Features, Print June 5, 2020

The Fate Of Festival Future

by Dan England

Even right after she was the sickest she’d been in her life, Alison Hamling still cried after she essentially canceled Friday Fest in Downtown Greeley.

It’s more officially “postponed” because, hey, who knows, maybe people will be able to gather in large groups by August. But that seems unlikely, and Hamling, the director of experience for the Downtown Development Authority in Greeley, won’t take many chances after she was hospitalized with pneumonia for a couple of weeks. That happened just before the coronavirus began sweeping across the country, and her doctors now believe she had it. Live music “pales in comparison” to the need to avoid a second wave, Hamling said, even as she hated her decision. 

Friday Fest has attracted thousands to the 9th Street plaza to drink outside, carry their “go-cups” around and enjoy listening to a live band every Friday night during the summer since 2012. It was, as Hamling put it, her baby, and it was just as responsible for reshaping Downtown Greeley as a fun place to shop, eat and drink as are the new hot-spots like the rooftop patio at Luna’s Tacos and Tequilla or the Nerd Store. 

One of Downtown Greeley’s outdoor concert crowds one year ago, in June of 2019.

But this summer, downtown will be quiet, as will the arenas, parks and places where masses of music lovers congregate. The Blues Jam festival postponed its lineup until next year, as did the Greeley Stampede, though that lineup will probably be different than the one that was supposed to play this year. Bohemian Nights canceled as well, as did just about every gathering you can think of that involves live music and crowds larger than a dozen people. 

“I still have work on the calendar,” said Colin Bricker, whose studio, Mighty Fine Productions, does the sound for the many live festivals and concerts that gave Colorado as much of an identity as its mountains and breweries. “But I find it hard to imagine pulling off any live music this summer. There’s just no way to do that.

“Even if, somehow, we could do it, a lot of the festivals I do are pretty slim margins for the presenters,” Bricker said. “They’re doing it more out of a labor of love. So even if they are down, say, 25 percent, that could kill it. Most people are taking a year off and hoping to do it next year.”

But WAIT! That’s not all. If you don’t mind sitting by your computer, part of Greeley’s summer festival season may in fact, still be on. 

The Greeley Creative District and the DDA will livestream Friday Fest, with interviews, recordings of the groups and shots of downtown, all of it hosted by Hamling. And the Blues Jam will feature Erica Brown, the Cast Iron Queens and the Grace Kuch band playing in isolation booths at Bricker’s aforementioned Mighty Fine Productions studio. 


The Stampede also hopes to livestream a bit. In September, the organization will put on three virtual rodeos sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and broadcast nationwide by The Cowboy Channel network. There’s also some hope that folks can be in the stands, although no one knows yet if that will be possible.

Still, the music lineup can’t happen, and the rodeo is offering ticket refunds as a result. Part of the 2020 lineup could carry over into next year, but most of it will likely change, said Justin Watada, the Stampede’s general manager.

The Bohemian Foundation canceled its NewWestFest even though the popular three-day event usually takes place in August. The festival will schedule a new lineup when it returns August 13-15, 2021.

Smaller venues canceled most of their summer lineups as well, even as some hold out hope. 

“I’m thinking, optimistically, we can have music in July,” said Ely Corliss, owner of the Moxi Theater in Greeley, who secured some government loans to keep him afloat for now, “and pessimistically the end of 2020. No one really knows.”

City venues that offered entertainment, such as the Lincoln Center, the Rialto or the Union Colony Civic Center, have to follow guidelines but are hopeful for the fall. 

“We’re not at any official decision points for the fall semester,” said Jason Evenson, cultural affairs manager for the city. “We are keeping in contact with other regional theaters. The city is monitoring and responding to the changing conditions of the evolving COVID-19 situation.”

Even The Mishawaka, the popular outdoor arena up the Poudre Canyon, canceled its summer lineup but held out hope that it could host some form of live music with a few tables outside.

“I would LOVE to do that with local musicians,” Mishawaka owner Danielle Grant said, “just to have an opportunity for people to play. We will develop that plan as one of our scenarios.”