Lessons I Learned From Denver’s Riot Fest


Denver, Colorado, sits at the mouth of the Rockies. People move here from all over America, and all over the world. A crossroads for cultural influences, it’s host to incredible food, art, and musical tastes as varied as its population. And for three days in August, Denver’s National Western Stock Show arena trades cowboys, horses, and cattle for the thunder of rock and roll, hip hop, and hordes of fans: Riot Fest 2015!riot-fest-denver-crowd

When you’re visiting Denver, you’ll find the usual hotel options in Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood. While you’re in town, take a walk down the 16th Street Mall, take in the sights and smells of the various street performers, play chess with the homeless, or stop in at one of the many bars to pre-game before heading to the show. Check out local favorite Illegal Pete’s for a burrito that’ll change your life. Admire the architecture of Union Station or catch a Rockie’s game at Coors Field. When you’re ready to see 86 of your favorite bands over 3 days, head out to The National Western Stock Show arena.  It’s just northeast of LoDo and River North (RiNo).

Parking will cost you $20. A DUI might extend your stay. It’s a $20 Uber from the 16th Street Mall to the venue and it’s worth every penny to avoid parking your car, or fighting the traffic when it’s time to head home, especially if you’ve had a few drinks or are otherwise enhancing your experience (which is perfectly legal in Colorado, but you probably already knew that). Check out Native Roots or Natural Remedies

When you get to the venue, you’ll be searched. I can’t comment on how thorough those searches are. There are lockers and merch tents to the right of the entrance if you need them. On the south side of the arena you’ll find food trucks and concession stands. The food is delicious. The drinks are pretty standard.

Something I wish I’d known before I stood in line for a beer: To buy drinks, you need to buy drink tickets! Drink tickets cost $1 apiece. Beers are $8/ea. The sign says $8. They do not take cash. Buy drink tickets before waiting in the drinks line! I opted for a Moscow Mule in a can because it was a Moscow Mule…in a can. It didn’t disappoint.


Something else I wish I’d known before I stood in another line: Drink tickets are not the same as ride tickets! I repeat—drink tickets are not the same as ride tickets. On the north side of the arena there’s a carnival with rides. It’s pretty awesome. All the standard carnival attractions are there like bumper cars and a ferris wheel. All of these rides take tickets and if you want to hop on a ride, you need to buy a ticket prior to waiting in line.

86 artists performed at Riot Fest. There were 5 stages, spread strategically throughout the venue—two south of the arena, one in the arena, and two past the carnival on the north side of the arena. Find a map, or follow the crowds. (A map would’ve been really helpful). It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the Riot Stage to the Rock Stage (the longest distance between stages).

With so many bands, every kind of music fan is represented. At first, I thought the bandana-wearing and dust mask-wearing fans were trying to make a fashion statement. Thirty minutes later as the dust started to kick up, I realized what they were really for. I expect dust at a rodeo or at Burning Man, but I hadn’t prepared for dust at Riot Fest. Denver is high desert, very dry, and filled with sand and dust. The sand-prepared fans were sitting pretty. When I made it home I looked like I’d been wandering in the desert. Be prepared, beware the dust storms!


For some (and by some, I mean me), the highlight of the event was seeing The Pixies play “Where is My Mind?” The sun had just gone down and the moon was slowing rising as thousands gathered around the stage, swaying in unison, taking in the cool night air. Lights cycled from red to white, it was all very trance-like. The silhouette of fans against the light of the stage propelled an unmatched energy. I felt like right there, in that moment was the reason our culture has flocked to festivals in the first place. This is what they want to experience.

No videos from this year’s fest are up yet. But if you’ve yet to attend one of Denver’s biggest and bestest festivals, then take a look at what you’re missing with a video from last year.

Thank you to the Riot Fest artists of 2015 – I can’t wait for next year.

Bands included…



By: Rick Westport

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