Superfly’s Inaugural Grandoozy Fest, A Welcomed Addition To Denver, Draws 55K

(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

A Doozy of a Festival: Just before Logic was set to performing on Sept. 16, 2018 as part of the Grandoozy music festival in Denver, Colorado which drew an estimated 55,000 people.

With the premiere of Grandoozy last weekend, Denver may finally have rectified a gaping hole in its growing cultural, social and economic landscape: a major music festival. The event’s top-tier lineup, led by Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar and Florence & The Machine, combined with what seemed a well-executed event while attracting strong first-year attendance numbers—a festival exec estimated the draw at 55,000 for the three-day affair—makes it seem all but certain the fest will return in 2019.

“It exceeded expectations,” said an ebullient David Ehrlich, the festival’s Denver-based executive producer, concluded the day after Grandoozy. “It was a fantastic weekend, our ops, creative, production and booking teams all nailed it,” said Ehrlich who worked closely with festival promoter Superfly over the past four years along with AEG in getting the festival off the ground. 

“I was [Superfly co-founder] Rick Farman’s chauffeur for a few years,” joked Ehrlich. “I got to know him really well and we looked at a ton of sites together.” When the team finally located a site, the Overland Park Golf Course roughly six miles south of downtown, Ehrlich lead the task of getting city approvals and community acceptance.

“They wanted to do a festival and we were very reluctant at first,” explains Fred Weiss, director of finance for Denver’s Parks and Recreation. But once Weiss along with Katy Strascina, executive director for Denver’s office of special events, visited two Superfly promoted (or co-promoted) festivals in San Francisco’s Outside Lands and the now defunct Lost Lake in Phoenix, the city officials grew confident in the promoter’s vast festival skill set.

“Going to Outside Lands was incredibly useful,” says Weiss. “We were able to relay our experience in seeing how professional Superfly are and how well they work with the city. We spoke a lot with the city of San Francisco and they spoke very, very highly of Superfly, their professionalism, their willingness to do what they wanted. And so we brought that to city council, and they voted to approve it.

In return the city got a 10 percent of each ticket sold plus $1.00 for a community fund and $2.00 for city’s golf program. Superfly also paid $200,000 to rent the course for five weeks, plus $5,000 for additional days.

And Denver got its first major music festival since AEG pulled the plug on its Mile High Music Festival in 2010 after three years at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. Denver's Riot Fest, a smaller satellite edition of the Chicago fest, ran from 2013-16 until the passing of promoter Sean Mckeough.

For Grandoozy, however,  this year's launch was well-timed.  “All of a sudden the idea and the availability and the capacity all seemed to come together at the same time as it hadn't before,” explains Denver’s Strascina. “From a parks side of it, from the availability of this park, for the infrastructure and how the city can help manage all the logistics of an event of this size—all of those things came together at the same time.”

Sturgill Simpson
(Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage)
Full Guitar Face: Sturgill Simpson played a headliner-worthy set at Denver’s Grandoozy festival on Sept. 15, 2018
If one were to simply judge the inaugural Grandoozy solely on its well-curated line-up—which included many headline-worthy second tier acts, including Sturgill SimpsonThe War On Drugs, Miguel, St. Vincent, Phoenix, Logic, De La Soul, Mavis Staples, The Chainsmokers and Young the Giant—the festival would be a rousing success well before the golf course gates even opened. Then, however, one would miss out on the event’s myriad of non-music offerings and the massive amount of work, time, investment and logistics that went into creating and launching a new fest.
“All praise that it ran really smoothly should go to our amazing team,” said Kerry Black, a Superfly co-founder along with Farman, Jonathan Mayers and Richard Goodstone. “Our team has been producing festivals together for 18 years now, since the beginning of Bonnaroo. Most all of our department heads and people working with us have been with us for that entirety. So it’s a well-oiled machine that is at a point where we can actually start a large festival like this and have it go off without many hitches.”
Black went on to shout out Hadden Hippsley of the Cleveland-based Lambda Productions, which works on Bonnaroo and helped head production for all of Grandoozy, along with Molly Zidow, Superfly’s Senior Director of Event Operations.
Snow Tha Product
( Courtesy of Grandoozy by
Live Direct: Snow Tha Product performs in the crowd at the Rock Stage during day 2 of Grandoozy on Sept. 15, 2018 in Denver.

Grandoozy’s success is in many ways is a reflection of Denver itself, its growing economy and flourishing culture which are thriving and have helped to distinguish it as a world-class city.   “We look at these festivals as sort of love letters to the city we're in,” Superfly’s Black explained. “Outside Lands is a love letter to San Francisco. Similarly, this one is that for Denver. We really wanted to showcase what's great about this city. We spent a lot of time in the months leading up to the festival coming out here and just checking stuff out. We decided to focus on the outdoor lifestyle, so we had the whole Backyard Area with a bunch of outdoor lifestyle brands showcasing their stuff; and then we built the '80s Ski Lodge which is our more of a Superfly quirky nod to that stuff.” Grandoozy’s Backyard Area featured a panel discussion on the outdoors and business of the outdoors by the likes of pro skier/NFL player turned CEO Jeremy Bloom, Olympic snowboarder and entrepreneur Gretchen Bleiler and Alex Boian, political director of the Outdoor Industry Association.

(Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
A Long Day on the Slopes: Festivalgoers hang out at the 80s Ski Lodge on Sept. 15, 2018 at the Grandoozy festival in Denver.
Black cited ski movies like "…Better Off Dead" and "Hot Dog" as inspiration for the campy faux Ski Lodge complete with ski lift on the lawn and featured DJ sets as an '80s Italian disco session by Weird Touch, a set from De La Soul’s Maseo and a Michael Jackson Vs. Prince jam. While on the other side of the grounds a continual in-the-round dance area called The Break Room featured DJs such as Jon Hopkins, Tensnake and Doc Martin and hosted daily Yoga sessions. The fest’s food offerings, which Black had a strong hand in, reflected the city’s diversity of first-class restaurants that line the shortened (i.e. hip) nicknamed neighborhoods like RiNo (River North), LoDo (Lower Downtown) and LoHi (Lower Highland). Biju Thomas of Biju’s Little Curry Shop was one of eight chef ambassadors for Grandoozy’s Devour Denver initiative, which brought in such city favorites as Illegal Pete's delectable Mexican food and Snooze: An AM Eatery's wondrous breakfast offerings. Thomas, like most vendors Pollstar contacted, spoke highly of Grandoozy: “We're all pretty thrilled with what's been going on here,” he said. "The volume has been nuts for everybody, so I think we were all kinda blown away by how it’s gone.” Words that seemed something of a mantra for most festivals attendees and staff alike with one notable exception: transportation. With no available onsite parking (much like Outside Lands), organizers strongly encouraged festival goers to take public transportation, ride shares or bikes to Grandoozy. After chaos and confusion with ride shares the first night, the organizers opened another ride share area which seemed to somewhat ameliorate the problem, though issues remained. By the same measure, but less in anyone's control. was the record-breaking heat that reached the mid-'90s throughout the festival. Superfly's Black said he made the decision during the festival to put air conditioning into the '80s Ski Lodge. “It's all sort of a living, breathing organism,” Black said, when asked if the festival is coming back next year. “It's like you set things up, you set them in different places, then you see how the fans react. Throughout the weekend I take it all in and see where things are working, where they're not, and try and make it better the next time. That's what we want to do. We create these things to be annual events, so we'll get together afterwards and see where all the chips fall. But that's the idea."