and Mary Chain. And Slim Cessna’s Auto Club remains a dynamic, mostly local institution with its gothic-tinged, God-fearing alt-country jams. (July 19-22, Historic Baker District)
6. CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS WITH ZAC BROWN BAND, BRAD PAISLEY, MERLE HAGGARD, JOURNEY: Frontier Days always features a big lineup, but this year’s is especially mammoth. From country legend Haggard to megastars Brown and Paisley — along with arena rockers Journey — this is as solid a lineup as the event has in years. (July 20-28, Cheyenne Frontier Nights)
7. FLORENCE + THE MACHINE: Is Florence this generation’s Sarah McLachlan? Witchy and ethereal? Check. Knows her way around a hit pop melody? Check. But where she’s entirely better than McLachlan is her voice, which is a soaring, forceful entity that is otherworldly in nature. Her vocals sound textured and lovely on record, but they’re even better live. (July 25, Red Rocks)
8. JACK WHITE: No other contemporary musician has created such a lauded, diverse catalog of work as White, the founder of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. And now comes the solo release, which is a searing blast of rock that often sounds like a late-Stripes B-side as heard through the filter of the Dead Weather’s reverb-y filth. White is on fire creatively, and judging from his very sold-out show at South by Southwest — we waited in line 90 minutes for that — this tour will be a special one. (Aug. 8, Red Rocks)
9. ROCKY MOUNTAIN FOLKS FESTIVAL WITH LYLE LOVETT, IRON & WINE, NEKO CASE: The Folks Festival always seems to be one of the most appealing lineups of the summer. Then again, any day at the Planet Bluegrass Ranch is a pleasure — with the creek hugging its boundaries, kids splashing about and tubers relaxing while towing their coolers of canned beer. This year’s musical lineup is deep, but the above names are enough of a reason to give the more-popular-than-ever festival a chance. (Aug. 17-19, Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons)