Running an event is hard. It requires an incredible amount of organization, foresight and a little bit of luck. Unfortunately, Velorama, the annual music festival created in tandem and support of the Colorado Classic bike race, struggled with all three this past weekend. From replacing not one but two headliners to rescheduling Modest Mouse from Friday to Saturday due to travel delays, the two-year-old fest could not catch a break when it came to its big-name talent. But beyond its slew of misfortunes, this past weekend was plagued with a dizzying amount of issues that made it hard to focus on the music. So before we dive into it, let us air some grievances.
What Went Wrong
Among the problems, there were a fair share of repeats from last year — including incredibly long lines for booze that lasted anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes and sometimes ended in broken credit card machines, kicked kegs and missed acts. According to Rob Simon, senior vice president of marketing of RPM Events Group, the company responsible for the event, they tried to avoid this by doubling the number of bars and bartenders from last year. But unfortunately, due to an outage in their point of sale system (Square) on Friday and double the expected Saturday attendance caused by rescheduling Modest Mouse, the bars had long delays.
But drink issues didn’t end with just beer. At times water was low with refillable tanks running dry before they were refilled. However, even if you were able to find a full tank, water bottles were initially not permitted into Velorama, even if they were empty. This was later rectified by Saturday when the festival announced it would allow only clear water bottles — although since organizers did not plan to allow water bottles initially, it later created a shortage. For an event that’s in the middle of August and promoting cycling — not allowing water bottles from the get-go was a misstep. However, (on a brighter note), if you did purchase a plastic water bottle, Simon confirmed there was recycling on the back end, despite not having clearly marked bins.
If you managed to wait long enough to grab a drink or some food, the next problem was finding a place to enjoy it. Although there were some tents for VIP ticket holders, the rest of the attendees were left to sit on asphalt. Many who attend festivals don’t expect to find a proper chair and table to enjoy their food and drink at, however, a patch of grass is always welcome. Unfortunately at Velorama, not only was there not a grassy spot for patrons (not even astroturf), the high-top tables were so limited that many were forced to either stand or sit on the concrete.
If you decided to explore the entire festival — which included a bike expo, races and vendors — you probably noticed the event was still very spread out. This made it hard to journey between the two concepts of biking and music at the fest. Even though it was a vast improvement from last year when Velorama overtook the entire lot and several blocks, it still felt disjointed. Darrin Duran, owner of a local bike shop, The Urban Cyclist is a big fan of what the festival is attempting to do for Denver’s biking culture, but even he agreed the event was trying to do too much. “They should have condensed it,” said Duran. “They could have had bigger booths and gotten people more engaged.”
As for the biggest grievance of the weekend — the rescheduling of headliner Modest Mouse — Simon gave us some insight. As earlier explained, Modest Mouse wasn’t able to make it on Friday due to travel delays — in particular, the lead singer Isaac Brock missed his flight. This set a huge process in motion to resolve the situation.
“We did everything we could including looking into getting a private jet to get him [Brock] here on time. And as soon as we knew that he wasn’t going to be able to make it and the band wasn’t going to perform that night, we then furiously did several things to take care of our fans. One of which was rescheduling the concert for Saturday night, the second was re-ticketing so that people could [come back] seamlessly and the third was providing a way for people to get refunds for those who cannot make it on Saturday, basically reversing our no refund policy.”
With large attendance numbers on Saturday, it appears most people returned and shrugged off the initial snafu. “I was a little frustrated at first and I even [direct messaged] Velorama,” said concert-goer Patience Kanda.”They got back to me but just framed it as now there are four headliners in one night. It actually turned out to be just fine.” Unfortunately, the bad luck didn’t end there as a torrential downpour at the end of Modest Mouse’s Saturday set left concert-goers drenched — ending the night on a particularly soggy note.
Despite the number of problems Velorama faced, if you attended in hopes of seeing great live music you had many opportunities to get your fill. On Friday, two acts particularly stood out — Philadelphia based Hop Along and UK’s The Kills. Hop Along’s frontwoman Frances Quinlan has an uncanny ability to fluctuate her vocals between sweet and melodic and a rugged growl. It propelled the band’s indie-folk into the realm of full-blown hard rock. The band kept it moving, making the most of their 45 minutes on stage. The only time they stopped for stage banter is when Quinlan took a moment to applaud Denver’s free clinics — having attended one after getting very ill last time she was in town.
Next up were The Kills. Despite being delayed by a solid hour (without explanation), the energetic duo more than made up for it. Once again the leading lady stole the show as Alison Mosshart slithered her way across the stage with her ferocious dance moves that wavered between Jagger-esque hip thrusts and heavy metal hair flips. Throughout the show, Mosshart went toe-to-toe with Jamie Hince’s impressive guitar riffs — often winning the battle between the two intensely talented band members. When the announcement was made that Modest Mouse would not be attending, it certainly rained on some people’s parade. But it did not result in much of a mutiny. By the next day, many people returned in hopes of a fresh start.
After a somber beginning, Velorama day two kicked off with sunshine and a promising beginning for the night to come. The evening kicked off with Colorado’s Brent Cowles. The local artist has gained attention in recent months following the release of his debut album How To Be Okay Alone. Compared to the Avett Brothers and Alabama Shakes — Cowles was recently named “favorite up and coming artist of 2018” by NPR Music and made an appearance at Velorama just before kicking off his 2018 international tour. And while we were all looking forward to hearing the young star fill the grounds with his blend of indie rock meets R & B and folk, the long lines to enter the festival prevented many from doing so. As a result, the crowd surrounding Velorama’s only stage was fairly thin — as festival guests waited in more long lines to order both alcohol and eats.
Following Lo Moon, the genre-defying team Rainbow Kitten Surprise took to the stage. And it was about this time, roughly 5:30 p.m. in the evening, that the space surrounding the stage began to fill up. They performed ballads both old and new and, of course, tracks off of their latest album How to: Friend, Love, Freefall, which dropped in April. They filled the Saturday night air with dynamic instrumentals and calming harmonies to balance out the noticeable tension that Velorama’s many short-comings created. Rainbow Kitten Surprise wrapped up their short performance at 6:15 p.m. This left those in attendance ample time before the Cold War Kids took over to grab a drink, get a bite to eat, take a seat and use the restroom — but for many, that didn’t happen due to the aforementioned long lines.
The Cold War Kids began their performance with a cover of Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain,” an odd start for a band with beloved original music. Shortly after, however, they did launch into their hit song “First,” which seemingly brought more people to the stage from the surrounding vendors and ignited the existing crowd. The American indie rock band wrapped up their performance with a rendition of “Something Is Not Right With Me”off their 2008 album Loyalty to Loyalty. The crowd was seemingly fuller than it had been all night as the band said goodbye and packed up in preparation for the next act.
At this point in the night, the lines to grab food and drinks had begun to thin out as people remained either camped out on the concrete surrounding the stage or left the festival altogether. Next to perform were The Growlers, a California-hailing band with a sound that’s been described as a mash-up of pop, rock and “surf.” As they took the stage, the crowd seemed fuller than it had been all night and they kicked off their set with a sweet rendition of “One Million Lovers” off of their 2013 album Hung At Heart. The Growlers played a mix of old and new material, appeasing both day-one fans and those who had never heard them play until Saturday night.
Then around 9:30 p.m., the act everyone had been waiting for finally took the stage. Dressed in colorful windbreakers — Modest Mouse was much more prepared to take on Velorama this go round. It seems the forthcoming storm was also ominously represented in their setlist which included a lot more of their experimental, rocky heavy songs like “Lampshades on Fire” from their 2015 album Strangers to Ourselves. But before heavy downpours effectively soaked the crowd, the band managed to play their most famous tune — “Float On,” making many wet fans ultimately happy.
The final day of Velorama brought the three-day festival to an exciting conclusion. After two days of issues surrounding the event’s accommodations and bands performing on-time, Sunday was the day to remember some of the best aspects of the festival. With a Matt and Kim set to close out the festival, there were still several opportunities to see great live acts. One standout of the third day was local Denver band Wildermiss. Lead singer and keyboardist Emma Cole stole the show with her laid-back and melodic vocals over groovy guitar riffs. The only disappointing element of their performance was its length. Even though it was a normal festival set of 45 minutes, we wished it was longer. But alas they had to make way so Cults could take the stage.
If festival-goers weren’t tired from the three-day event, they would be by the end of Matt and Kim’s exciting closing set. After a long wait between Cults set and their own, the indie-pop duo brought a level of energy fans were waiting for all weekend long. The crowd was showered in confetti, balloons, sex dolls and giant beach balls as the duo put electronic and pop twists on other artist’s tracks along with their own. After performing fan favorites like “Daylight,” Matt and Kim closed with encore performances of “Happy If You’re Happy” and “Let Go” to leave the crowd satisfied and short of breath.
Velorama 2018 was far from perfect. But if you were able to roll with the punches, then it’s likely you still got something out of it. Hopefully, next year will give the old adage some truth — third time’s a charm.
Words by Brittany Werges, Cara Chancellor, Colin Wrenn and Max Nason. Photography by Heather Fairchild and Brittany Werges.