As Denver transforms into an epicenter of music culture in America, it’s no surprise that more and more music festivals are popping up every year. The High Ground Music and Arts Festival, which made its debut last year at Levitt Pavilion, stands out as a new fan favorite — and for good reason. High Ground strives to represent Denver’s creative culture and the natural magic of Colorado’s wilderness spirit. Last year, High Ground was named “Best New Music Festival” by Westword Magazine. According to Noah Samuel Levinson, the brainchild and director of High Ground, this year’s festival will be even better.
“One thing people asked for this year was more music,” Levinson said. “That’s a big reason why we expanded into two days. I think we’ve increased our caliber of talent a little bit, and we’re expecting a larger draw each day compared to last year as well. Overall, there’s more production. There’s going to be more lights, more visuals, more art and just a bigger, better festival.”
With a new location and two full days of impressive national and local acts, there’s plenty to look forward to at High Ground this weekend. Here are four things that make this year’s High Ground your one-stop shop for Colorado’s creative culture.
The Spirit of Colorado
For Levinson, Colorado culture and High Ground are inseparable. In fact, Levinson moved to Colorado because there was no other location that embodied the spirit of his creative imagination, which was fully directed toward curating his own festival experience.
“At first, moving to Colorado was just about High Ground, but this state became a much deeper part of my life. What I love so much about this state is that Colorado is a community that doesn’t just embrace the outdoors. We live and breathe it.”
Additionally, Levinson wanted to create a cohesive narrative for High Ground that goes beyond the traditional festival experience. He asked himself: “what do we want people to feel before they arrive on sight? How do we want people to interact with each other when they’re here and how do we want them to feel when they’re leaving?” With the spirit of Colorado at the forefront of the festival’s inspiration, three native Colorado animals were chosen to embody the High Ground experience: the Black Bear, which represents confidence and standing against adversity, the Elk, which represents community and endurance, and the Grey Wolf, which is all about intelligence, instinct and freedom.
“When we were developing what this storyline looks like, we were in the middle of COVID,” Levinson said. “We were all stifled in our ability to experience the world and feel emotions. It was an awful time. We were thinking about High Ground in the terms of rebirth and this concept of working together to step forward and grow into something new. We’re all about the progression of ourselves, both as individuals, but also as humanity as a whole. We want to use our combined ideas and passions to reimagine the world around us. That’s the important part. The animals we chose have their own symbolism, and they form the pillars of what we want our community to feel before, during and after the festival.”
Of course, we have to talk about the music. This year’s lineup features an eclectic mix of national headliners ranging from TroyBoi’s hip-hop-EDM fusion to Slenderbodies ambient, lo-fi indie-pop. You can also find the likes of Chromeo, Tokimonsta, What So Not and many more performing throughout the weekend.
This year’s High Ground will also feature some of Denver’s most promising up-and-coming acts in true Colorado spirit. The caliber of Denver’s local music scene cannot be understated and will be represented generously on all sides of the sonic spectrum. On the electronic side, there’s Denver’s future-bass queen Maddy O’Neal and burgeoning EDM pop star COVEX — who’s fresh off of a nationwide tour with Big Gigantic.
But the local acts aren’t bogged down to electronic genres. Up-and-coming acts like N3ptune, whose sound ranges from soul-rock and hip-hop to hyper-pop, and Latin pop star Neoma are getting their chance to shine too.
The New Venue: Denver Polo Club
This year’s High Ground will take place at the Denver Polo Club, located just 25 minutes from downtown Denver. It’s a bit of a vibe change from last year’s location, Levitt Pavilion, but a necessary one, as Levinson explained:
“By switching venues, we also flipped the script entirely upside down. We came from a venue last year that was fully turnkey. It had all the power, it had bathrooms, it had fencing, it had everything. This year, we basically stepped into a blank canvas space, which in some ways is amazing. It really means that we get to paint the picture and try to tell this story of High Ground in the way that we’ve imagined.”
As great as Levitt Pavillion is, there isn’t much room for growth, according to Levinson. Sure, it’s much easier to produce a festival in a space that already has the concert infrastructure. But that also means there’s less room for creative direction. Levinson has a grand vision for High Ground and hopes to eventually turn the annual event into a weekend-long camping festival. It seems like that’s a real possibility, considering this year’s High Ground has expanded into a two-day festival with an expanded capacity.
“When I think about the future of High Ground, it’s more like we want this to be a multi-day thing. We want this to maybe even include camping someday. We want to start really building out this world where people come on-site for not just a day, but for a weekend or longer and share their experience with us and be a part of the magic. So we sought out a new space that allowed us to do that and grow with us. That’s what we found in the Denver Polo Club.”
An Immersive Experience
The phrase “immersive experience” is thrown around constantly in the music and arts community, so much so that the term has become diluted with unfulfilled promises and lackluster contribution. A truly immersive experience is one that embodies a full spectrum of artistic avenues: music, visual art, performance art and storytelling. This year, High Ground aims to have it all and reenergize the concept of an “immersive experience” beyond a few art pieces scattered around the festival grounds.
“When I think about an immersive experience, it’s not just about a stage on a field. Everywhere you look, there should be something that captivates you, catches your attention and draws you in. That could be art. It could be a vendor marketplace, it could be anything.”
The festival experience should be a personal one. It’s not uncommon for festival-goers to insist that such-and-such festival changed their lives, or that their first festival experience opened their eyes to their creative identity in a new and exciting way. The true measure of a great festival is not necessarily the caliber of musical talent. It’s the cohesion of creativity, weaved together with seamless immersion and definitive purpose. That is High Ground’s precise goal this weekend: to provide each attendee a chance to experience more.
“One of our taglines for High Ground is ‘we beckon our revelers to dive deeper and experience more,’ and that really plays into everything. Yes, please go dance to the music, go listen to the second stage, go find yourself in the Transcendome, but look around, see what you can find. See if you find something that nobody else finds. Build out the festival for yourself, so that when you’re leaving, you’re experiencing something unique and profound. I think the art experience is just as important as the music experience.”
High Ground Music Festival takes place this weekend, September 10 and 11, at Denver Polo Club in Sedalia, CO. Tickets are on sale now.