Global Dance Festival’s first edition at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium brought electronic music and positive vibes to the city of Denver in 2017.
Global Dance Festival has been a mainstay of the Colorado music scene since its inception fifteen years ago and has always been one of the most talked-about events of the summer season. This year, the festival moved from its former home at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in order to expand and bring more music than ever before.
Despite any initial concerns about the move, the fifteenth-anniversary edition of the festival was a great success. Although there were some logistical elements that could use some improvements in the years ahead, Global Dance Festival brought a litany of phenomenal performances to the Mile High City for an experience that attendees will not soon forget.
The move from Red Rocks to the more centrally located Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium was a calculated risk that paid off in full.
Although many fans and previous attendees of Global Dance Festival expressed apprehension at the festival’s move from Red Rocks to Mile High Stadium, the new location allowed for such an increase in artist bookings, activities, and space that it was undeniably worth the risk. By increasing the festival’s footprint and upping the number of stages, Global Dance Festival was able to cater to a much wider variety of attendees. Some of the side stages hosted among the best performances of the weekend. There was plenty of space for all assembled, even on Saturday when the festival sold out completely.
The move to Mile High Stadium also allowed for easier travel to and from the festival. The central location allowed attendees a choice between parking in the ample lots at Mile High Stadium or taking an Uber or Lyft to the festival, which was a particularly solid choice for fans hoping to catch one of their favorite artists at one of the after parties at Beta, The Church, or Club Vinyl without dealing with limited parking downtown..
The staff was friendly, the crowd was excellent, and although it was sold out on Saturday, I never felt crammed in or uncomfortable at any point.
Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of Global Dance Festival was the truly outstanding crowd. Even on Saturday, when it felt like the number of festival-goers doubled in size, I never felt uncomfortable, and the people who I interacted with were friendly, polite, and above all else, there to enjoy the festival. Since moving to Colorado a few years ago, I have always felt that the music scene here draws a crowd unlike most others across the country, and Global Dance Festival was a perfect example of that. I even saw mothers there with their kids and people in their late 50’s and early 60’s in the crowd, and all of them seemed to be having a fantastic time.
I was surprised to see the number of people who seemed to be crossing genres and seeing a little bit of everything. At many festivals I’ve attended, people will spend their whole day watching dubstep or house music and will rarely venture outside of their comfort zone. That was not the case at Global Dance Festival; many of the attendees I encountered went from Excision b2b Datsik to see part of Spencer Brown or stayed after BIJOU to catch part of Chris Lake’s set. Perhaps that was a function of being able to easily move from stage to stage due to the festival’s size, but watching two guys in their Excision shirts getting down to some trance is one of the things that sticks out in my mind.
The good vibes weren’t limited to just the crowd, either. Every member of the staff that I encountered was friendly, and most had a smile or a high-five for the people in attendance. The performers were on point, too – much like EDC, there were groups of roving birds, butterflies, clowns, and more wandering through the crowd and dancing at the stages. Not only did they look fantastic, but they were all full of smiles and highly interactive, adding a whimsical element to the overall festival experience.
The production value of the stages added a compelling visual element that enhanced the overall festival experience.
One of the aspects of the production that I was most concerned about was the sound. Given how close the stages were together, there is always a risk of a significant bleed in a small space. That having been said, for the most part, the stages were fairly well isolated, with the exception of the occasional crossover between the Northern Lights and Tundra stages on Saturday, likely because by Saturday the Tundra stage was no longer enclosed due to the heat.
The sound at the main stage left something to be desired depending on where you were standing, possibly because the sound booth was located very close to the stage itself. Toward the front, the sound was quite good, but toward the back, the bass was so overwhelming that it was difficult to discern some of the more nuanced aspects, particularly during sets like Porter Robinson’s.
The stage production featured some cool elements that I have rarely seen at smaller festivals, particularly in the Northern Lights tent. The tent featured lasers, multiple different lighting elements hanging from the ceiling, and pyrotechnical implements on the stage itself shooting sparks into the air, producing a visually stunning effect that made the space feel bigger than it actually was.
The main stage featured some beautiful LED panels, unlike anything I have seen before that added an attractive visual element without being overwhelming. My only real criticism would be the fireworks, which were too minimal to be impressive. Although fireworks can add a fantastical element to overall production, they need to be fairly significant to achieve this. I’d recommend going bigger or spending the money elsewhere next time.
The food and drink options were great, but some of the other amenities need some improvements.
Global Dance Festival chose to bring in local food trucks for the festival, and the options on hand were impressive, efficient, and delicious. I didn’t each much at the festival, but the food I did have was reasonably priced and comparable to the food you can get at any major festival. There were also plenty of bars, and I rarely waited in line more than a couple of minutes for a drink. Different bars had different options ranging from domestic to local beer, mixed drinks, and “loaded lemonade” served with several different choices of liquor.
One of the biggest areas that the festival can improve upon was the water stations. Although the festival did provide free water, which is a plus, the water stations were essentially large plastic containers with spigots on them that had to be refilled whenever they ran out. On Friday, which was overcast and fairly cool by Colorado standards, this wasn’t much of a problem. When the temperature soared twenty degrees on Saturday, however, the containers were sometimes out of water and were in need of refilling. Other times they did not dispense water quickly enough to accommodate crowds in high-traffic areas, resulting in line cutting and other unruly behavior.
Although it is not absolutely required to have filtered water stations at festivals, there is a reason that so many major festivals have gone this route – they’re fast, always on, and allow attendees to get back to the action as quickly as possible. If it’s not possible to go that route, then an increased number of water stations would help to alleviate these problems.
The VIP amenities could use some improvements, as well. The only real benefits to purchasing a VIP upgrade were a separate line, access to an area at the front of the stage, lounge couches, and separate bathrooms. While the separate lines and access were nice, the number of bathroom trailers was insufficient to handle even the number of VIP attendees on Friday. By the end of the night, the water wasn’t functioning in the trailers, either, resulting in a very unpleasant bathroom experience. Especially when paying VIP prices, attendees can and should expect better.
The festival layout could also use some work to remove some of the obvious choke points for next year.
Generally speaking, there was more than enough space for everyone at the festival, and most of the stages felt like they were the right size for their respective performances. There were a few aspects of the layout that could be improved to better facilitate movement from point to point, however, particularly around the Northern Lights and Tundra Stages. Because both stages let out into the same thoroughfare that also led to the only set of GA bathrooms, moving through that area could be extremely difficult, especially around the start and end times of major sets. Making a few adjustments to that would help the flow of traffic significantly.
The other major issue was the aforementioned lack of bathrooms on the side of the festival containing the main stage. Because of this, attendees had to walk all the way across the festival to use the bathroom, resulting in a lot of unnecessary foot traffic past the secondary and tertiary stages. This could easily be remedied with a set of bathrooms behind the main stage, and although that would require some shuffling of carnival rides and games to accommodate it, it would make for a much easier experience for the people who spent most of their weekend watching the headline performances.
A few minor improvements could be made to some of the stage structures, as well. First, the sound booth at the main stage was so tall that the peak of the tent provided an obstructed view for anyone standing behind it, which was a significant number given how narrow the field was in front of the stage. Second, the Tundra stage tended to be very hot and was not quite large enough for some of the acts that performed in it, specifically Dabin on Friday and SAYMYNAME on Saturday. Fortunately, Global Dance Festival had removed some of the sides to the tent on Saturday, but overall a slightly larger structure would improve the experience for fans of some of the bigger artists performing there.
The musical performances were the highlight of the festival, and no matter what type of music you are into, there was something for everyone.
No matter how cool the other elements of the festival might have been, the real stars were the performers themselves. Especially when you consider the ticket cost, the level of talent that Global Dance Festival managed to pull in was very impressive and allowed a wide array of musical styles to be represented. If I could level one criticism in this respect, it’s that some of the headline performances would have benefitted from longer sets. While I recognize that there is a delicate balance between bringing in as much variety as possible and providing set times in excess of an hour, it can be very tough to get into a performance with only 60 minutes available.
For most of the festival attendees, the real stars of the show were Excision b2b Datsik. The entire main stage was packed full and every person there was headbanging to the non-stop onslaught of raw, grimy dubstep brought forth by two of the biggest stars in the scene. From the opening moments of the set featuring a sample of the classic “Swagga” to some of the massive unreleased tracks they dropped in the middle, the set was primed to be one of the biggest moments of the festival, and by all accounts, it delivered and then some.
Attendees seeking a lighter flavor of electronica no doubt found Porter Robinson’s Saturday show to be another one of the highlights. The synthpop wunderkind brought back his widely lauded Worlds live tour and played emotional renditions of all of his most memorable tracks including “Sad Machine,” “Shelter,” and my personal favorite, the swelling orchestral “Fellow Feeling.”
The two performances I was most excited for over the course of the weekend were Chris Lake and Green Velvet.
Both delivered high-energy sets that kept the crowd in the Northern Lights tent dancing nonstop despite the substantial increase in temperature on Saturday. Those who have followed Chris Lake over the last few years know that he has moved toward a more tech house-oriented sound, and his set on Saturday was no exception. He brought the fire from start to finish and when he dropped in his recent hit “Operator” featuring Dances With White Girls, the crowd hit a point of verifiable frenzy.
If you haven’t had a chance to catch Green Velvet, you are missing out. Curtis Jones is one of the grand masters of house and techno, and his inclusion on the bill was a stroke of genius by the promoters. For sixty minutes, he played a set of rolling, rollicking techno and occasionally mixed in his own live vocals on tracks like “Flash” and “Voicemail”, as he frequently does. I was also thrilled to hear him drop in some of my favorite new tracks, such as “Sheeple”, his collaboration with Prok & Fitch. Given that he was one of the few artists of his ilk on the lineup, I hope some of the attendees who hadn’t seen him before took the opportunity.
Despite the massive performances going on at the same time, the Anjunabeats faithful turned out to see Spencer Brown and Grum at the Tundra stage, and they did not disappoint. Rising star Spencer Brown has made some serious waves in the trance community of late, and his set on Saturday night was a mix of heart-pounding trance anthems mixed with gorgeous, emotional interludes that brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps my favorite moment of his set was the inclusion of a club remix of “Sun in Your Eyes,” arguably one of the greatest Above & Beyond tracks of all time.
Grum‘s closing set steered more toward the progressive, as he tends to do. He provided the crowd a well-architected flow, ranging from well-known Anjunabeats favorites and some of his own tracks, including his truly superlative remix of Jason Ross & Seven Lions’ “Higher Love.” I was pleased to see him get an extra half hour after Ben Gold was unable to make it to the festival – the Anjunabeats boys put it to good use.
Although I’ve moved away from dubstep and trap in more recent years onto other sounds, two of my favorite sets of the weekend were Ganja White Night on Friday and BIJOU on Saturday. Ganja White Night’s set veered between reggae, dubstep bangers, and riddim, and was overall one of my surprise favorites of the weekend. BIJOU played a heavy, bassy set filled with massive tune after massive tune, and had assembled almost a full stage despite the fact that he was one of the first sets of the day. He is definitely one to watch.
The first edition of Global Dance Festival in the Mile High City was a success and leaves room to grow in the years ahead.
Whether this was your first Global Dance Festival or you’ve attended the festival for years in its old home, it would be tough to deny that the caliber of performances and the overall experience hit the spot and provided a wonderful midpoint to the festival season in Colorado. Despite any logistical hiccups, the overall response was so overwhelmingly positive that I have no doubt that Global Dance Festival will only continue to grow and become a mainstay of the Denver scene for years to come.
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Featured Photo Credit: Carlos Lopez