While Boulder’s music venues alone can fill your calendar with concerts, sometimes you want to listen to music outside, festival style. Boulder itself has some amazing festivals that include live music, but there are many bigger, music-centric gatherings beyond city limits, just a short drive away.
Here are a few of the greatest Colorado music festivals near Boulder. The farthest is about two hours each way, meaning you could make a day trip out of any of these if you don’t mind a late-night cruise back to the “Boulder bubble.”
From rock to bluegrass to world music showcases, here are some music festivals near Boulder that you don’t want to miss.
In Boulder County
Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, Lyons
Mid- to late August is the annual, three-day Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in the small mountain town of Lyons. Folk music is the highlight here (think: Brandi Carlile, SHEL, Carolina Chocolate Drops). Plus, you’ll find songwriting workshops for aspiring musicians. Many people camp out in Lyons during the fest and gather on the banks of the nearby river by day. Bring a picnic blanket and swimsuit in case you want to take a dip while listening to music. This festival has been a local staple for more than 25 years.
Before the folks fest is RockyGrass, an annual, three-day festival in Lyons in late July, held near the banks of the St. Vrain River. It’s run by the same production company that puts on the famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but it’s much closer to Boulder and it’s smaller, so the crowds are less stressful. But plan ahead. These tickets sell out. Musical highlights include the Infamous Stringdusters. RockyGrass has been a Boulder County heartbeat for 45 years, and it’s well respected in the bluegrass scene. Bring a tent and camp on site for the most authentic, immersed experience.
NedFest (properly: the Nederland Music and Arts Festival), late August, is a three-day, outdoor music fest that’s quirkier than most. Because, well, Nederland. This music fest is held on the banks of Barker Reservoir (bring your tent), and it’s also kid-friendly (it even has a special children’s tent). You’ll also find microbrews here. For a taste of music style, think Gasoline Lollipops.
Distance: Less Than 1 Hour
Global Dub Festival, Morrison
The Red Rocks Amphitheatre is so close to Boulder County that we like to pretend to claim it, but technically, it’s about 40 minutes from the city. Red Rocks is home to a ton of great shows, including the annual Global Dub Festival in May. Love dubstep? Flux Pavillion? Illenium? This festival is for you. Bonus: The price tag is lower than many other music festivals (and heck, concerts), at just under $40.
Global Dance Festival, Denver
The Global Dance Festival in July is the huge, annual electronic music fest in Colorado. DJs and electronic music fans gather to party to the music and supreme light show at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It claims to be the “biggest summer dance music event in the Rocky Mountain USA.” The fest started in the early 2000s and is traditionally held at Red Rocks, but it was moved to Mile High for the 15th anniversary. Here, you can also expect bigger stages, a food truck village and a carnival.
Hard Fest, Morrison
Red Rocks is home to this late July festival, another EDM collection but with an alternative bend. Hard was founded in 2007 and attracts big names (like Savoy), as well as up-and-coming artists. Hard is a national concert brand with several events per year. The Red Rocks show is its big summer event.
Denver Underground Music Showcase, Denver
Denver’s Underground Music Showcase, late July, is one of the state’s most anticipated festivals of the year. It’s where to go to see, er, hear Colorado’s newest and best. This four-day showcase is held in the Broadway/Baker neighborhood. The goal: to discover the next big artist in Colorado. Most performers are local. The line-up has included the likes of Benjamin Booker in the past.
Arise Music Festival, Loveland
The Arise Music Festival, at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland in early August, feels like it should take place in Boulder. It’s three days of art, yoga and nature-minded music. When you’re not listening to tunes by bands like Atmosphere and Brother Ali, take an art class and create something of your own in the inspiring forest atmosphere.
High Elevation Rock Festival, Englewood
The High Elevation Rock Festival at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Englewood takes place late September (but Colorado’s weather is still typically warm then). This is a rock festival that brings together some of the biggest names in alternative and rock music, such as In This Moment, Korn and Five Finger Death Punch, to name a few.
The Velorama Music Festival, mid-August, is a newer festival, so you may not know it. Yet. It’s actually connected with the famous Colorado Classic bike race (which you probably have heard of). The genre here: indie rock like Death Cab for Cutie and Wilco. The location: Denver’s hip, redeveloped RiNo neighborhood.
Fort Collins comes to life with a free, three-day music fest, Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest, every August. NewWestFest features dozens of bands, including some big names, like Cake and Brandi Carlile. The festival is held in downtown on multiple stages. You will even find kid activities here. Fort Collins has never looked so cool.
Project Pabst, Denver
Project Pabst is another newer music festival, but it’s quickly gaining traction. This annual event, every May, features both local and national names, across a variety of musical styles: rap, indie rock, electronica. It brings the likes of Phantogram and Danny Brown to Denver’s cool RiNo neighborhood.
Westword Music Showcase, Denver
The Westword Music Showcase in June is a pretty big deal in Colorado. This fun fest in the Golden Triangle district of Denver features all kinds of Colorado music, from hip-hop to alt. Expect to hear more than 140 of the state’s best bands, including Cherub, the Shines and even well-known cellist Ian Cooke.
Warped Tour, Denver
Vans Warped Tour has a long history of bringing huge rock, alternative and punk names to Colorado, like Of Mice and Men, Less than Jake and Air Dubai. The popular festival takes over Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High in early August every year. The Warped Tour is not a locally run festival, however. It’s North America’s longest-running traveling music fest.
Distance: 1-2 Hours
Groove Music and Arts Festival, Georgetown
Groove Music and Arts Festival in Georgetown in July brings funk, jam, bluegrass and live electronic music to the Rolling River. It’s three days of music, art and camping. Three stages, a farmers market, workshops, artist performances and dancing are just a few of the highlights here.
Greeley Blues Jam Festival, Greeley
The Greeley Blues Jam Festival is two days of non-stop blues music every June in Greeley. This family-friendly festival even has camping and RV sites, if you want to stay and play. Also expect food vendors, an educational stage where kids can learn the history of the blues and tons of great music, all for free. As the fest claims, “This is as close to Beale Street outside of Memphis.”
Copper Mountain Music Fest, Copper Mountain
The Copper Mountain Music Fest, in early July, is one of the state’s newer festivals. It brings Americana and bluegrass musicians from around the country to the mountain, all for free. You’ll see big names here, such as Suzy Bogguss and Del McCoury, plus workshops, jam sessions, fireworks and even outdoor events like bike rides and fly fishing clinics.
Distance: Around 2 Hours
Vail International Dance Festival, Vail
This isn’t a concert festival, per se, but music is at the heart of the Vail International Dance Festival, making it worth a nod. This huge, esteemed dance event takes place in the ski town of Vail every summer for two weeks. It’s nearly 30 years old and has earned a reputation among dancers and music lovers.
Vail Jazz Party, Vail
If you love jazz, Vail’s five-day jazz back in late August/early September is the festival for you. This event, at the Vail Marriott over Labor Day Weekend, is arranged cabaret style. Take advantage of dinner with the musicians and other related parties, as well as listen to the live music.
Keystone Wine and Jazz Festival, Keystone
Keystone’s Wine and Jazz Festival is over two days in mid-July, bringing together wine and jazz (the perfect combo). On the wine front: more than 300 different kinds. As for music: free, live music by local jazz bands and orchestras sets the perfect mood.
Keystone Bluegrass and Beer Festival, Keystone
So maybe wine and jazz isn’t your thing. How about bluegrass and beer? This festival, also in Keystone in the summer, has a different vibe. It’s every August (for more than 20 years now) and claims to be the longest-running craft beer fest in Colorado, all set to live bluegrass jams. Plus, lawn games and food samples.
Mountain Town Music Festival, Keystone
Mountain Town Music Festival is another highlight in Keystone every summer. Every August, catch free live music from some big names, such as Strange Americans and Mipso. Try food from vendors, see locally made art and products and bring the whole family. There are special features for kids, too.
Bravo Vail Music Festival, Vail
Orchestra lovers get their own festival, too. Every summer in Vail for 30 years, Colorado orchestra musicians fill the air with music. This fest spans several weeks and is family-friendly.