Summertime in the Colorado mountains delights the ears. Tumbling streams, warbling birdsong, wind whistling down the canyons… every day is an open-air concert.
But the Rocky Mountains also happen to be home to four nationally-recognized festivals with world-class musical offerings ranging from classical and bluegrass to jazz. And each takes place in a natural setting far from the state’s urban centers.
Aspen Music Festival
Classical music doesn’t need to be a highbrow, black-tie affair, and the dynamic Aspen Music Festival is proof.
Founded in 1949 with the belief that combining art and nature encourages the growth of the human spirit, this internationally renowned festival presents some of the world’s most accomplished classical musicians in a lovely alpine setting.
Over a nine-week period attendees can choose from more than 200 events, including chamber and contemporary music, orchestral concerts, classes, lectures and kids’ programs. Performances take place in concert halls, churches and a permanent tent structure with excellent acoustics. One-fourth of the events are free, and there’s always free seating on the lawn outside the tent. At each venue, black-tie and designer dresses mingle comfortably with jeans and hiking boots.
For much of the year, Lyons, Colorado, is a sleepy drive-through town on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. But for one weekend each summer the heart-plucking bluegrass strains of fiddle, banjo and mandolin fill the air at RockyGrass Festival.
Now in its 39th year, RockyGrass celebrates this truly Americana musical genre. Stellar performers like Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs mix with up-and-coming artists for three days of soaring melodies, lonesome ballads and foot-stompin’ tunes. Off stage, players gather for impromptu sessions to trade licks and tell stories.
Around midday folks relax on camp chairs and inner tubes in the lazy St. Vrain River. Soft summer breezes tickle the cottonwood leaves as haunting harmonies drift over the water.
Bluegrass doesn’t get any finer.
Winter Park Jazz Festival
Winter Park, Colorado
When summer returns to Winter Park Resort, sunlight and melting snow transform the frozen ski runs into grassy slopes perfect for reclining and gazing across the valley to the Continental Divide. Add a warm weekend and some of the hottest tunes on the planet, and you get the Winter Park Jazz Festival.
The festival is held midsummer at the base of the ski mountain. Jazz cats spread out across a luxuriant hillside that just months before swarmed with skiers. On the stage below, rising young jazz lions and international stars lay down smoking riffs all day and into the night.
Cool, sizzling music, delicious food, and sweet mountain air make this festival a high note in a Colorado summer overflowing with mountain melodies.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival
The name says bluegrass, but don’t let that fool you. This venerable festival may be one of the country’s most progressive bluegrass gatherings, but expect to hear folk, rock, blues, country, pop, Celtic, world beat, and just about everything in between.
Set in a box canyon amid soaring mountains, the four-day event takes place at one of the most spectacular locations in America. When it’s time for a break from the music, Telluride is a short stroll away, where eclectic eateries, galleries, coffee houses, quirky shops and bars welcome you in the Victorian-era historic district.
As a true Colorado tradition with stunning scenery, superb music and plenty of friendly folks, this festival is a national treasure.