Like the backup singer who went on to stardom, eclipsing acts she once accompanied (exhibit A: Sheryl Crow), so has gone a scrappy little music festival in Telluride that began as a sideshow to a bike race. The Ride Festival quickly gained notoriety for attracting top acts who don’t typically play mountain towns, like Pearl Jam and David Byrne, and it definitely merits a road trip, even from musically rich places like Aspen.
This year’s fest (July 8–9), the sixth, features Beck, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, the John Butler Trio, and Kaleo among its 13 performers over two days. They’ll take the stage (redesigned last year by Aspen-based Charles Cunniffe Architects) in Telluride’s Town Park, with the close-in peaks of the San Juans as a dramatic backdrop. Additional late-night shows by some of the bands at smaller venues in town round out the lineup.
What started as a fundraiser for public radio station KOTO during a stage of the USA Pro Challenge has turned into a full-fledged fest of its own, drawing sellout crowds of 9,000 per day the past two years. The Ride Festival not only outlasted the short-lived cycling event it was designed to enhance, but also still benefits the station’s bottom line.
Longtime KOTO DJ and real estate agent Todd Creel has organized the event from the beginning. “I always wanted to see a rock ’n’ roll show in the park,” he says, alluding to the long-running bluegrass, jazz, and blues events that have brought Telluride’s music scene to national prominence. “And I wanted to bring bands you’d think would never play in a setting that size.”
Creel, who now handles all bookings himself, has a knack for luring performers to a remote town of 2,300 people at the end of a box canyon. “Once you start to bring in big acts and treat them well and put them in that venue, word spreads,” he says by way of explanation.
What’s on Creel’s ultimate Ride Festival wish list? “A Led Zeppelin reunion, and I’d like to see Springsteen here,” he says. “We can all dream.” Passes from $135-$525, ridefestival.com
Festival Gear Picks:
Keep standing through the encore with Chaco’s cushioned, supportive Tetra Cloud sandal. $80, chacos.com
Colorado-based RovR’s 80-quart rolling Campsite cooler holds ice for 10 days—and it’s bearproof. $449, rovrproducts.com
The fisherman’s raincoat–inspired Festival poncho by Helly Hansen staves off afternoon cloudbursts. $90, hellyhansen.com