For the first time in its four-year history, the SnowBall music festival brought its dance-friendly music lineup and freewheeling vibes to the city of Denver over this past weekend.
Previous SnowBall incarnations had taken place in the ski resort settings of Avon and Winter Park, Colo., as festival founder Chad Donnelly had envisioned the annual three-day event as “the ultimate marriage: music and mountains.” Timing and scheduling issues forced a move into the Mile High City (read more in our interview with Donnelly), which, in the long run, probably made SnowBall more accessible this year than ever before.
Featuring four music stages in the area directly south outside of Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, SnowBall benefitted from utilizing a smaller land area than its larger festival peers. Accessibility was a non-issue for attendees: not only was the event an easy commute for anyone in the Denver metro area, but stages and tents were brief, undemanding walks away from each other, allowing easier navigation to sample acts.
And there was a wide variety of acts to sample. The main pulls of the fest were certainly its dance music headliners (local star Pretty Lights, Knife Party, Griz) and the DJ sets at the Groove Stage, which managed considerable crowds throughout the weekend. The more secluded Ballroom Stage, however, boasted a wide variety of guitar bands, local heroes, and synth-pop that provided several of the weekend’s highlights.
Escort was among the first to offer an effortlessly danceable set. Frontwoman Adeline Michele and her two backup singers demanded a large crowd, kicking off Friday evening with saccharine disco grooves. On the main stage, Earl Sweatshirt needed a little more effort to get the crowd shaking, encouraging his audience that it was in fact OK to move around during his rap set. Warpaint swayed a large mass away from Knife Party’s electronica for their enigmatic indie rock that blended spectacularly with the dark color palette of their light show.
Saturday appeared to be the most highly attended day of the festival: accredit headliner Pretty Light’s two-and-a-half hour set for that. A dozen or so fans posted up front and center of the main stage early on in the day, donning matching “PL” caps. Derek Vincent Smith, the Colorado native behind the electronica project, is among the breed of musicians who inspire that rabid type of following. At the close of his set, he expressed his appreciation for the CO music scene, claiming we were all in “a special place at a special time” for music. The vast crowd roared in agreement.
Twin Shadow proved a formidable concurrent set with Smith’s, which stands out as a festival highlight. The project of singer/guitarist/novelist George Lewis Jr. has put out two pleasant albums of synth-pop (think Prince with a deeper voice writing music for John Hughes films), but in this live setting Lewis Jr. seemed to have something to prove. Instructing his engineer to turn the amps up to do battle with Pretty Lights, the band proceeded to turn out perhaps the most energetic and passionate performance of the weekend, with Lewis Jr. grinning ear to ear for the full hour.
Sunday had a more relaxed atmosphere early on, with main stage sets from locals You Me & Apollo and Wild Belle offering a roots-rock alternative to Days one and two. Inner Oceans fell in the middle, blending guitar rock with ambient synth melodies so memorable it’s plain to see why Westword Magazine chose them as “Best New Band in Denver” this year. Later on at the Ballroom Stage, Australian trio Jagwar Ma wrapped up Sunday night with new-rave tunes that crossed the Stone Roses with “Achtung Baby”-era U2.