If this first one is any indication of its future, Echofest has the potential to become a significant annual event, and quickly. While the new outdoor festival, put on for the first time last Saturday at Echo Mountain, is certainly no Monolith (yet), it was well attended, and went off pretty much without a hitch. Arranged and staged in a cooperative effort between local sponsor JamSpace, local promoter Whisper Fiercely and Echo Mountain, the all-day festival featured a lineup of about 20 local Denver bands (a few bands did end up canceling, something that happens even when the venue is right down the street) on two stages set up smack in the middle of the mountain’s bunny hill nestled against the “magic carpet” lift, and attracted a crowd that at one point looked like it was comprised of more than 100 fans, despite some pretty stiff winds, wild temperature swings, and a general campground atmosphere.
While the new outdoor festival, put on for the first time last Saturday at Echo Mountain, is certainly no Monolith (yet), it was well attended, and went off pretty much without a hitch.
As you can imagine, putting on any live show isn’t a walk in the park. There are so many places where things can go wrong – from bands canceling at the last minute (even if they do actually call and let the promoter know) to equipment problems, to a myriad of other problems, any of which have the potential to bring all the promoter’s and venue’s efforts to naught, which is to say nothing about any return on their investments in both time and money.
Try and imagine doing it outside, on the side of a mountain, in the middle of a skiing/boarding park, more than 30 minutes from downtown, and more than 12 miles from the nearest significant power grid. Not only are there the usual equipment and sound considerations to contend with, but now you’ve added weather, terrain, transportation and power challenges that no other venue faces, even on their worst day.
So, massive props to Echo Mountain and Whisper Fiercely, for making Echofest ’09 happen, and for pulling it off as smoothly as they did. Just to address some of the challenges I mentioned, and how they were handled:
All power for both stages, and nearly 20 bands’ 30-minute (or more) sets was supplied by a generator provided by Echo Mountain that was parked off to the side of the festival area on a catwalk. And there was only one outage instance (that I saw).
While bands had ample room to park their vehicles in Echo’s two parking areas, even the closest parking was a few hundred yards (at least) from the stage, over rough, mountainside terrain. So each band’s equipment was “ferried” by truck from the lot to one of the two stages and unloaded while another band was playing, and then it was all reloaded and taken back after their set, as the next band setup and sound-checked. It sounds like a massive undertaking – and it was – but the Echofest crew members made it seem all in a day’s work.
. . . massive props to Echo Mountain and Whisper Fiercely, for making Echofest ’09 happen, and for pulling it off as smoothly as they did. . .
Of course, there’s not much Echo Mountain or Whisper Fiercely could do about the weather – except continue to pray it didn’t get any worse (it never rained, or snowed for that matter, while I was there – though just a few days before the mountain had over an inch of the white stuff on the ground and it looked more like January than September). Still, as the winds picked up, and temperatures declined, the staff at Echo built up a few bonfires outside the open lodge/bar area, and provided respite inside their two buildings, the Echo Lodge and the Echo Garage, that featured food, drinks, and – most importantly – warmth for the fans and bands in between sets.
All of these efforts came together brilliantly to provide a solid foundation for the festival, which allowed the bands to give their best onstage. Cold, high winds, stiff fingers and red cheeks all ended up being only small matters. These dedicated musicians filled the two stages for a combined total of more than 9 hours of music – all local, and all ecstatic to be a part of it.
Throughout the day the lineup featured nearly as many punk, metal and rock genres as it did bands (there was a distinct lack of alt-country or folk bands, come to think of it, but I don’t think their absence was really noticed). Many of the bands came from Denver’s suburbs like Thornton, Parker, or Longmont, which proves that, while the downtown scene may gobble up much of the focus, the Denver scene is strong all around the Front Range. There was chunky, Mudhoney-style grunge funk from Circle # Dot, followed by edgy and noisy prog-rock from Portamento, while Apex Vibe and Can’t Quite Get Right featured their unique blends of dub-ska rock, and AudioFlux poured on some straight up punk thrash.
And then there was the metal.
As the sun crept further down behind the Rockies, the lineup seemed to focus more on the harder rock, from System of a Down-type angst of thiC and Cypher, to the pure, unadulterated death metal from Smackfactor (who, by the way, feature an impressive merch machine – everyone in the band had matching hoodies, and so did half of the fans). The crowds loved it all, and by that time was larger and seemed even more excited to be there than at any point earlier in the day. In fact, as I left (finally succumbing to the cold and wind) there were still five bands in the lineup left to play, and the fans showed no signs of slowing down.
Check out this slideshow of the event’s progression:
[slideshow id=echofest_09_2 w=600 h=500]
The question now is whether Echo Mountain and Whisper Fiercely intend to make this year’s festival just one of many to come. When I spoke to Cindy Dady, Echo Mountain General Manager, and Molly Mueller, Echo Mountain Marketing Director, they both seemed impressed with the results, and hopeful for future events. They also hope that an annual Echofest will build awareness of Echo Mountain as a summer fun destination as well as a winter one.
“We’re looking at adding more regular events both during the season and the summer,” said Mueller. “We want to support Denver’s music scene, and also offer some new entertainment for our skiers and boarders during the season, so we’re looking at ideas.”
“[Echo Mountain hopes] . . .that an annual Echofest will build awareness of Echo Mountain as a summer fun destination as well as a winter one.”
Echo Mountain went over and above in initial support by hosting Echofest ’09. In addition to donating the land, man-hours and dedication required to host the event, the administration also gave each band member a season pass for participating in the festival this year, a pretty sweet deal for a few hours’ work, especially doing something you love. The passes ensure that these locals will be back all season long, too.
Another possibility may be regular events – monthly, maybe even more often – in which Echo would feature live shows with local bands or DJs on the deck at mid-mountain or in either the Lodge or the Garage. Providing live, local entertainment during the afternoon and evening offers skiers and boarders already there for the day a unique “apres-ski” environment, and should also attract local music fans to experience Echo – some undoubtedly for the first time – to see what the mountain has to offer. And, since Echo hosts night skiing nearly every day of the week until 9PM (the mountain is closed on Tuesdays, and shuts down on Sundays at 5), skiers and boarders will have the opportunity to play on the mountain to the tunes of their favorite local bands, live and in person.
Whatever develops out of it, EchoFest ’09 was only the beginning, it seems. Melissa Lycan, President of Whisper Fiercely, pointed out that the production company learned a lot about logistics on the mountain and in the woods, but were “. . . happy to help kick off the first year. . . . upward and onward for the future!”
Another possibility may be regular events – monthly, maybe even more often – in which Echo would feature live shows with local bands or DJs on the deck at mid-mountain or in either the Lodge or the Garage.
Judging by the event’s initial success, that future looks damned promising, for the promoter and the mountain, as well as for Denver’s many local bands.