For years, the Boulder Creek Festival has marked the beginning of summer.
It symbolizes that this year, too — just a little delayed. But mostly, it is a sign of life returning back to (mostly) normal after a year-plus of social restrictions. The Creek Fest is one of the first, large-scale, community-wide events the region has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic put gatherings like this on pause.
For more than three decades, Creek Fest has run for three days every May over Memorial Day weekend. The annual event typically brings free family fun, entertainment, more than 500 vendors, food and live music to the banks of the beautiful Boulder Creek.
This year, Creek Fest was pushed back to July 16-18 (but organizers hope to return to Memorial Day in the future). Vendor booths will be spread out a little wider than usual, to allow more social distancing for those who want it.
Because it’s outdoors, there’s no capacity limit and there’s plenty of space, but the number of vendors has been reduced to less than 200. And new for 2021, the Creek Fest will have a sort of festival within a festival — a new, ticketed beer festival featuring local breweries and beer samples.
But at its core, the event is the same celebration as usual, says event director Ryan Slater.
“It’s been two years since we had a real event. That seems like no time but also it seems like forever,” Slater says. “It’s fun to see the familiar faces and get back to being able to enjoy ourselves on a great, sunny July day.”
As usual, Creek Fest will feature three stages for live entertainment. The headliners will play in the Glen Huntington Bandshell. The community stage and festival stage will highlight local acts.
One highlight will be an “all-star jam” of different Boulder musicians from various bands on Sunday. In addition, Friday musicians include Wrenn and Ian, Danny Shafer, the Zimmermans and the DeadPhish Orchestra. On Saturday, you can listen to Ms. Amy and The Jet Set, Dechen Hawk, Green Buddha and Envy Alo, with the headliner Tierro and Bridget Law.
Some of the kids’ activities will be scaled back (no carnival and enclosed activities), but you’ll still find an outdoor rock climbing wall, yoga and children’s entertainment with local musicians Jeff and Paige.
“We’re back,” Slater says. “The beer fest is new, but everything else you know and love, it’ll be there.”
The idea for a beer festival at the Creek Fest came from Vail last summer. Team Player Productions, which organizes Creek Fest, produced the Vail Craft Beer Festival last summer — one of the limited festivals that occurred in 2020, due to the reduced capacity (it’s much smaller than an event like Creek Fest) and the ability to enforce safety protocol, like masks. The Vail Craft Beer Festival was so successful that it inspired the producers to ask how they could apply what worked to their other events.
Creek Fest already had a beer garden, where event-goers can buy beer and cocktails by the glass. But the new Creekside Beer Festival will be different: You buy a separate ticket for this event and get to sample beer from 20 to 25 local breweries, included with your $25 ticket price.
“It’s a great way to show some love to local breweries that have supported us and the neighborhood,” Slater says. “You can enjoy the beer tastings, and still enjoy the other aspects of the Creek Fest before and after.”
Slater says the event organizers spent a lot of time adapting and playing with different ideas to be able to pull off the event. An event like this takes upwards of 10 months to organize, so they created different plans that would comply with all the different potential Covid-19 restriction levels; how the fest would look at level red was different than how it would look at level blue.
“It’s been a plan within a plan within a plan,” he says.
And they just kept adjusting as information changed. Slater says they decided in February to bump the festival date to July to allow more time for things to open up.
“As counties and the world were getting somewhat better, we planned accordingly. We went from a capped capacity with one-way traffic and limited vendor booths, to expanding. Now it looks like we are clear and ready to be somewhat normal,” Slater says.
He says he’s excited to bring the Creek Fest back to the community, but is ready to adapt if needed. Still, at this point, the county has cleared all outdoor events.
“We are ready to rock,” he says.
Last spring, everything was already planned for Memorial Day when event organizers got the notice they had to shut it all down. Instead, they held a virtual Boulder Creek Fest live stream, where vendors were in “virtual booths” and bands sent videos of their performances to share. Luckily, this was during the “pre-Zoom burnout” that everyone’s feeling now, Slater says.
They rescheduled the in-person Creek Fest for early August 2020, but again had to cancel it.
“We’ve all had a tough year and been through a lot,” Slater says. “We just want to bring some sort of normalcy to the weekend — get out and enjoy ourselves.”
He recommends checking out the full list of vendors and bands on the website to create a game plan for the day. Bring water and sunscreen, because it’s expected to be warm. And come ready to support Boulder’s businesses and vendors.
“That’s ultimately what it’s about. Grab a beer, bring the family, and let’s get back to having fun again,” he says.