Twenty-seven years ago, a handful of Boulderites decided to go a good deed: to pitch in and clean up the creek and the downtown parks surrounding it. To make it fun, they added a couple booths. Then they added a couple more. Before long, that cleanup fell by the wayside and the booths took over.
The Boulder Creek Festival was born.
Almost three decades later, The Boulder Creek Festival is a reverse-Godzilla, a monster that emerges from the water annually to wage fun on Boulder. From Saturday, May 24 to Monday, May 26, (Memorial Day weekend) it will transform Boulder’s downtown park blocks all the way from Ninth to Fourteenth streets into a cornucopia of games, performances, food, art, music and so much more.
And while the festival has continued to grow every year, this year being no different, Communications Director Meg Denbow says that organizers are careful to make those changes incremental so as not to affect the spirit or character of the annual event.
“We walk the fine line of making it similar every year, because this is a beloved festival,” says Denbow.
And the reason Denbow says it’s so beloved is that it’s so quintessentially Boulder.
“It’s so, so unique,” she says. “It’s unlike anywhere else in the country. You get people from so many walks of life. There’s people on roller skates. You have people walking their parrots. Who goes to a festival with a parrot? People in Boulder.”
The big thing perennial attendees might notice is that this year’s Boulder Creek Festival will feature more carnival rides than ever before. Denbow says that the primary carnival zone at the festival’s east end will remain relatively unchanged, but that rides and games will also be interspersed throughout the rest of the grounds.
“Any place we have spare space, it’s going to be some sort of ride or attraction so the lines won’t be so crazy,” says Denbow.
Denbow says organizers also increased the number of WOW Bubbles (a sort of aquatic hamster ball for children) due to their popularity.
Another change is the festival has continued down the path it started five years ago toward zero waste. That’s why if you look on the map, the two food courts aren’t just food courts, but “THE EXPERIMENTAL FOOD COURT OF TOMORROW!” a name Denbow says is a play on Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Florida.
“Really, it’s a zero-waste zone,” she says. “Everything is recyclable and compostable.”
No small feat for the 50 food vendors that will be at the Boulder Creek Festival.
Another change from previous years has to do with flood damage. The annual Kids Fishing Derby had to be moved because the downtown fishing pond hasn’t yet been repaired. Instead, the derby will take place at Viele Lake in South Boulder.
Of course, it’s a bittersweet fate that Memorial Day commemorates such voluminous tragedy, while also serving as the official kick-off for three months of camping, barbecues, lounging in hammocks, hiking, picnics, stargazing and countless other things that make one glad to be alive.
That’s why a consistent part of the Boulder Creek Festival is a Salute to Veterans Program as part of its festivities over Memorial Day weekend.
“There’s so much going on during Memorial Day weekend that we don’t want to distract from what the day is all about,” says Denbow.
The program will recognize Boulder’s veterans throughout history, offer information for new veterans looking to connect with one another or cope with being back home, and feature a performance from the Boulder Concert Band.
But as with all beautiful summer days, it’s hard to feel sad for too long, and the memorial part of Memorial Day will quickly be overshadowed by the unmitigated joy of summer fun.
And if you’re looking to overdose on fun, one way to do so is the enormous line up of live music that is part of the Boulder Creek Festival.
There will be a launch party performance at the Central Park Bandshell from U2 tribute act Under a Blood Red Sky and then starting Saturday as soon as the gates open, there will be dozens of bands playing on four stages. Everything from the lounge blues of The Delta Sonics, to the African marimbas of Kutandara to the experimental hip hop of Wheelchair Sports Camp, a band fronted by the 3-foot-6-inch, 53-pound, wheelchair-bound and foul-mouthed MC Kalyn “T-Minus Katlyn” Heffernan that is one of Colorado’s best and most unusual music acts.
The full schedule of music and events can be found on page 29.
If you’re looking for something a bit more unusual to keep you entertained, then be sure to check out one of the Boulder Creek Festival’s marquis events: the Expand Duck Race, in which thousands of rubber ducks will race down Boulder Creek from the 9th Street bridge to the finish line at the Peace Garden.
Anyone who wants to sponsor a duck can do so for a $5 donation that will go to benefit the Boulder Parks & Recreation Expand Program, which provides recreational and cultural opportunities for people with disabilities.
The Expand Duck Race will go down Monday, May 26 at 4 p.m.
But you don’t need to sponsor a duck to enjoy the race. In fact, according to Denbow, you don’t really need to spend anything to have fun at the festival as so many of the events are free, including tons of free samples from various food booths. Morning Star Farms will even be giving out halfsized veggie burgers for free.
“You’ll practically be able to get a free meal out of samples,” says Denbow.