Summer is almost here! Also: Summer is almost here.
Those twin feelings of possibility and obligation are back, but you don’t have to let them overwhelm you. With theme parks open, and pools and water parks on deck (waiting until after this weekend’s snow dump, anyway), it never hurts to plan ahead — particularly if you’re searching for free and family-friendly events.
Here’s a list of some of the Denver area’s biggest festivals, street fairs and other arts and culture gatherings this summer to look forward to. Visit denverpost.com/things-to-do for more ideas and repeat after me: Water and sunscreen, water and sunscreen.
Five Points Jazz Festival, June 4
About 100,000 attendees are expected to return to this annual celebration of jazz, soul, R&B and funk. Situated on 11 outdoor and indoor stages along Welton Street in the historic Five Points neighborhood, it’s rain or shine, family friendly and, most important, free. artsandvenuesdenver.com
Denver Day of Rock, May 28
Arriving earlier than usual this year, Amp the Cause’s free, day-long nonprofit music festival will feature a pair of headliners that could sell out nearly any venue in town — Chris Isaak and nationally acclaimed Denverite Indgrid Andress — along with hourly performances on Lower Downtown outdoor stages from other local and national acts. Did we mention it was free? (Organizers are also accepting donations.) ampthecause.org/our-events/denver-day-of-rock
Colorado Shakespeare Festival, June 5-Aug. 7
This sprawling outdoor series gives visitors plenty of time to catch freshly staged versions of Shakespeare classics such as “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “All’s Well that Ends Well” and “Coriolanus,” with all shows at the University of Colorado Boulder. Get your tickets soon, as some performances are already wait-listed. cupresents.org/series/shakespeare-festival
Juneteenth Music Festival, June 18-19
This two-day, 50,000-attendee parade, street fair and music festival is newly celebrating Juneteenth as a federal and state holiday, having just announced headliners Dave East (Def Jam) and Chicago rapper Twista last week. Shows and festival entry are free and take place in the Five Points neighborhood. juneteenthmusicfestival.com
Colorado Renaissance Festival, June 18-Aug. 7
It’s a festival, not a faire, got it? This crowd-pleasing mix of cosplay (to be fair, they were doing it before it was called that) and lusty entertainment in Larkspur is this season pushing a 16th century medieval amusement park, along with the usual artisans, roasted meats, colorful performances, themed vendors and more. coloradorenaissance.com
Denver PrideFest, June 25-26
This ebullient celebration returns to Civic Center to celebrate LGBTQ culture after scattering into “hubs” last year, with activism, local vendors, food and drink, and live performances from a who’s-who of the Denver drag, music and dance scene — including “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner and Denver native Yvie Oddly. The event is bookended by Denver Pride 5K and Denver Dyke March on June 25, and the 10,000-strong Denver Pride Parade and rally on June 26 (the country’s third-largest, organizers say). Free to attend. denverpride.org
Latino Outdoors Colorado will also host a Pride and Paletas hike on June 11, which is free to attend (with paletas provided). Register at eventbrite.com.
Highlands Street Fair, June 25
There are too many street fairs in Denver to count without leaving lots out, but they tend to offer similar and familiar pleasures: beer gardens, family-friendly activities, local vendors, live entertainment, and local culture. Highlands Street Fair is a representative one, shutting down Highland Square for a rollicking block party surrounded by excellent food and drink. Like most, it’s free to get in, with comestibles available for purchase. highlandsstreetfair.com
Denver Cherry Blossom Festival, June 25-26
Downtown’s Sakura Square and Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple annually open up for this celebration of arts and culture. This year’s 48th edition again features excellent, affordable food and drink, live performances (think thunderous taiko drumming and graceful traditional dances), vendors, rich history, demos and more. cherryblossomdenver.org
Cherry Creek Arts Festival, July 1-3
This prestigious, juried competition and art-sale extravaganza also includes, food, drink, live performances, and the sort of intimate experiences with art and culture that many of us have been craving during the pandemic — along with a few thousand of our closest friends. Artivity Avenue offers worthy kid’s activities, while near-constant live music and other offerings keep the noise and color at the forefront. cherrycreekartsfestival.org/stages
Fan Expo Denver, July 1-3
Formerly Denver Pop Culture Con and debuting in earnest this year after a 2021 test run, this three-day event is packed with huge celebrity names and hundreds of other artist-guests, panels, workshops, comics and gaming sessions, premieres, signings and more. Notables include a “Lord of the Rings” hobbit reunion with Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd; and Star Wars names like Carl Weathers, Ming-Na Wen, Gina Carano and Anthony Daniels. fanexpohq.com/fanexpodenver
Colorado Black Arts Festival, July 8-10
City Park West’s green, shade-dappled fields will host the 36th version of this vendor- and performance-driven event, which celebrates the state’s Black community and culture with music, art and food. Free to attend. The 10 a.m. Boogaloo Parade on July 9 will also feature diverse civic clubs, youth groups, churches, drill and drum teams, themed floats and local personalities. colbaf.org
Taste of Colorado, Sept. 3-5
The long-running Taste of Colorado festival (organizers dropped the traditional “A” from its name) returns to Civic Center after a scattered pandemic-era showing, this year with 50 different food and drink vendors, live music and expanded Kids Zone family-friendly activities. It’s free to enter and attracts a huge, diverse cross-section of the metro area, so it’s also great for people-watching (and just being yourself). The big draw for some will be the collection of excellent local distillers — a category that barely existed a few years ago and now competes on an international level. atasteofcolorado.com
The Underground Music Showcase, July 29-31
This South by Southwest-style event in various venues along South Broadway, founded by Denver Post music writers John Moore and Ricardo Baca, returns with arguably the region’s best lineup of independent acts — more than 150 in all — from national critics’ darlings to local up-and-comers. It’s got a lot more diversity in style and setup than previous years, making a new visit (or revisitation) entirely worth your time. undergroundmusicshowcase.com
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