When it comes to music festivals, Colorado has had a unique and rocky past. From festivals like the Mile High Music Festival, Snowball Festival, and last year's Grandoozy – they have all come and gone with a variety of results. While Colorado has seen mainstays such as Sonic Bloom, there aren't many offerings, especially with Red Rocks shows gobbling up a lot of the talent. This is why we were so pleased to discover the 2 day festival up in Vail called Powabunga. Considering it has the backing of the city of Vail itself (no small feat) and it brought on powerhouses like Zhu and Justin Jay – we had to see what all the hype was about.
Upon arrival on the first day it was clear from the get go that a lot of solid planning was in place. While I at first thought it would be taking place within the Gerald Ford Park Amphitheater (a small staged area home to free shows in the Summer) it turned out that the event was set in a lot near by off route 70, featuring incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Sectioned off by barricades, the event was set up in a wide rectangle that provided very clear and maintainable parameters for the event. While on the outset it seemed relatively basic, it provided a great amount of space and very clear direction for the flow of traffic.
After making my way in through the gates I was greeted by a variety of vendors – from Pacifico beer trucks, to taco and pizza stands to (my personal favorite) the crunchy maui chicken bowl stand. The food and drink offerings were on par if not better than a lot of events I've been to, and I found the price to fall in the same category as well. There were also a bunch of vendors selling jewelry, pashminas, and clothing. It was also super delightful to see heating tents placed near the opening – especially with temps in the 30's. Beyond all of this there was a variety of large art installations perfect for photo ops, such as a giant set of peacock feathers and a wall of flowers.
The event featured one large stage set with a huge video wall and top notch lighting and sound. Throughout the weekend I remarked many times that the highs, mids, and lows were on point and the lighting really added a level of depth to each performance. I was happy to see that they capitalized on these elements – it made the event feel very professionally done which is extremely important, especially with a festival's first year. General Admission was set center of the stage, and the VIP section was then smartly set off to the right of the stage with access to a heat lamps (thank you), a private bar, comfy couches, and passed hors d'oeurves (AMAZING).
The music for day 1 was nothing short of magical. Opening sets were provided by Vail resident Beschloo, as well as post-disco musical duo De Lux, and DJ Golden. We were then treated to Justin Jay's band Fantastic Voyage – a five-piece tour de force, providing upbeat groovy and rhythmic beats coupled with a smooth and chill vibe that couldn't have been more perfect for the atmosphere. The group did a great job of locking in on the crowd's energy and elevating it.
Following their set – DJ Ramona kept the energy going as more and more people were filling the venue. It was clear that ZHU was the highlight, if not the main reason, that people were amped on the festival. I was pleased to see that even with the continuous influx as the night went on there was still plenty of room to move. From the moment the infamous ZHU banner lit the screen the crowd's energy was infections. It didn't hurt that he was also flanked by two saxophonists which only served to elevate the mood. As previously mentioned, the sound and lighting were superb and the deep bass and the groovy noire vibes were nothing short of perfect. If I had to pick the best set of the event – this was the one.
Following the event, Justin Jay was set to play a Dirtybird set at the Vail Ale House an I'd be damned if I was going to miss it. Luckily, transportation to and from the event was a breeze – free busses picked people up and brought them into the town of Vail. When I arrived the energy was through the roof. Justin Jay had the whole place on lockdown – he spun an incredible house set till late in the night. People were packed in and even dancing on the stage surrounding the booth – these kind of communal nights make for my favorite type of afterparty.
Day 2 kicked off just as strong – this time with costumes. The festival threw a crazy costume contest in Vail Village – challenging attendees to come up with their wackiest ideas and show them off. I have to say – the crowd didn't disappoint. I saw everything from Winnie the Pooh, to an astronaut, to a couple dressed as the iconic denim-clad Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, to a full disco-era squad. It made the day so much more interesting and downright-funny and was a great idea on the part of the festival.
Saturday brought us an interesting opening act called Ishi. Hailing out of Texas, Ishi brought with him a group of “groove montsters,” 3 back up dancers wearing ghili suits and other interesting getups. The music was funky and smooth, similar to Justin Jay's band but with more soul and disco flair. Boombox was also another standout performance. Formed by Zion Godchaux (son of two former Grateful Dead members) on guitar and vocals and his new traveling DJ companion DJ Harry, the group played what they fondly call “Dirty Disco Blues.” It was a welcome treat, and it was obvious so many others agreed – Boombox has a huge Colorado following. The night was then concluded by Grammy award winning duo, Bob Moses. They provided perhaps the most chill set of the night – performing a variety of their popular songs along with others less known. They served as a great way to end the event and again reminded me how great and unique of a lineup Powabunga provided.
All in all, the inaugural Powabunga festival was a huge success. They kept the event to a great size – not exceeding the bounds of what was necessary to put on a great show. The audio visual was top notch, the vendors were well selected, and the lineup was a great fit for the location. I was so pleased to hear that they had the backing of the whole town and it has even been reported that there were no major incidents involving police or medical teams. We were thrilled to be a part of this event – Colorado is a magical place, and Powabunga served as a shining example of how to add to that magic.