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Why Riot Fest Denver worked (and sometimes didn’t)

Outdoor festivals aren’t always the sun-drenched utopias they’re often made out to be on Instagram and music blogs. Some festival imprints are too spread out. Some lineups make zero sense. Some festivals have a bad vibe. And yes, we’re talking about some of the biggest names in the game: Coachella and Sasquatch and Austin City Limits have had their off years, especially while first getting started.

And that’s why we took special care this weekend to see what worked (and what didn’t) at Riot Fest Denver. Cheers to the organizers, though, as the festival worked more than it didn’t. The traveling festival’s first-ever stop in Colorado took over a patch of land best known as May Farms in Byers, and we’ll start there, because the scenic location was as idyllic as it was close to home (an hour from Denver).

See our full coverage of Riot Fest Denver, with photos reviews and more here.

 

What worked: The location. Some complained about having to drive an hour from Denver to Riot Fest, but those people haven’t likely flown three or four hours to Los Angeles, rented a car and driven another three or four hours (in traffic) to Coachella outside of Palm Springs. An hour from home? That’s easy. And the farmland provided a beautiful setting for the fest’s three stages.

What didn’t: Paying for parking. One benefit of holding the festival amid the wide open spaces of Byers is the availability of land. But when you have that much flat, ready-for-parking land and you’re still charging each car $15 for parking – in addition to sizable ticket prices – that’s bad form.

What worked: The camping. We didn’t camp, but our many friends who did had nothing but good things to say about the grounds and access and scene. It sounded like a party, with some late-night/early-morning gatherings spread throughout the camping area. It was close to the festival, so heading back to the tent for more sunscreen or hitting the RV for Sunday’s rain delay was easy and quick. A multi-day outdoor music festival should host camping, and kudos to Riot Fest Denver organizer Soda Jerk Presents for making it happen.

What didn’t: Some of the stage lighting. We mentioned in our Saturday review that Iggy Pop spent most of the Stooges set in the barely lit apron of the stage. Perhaps that lighting choice was the rocker’s preference, but it bummed out fans who wanted to really connect with the proto-punk.

What worked: The midway. A music festival is hardly the state fair, so an entire carnival lineup of ring-toss games and amusement park rides isn’t necessary. But a couple rides and a few games certainly up the fun factor, and Riot Fest’s Ferris wheel was a wining idea. Not only was it a distraction during those bands you didn’t need to see again, but it was also provided a unique and quite stunning perspective of the bands you most wanted to see – form a high-above perch. The neighboring ride, the Moby Dick (similar to the Rainbow at the old Elitch Gardens) provided a thrill and a view.

What didn’t: Staring at the sun. It’s a minor complaint, but all three stages faced east, meaning fans faced west to see the music – staring right into the sun for much of the late-afternoon and early-evening. Even with sunglasses it was uncomfortable, but once the sun went down it didn’t matter.

What worked: Plentiful portable toilets. It sounds like a silly note, but on hot days like Saturday when you’re hydrating with the winning combination of water-beer-water-beer, a proper allocation and distribution of portable toilets enhances the user experience. Our bladders thank you.

What didn’t: Getting around. There was little to no lighting on the grounds, so it was treacherous once the sun went down. Between the darkness and the uneven ground, it was tough to walk from stage to stage. And on Sunday, after the torrential rains, the ground was a slippery mess with potholes everywhere. Getting off the field and into the parking lot was like walking by foot braille.

What worked: The variety of food trucks. From barbecue to lo mein, the vast variety of food trucks feeding guests were on point and sated most cravings. It was great to see proven local brands in the mix, music-loving Illegal Pete’s included. But what was most important: When we craved Chinese food with our Modelo, we got Chinese food with our Modelo.

What worked and didn’t: The lineup. While we love that the Riot Fest Denver lineup was centered on the DIY punk spirit, we found it to be a little disjointed. There were a number of great indie-rock acts at the fest, but their presence seemed almost out of place. The Riot Fest Chicago lineup did a great job of bridging the gaps between punk and indie.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and editor at The Denver Post.

Reverb Managing Editor Matt Miller has a really common name so please use these links to find his Twitter account and Google + page. Or just send him an email to mrmiller@denverpost.com.

Laura Keeney is a community manager and journalist for YourHub Denver who writes about technology, business and nerdy things for The Denver Post. She’s quite obsessed with Joe Strummer. Follow her @LauraKeeney and @onnabugeisha.