By its second anniversary, back in 1994, the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery already needed a bigger space for its birthday bash — the restaurant just wasn’t big enough, so the crew headed to Boulder Theater.
And it kept going like that; Mountain Sun got more popular, opened more locations and had bigger and better parties, all the while donating to local nonprofits, supporting bands on the local music scene and helping us all get through the endlessly dark, cold days of February with the much beloved Stout Month.
Mountain Sun is an institution in Boulder.
This year, for its 25th anniversary, it seems only right that Mountain Sun host its biggest celebration yet, the aptly named Colorado Kind Festival, at Planet Bluegrass, another important fixture in the Boulder community.
“I can’t believe it,” says co-owner Kevin Daly. “It’s so funny; I don’t feel that old. We’re considered this iconic Boulder institution. I still feel like we’re young kids.”
The Colorado Kind Festival will feature bands that all credit Mountain Sun with helping them build momentum early in their careers: The Motet, The Drunken Hearts, Yonder Mountain String Band and The String Cheese Incident.
“All of the bands that are playing at the Kind Fest have played at our pubs at some point,” Daly says. “Everyone is friends and colleagues so it’s gonna be a real family union.”
That family reunion vibe is something Daly and the team at Mountain Sun have always worked to cultivate.
“From the beginning we wanted to create a pub that embodied the feeling of a parking lot at a Grateful Dead show or a bluegrass festival, that feeling you get,” Daly says. “That community of sharing and egalitarian spirit.”
The Mountain Sun crew captured that spirit immediately by making their first pub — and the four that would eventually follow — places where people were encouraged to socialize. There are no televisions on the walls, just music memorabilia and other odds and ends that Daly picked up on his travels around the world. There’s a shelf of board games for community use and good music on the speakers or playing live in front of you. Throw in a lineup of handcrafted brews and a menu full of pub grub and the Mountain Sun family of restaurants starts to feel like a good house party, replete with comfortable couches and a patio where you can catch some fresh air.
“The vibe is killer,” says Dave Watts, drummer and frontman of The Motet. “[Mountain Sun has] always embodied the Boulder spirit of positive energy. Everyone that works there is happy to be there. The employees are enthusiastic — you can just feel it. The artwork and vibe they’ve created is consistent. There’s a certain scene that feels like home, that feels like Colorado.”
Watts moved to Colorado in the early ’90s and came up in the music scene with The String Cheese Incident, even sharing a house with members of the band out in East Boulder. The Motet played their first show together at the Mountain Sun’s Halloween party in 1998.
“Mountain Sun was the place to play on Sunday nights,” says Watts. “I can remember coming home from those Mountain Sun gigs on Sunday nights and feeling so happy.”
A big part of the Sun’s appeal, Watts says, is its support of the local music community “on sort of a grassroots level.”
“Boulder has lost some of the midlevel venues,” Watts says. “That’s where bands get their start. But Mountain Sun has always supported that. It’s never been about the money; it’s always about supporting the local music scene.”
“The Mountain Sun is a reflection of the Colorado music scene,” says Andrew McConathy of The Drunken Hearts. “I think that’s kind of the core idea behind [the Colorado Kind Festival]. All these bands have a really special connection.”
Beyond the music, McConathy says, there’s an ethos of trust that’s hard to come by in a corporate, profit-driven world.
“They have a system where if you forgot your wallet you can leave an IOU,” McConathy says with a laugh. “That’s pretty special. You don’t see that in many places.”
Employees love Mountain Sun as much as the customers, perhaps because of that same level of trust.
“We keep people around a long time because one of our missions was to make this place as fun to work at as it was to visit,” Daly says. “We always worked at making it a fun job where people feel empowered. At our pubs, [employees] can do what they need to do to get the job done. We have a real team system.”
Friday, Sept. 14
5 p.m. — Festival Gates Open
5:15 p.m. — Mountain Sun Happy
Hour with Kessel Run
6 p.m. — The Mountain Sun All-Stars
featuring members of The String Cheese Incident and very special friends
8 p.m. — The Motet (two sets)
Saturday, Sept. 15
10 a.m. — Festival Gates Open
10:15 a.m. — Yoga on the Planet
10:30 a.m. — Snooze All-You-Can-Eat-and-Drink Pancake Breakfast featuring La Pompe Jazz (this is not included in the ticket price; $25 goes directly to New Era Colorado)
1 p.m. — The Drunken Hearts
3 p.m. — Yonder Mountain String
Band (two sets)
7 p.m. — The String Cheese Incident
11 p.m. — Late-Night Funk Set at the Wildflower Pavilion (lineup TBA)
Tickets available at shopbluegrass.com /mountainsun25