Parker residents Angela Matson, from left, her daughter Winter, 7, husband Josh, and son Nash, 10, browse the inside of Ryan Dykstra Records during the Velorama festival Denver Sunday, Aug. 19 near Blake Street. The second year festival offered concerts, art installations, games, bike events, food and drink. (Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver Post)
With a shaky inaugural year at its back, Velorama, RPM Productions’ hybrid cycling and music festival, returned to RiNo on Friday determined to make a better name for itself on its second lap.
Last year’s list of grievances came from all angles. Fans were miffed at its labyrinthian layout and lost more patience when they saw the lengthy beer lines. Cyclists were confounded by the distance between the race and Velorama’s grounds. Vendors struggled with malfunctioning credit card machines and — in the case of the Denver Flea, which did not return this year — poorly considered placement and logistics.
Before it opened the gates on Friday, Velorama had already done better. The solution to last year’s most glaring issues were baked into this year’s blueprints. The festival zipped up its historically oversized grounds in the Rockies’ overflow parking lot into a fraction of its former size and planted a giant, glowing entry gate for those led astray last year.
Better yet, it cozied its cycling events, including the start and finish line of the Colorado Classic — Velorama’s raison d’être — right against the perimeter of the festival grounds. (One unforeseen drawback Saturday afternoon: The women’s cyclists competing in criterium race formed a fast-moving moat around the festival ground.)
Yes, the beer lines were once again long, forming human blockades that cut across the festival at peak hours. And there were still issues with its live music production, albeit ones that were out of the festival’s hands. Hop Along, one of the weekend’s first bands, sound checked right past its scheduled set time; Modest Mouse, a headliner that was a late addition to the festival, postponed its performance a day before Saturday night’s downpour cut its set short. The festival issued refunds and extended free tickets to those who didn’t have tickets for Saturday.
Production hiccups aside, the most pressing questions for Velorama are existential ones. If any state deserves an annual high-profile cycling race, it’s Colorado, and organizers haven’t disguised the fact that Velorama is a means to supporting that end. After all, hosting a multi-stage race such as the Colorado Classic isn’t cheap, particularly for a sport with no obvious spectator areas to section off and ticket. Thanks to a sprinkling of trendy rock bands and some genuinely fun events (the A-Line sprint was a fun use of the area’s quirky environs), Velorama solves that problem.
In that spirit, the event feels less like a true marriage of music and cycling than a race with a concert series tacked on the end. If taken this way, it worked, introducing a quick hit of Denver culture (such as beer, outdoor concerts and unrelenting sunshine) to those who might not have otherwise come through the Mile High City.
Team Rwanda Cycling’s Valens Ndayisenga, 24, relished his first taste of Colorado, despite a late flight in and a struggle with altitude, which ended his Colorado Classic experience early.
“I have done many races in Europe, but Colorado is nicer to race in and to live in, I think,” said Ndayisenga, bobbing his head to a DJ on a giant Red Bull truck by the rash of BMX jumps set in the center of the festival.
The festival could hardly muster a couple hundred fans before the music started on Saturday — but, according to the event’s publicist, it would balloon to roughly 10,000 people by night’s end. There were preliminary estimates of 25,000 to 30,000 attendees on the whole, according to Velorama representative Curtis Hubbard.
Wrapping races around Velorama’s perimeter was a step in the right direction, but unless you were in the VIP section or a part of one of the handful of sponsored company parties that hugged the rail, the races weren’t more than a distant curiosity.
Modern music festivals are almost always a compromise of some sort. Maybe all your favorite bands are playing but you can’t get close enough to actually hear any of them; maybe tickets are cheap, but you’re surrounded on all sides by brands trying to get your email address. For music fans, Velorama’s ask — that you humor its cycling habit between beers — isn’t so insidious. But even as it distances itself from last year’s frame, it’s still confusing.
Dani Goon, who was swinging light-up juggling balls on strings before Modest Mouse’s set on Saturday, summed it up neatly: “I haven’t seen much biking. I was having a cigarette and I saw them doing the BMX thing. The music has been great, though.”