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Bluegrass, brews at Big Wonderful festival in Denver

May 17, 2018 Updated: May 17, 2018 at 7:44 am
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The Big Wonderful festival founder Josh Sampson hoped to create an artsy vibe in Denver's River North Art District (RiNo). Four years later, his events attract upwards of 10,000. The next one is Saturday and Sunday at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. Courtesy.

It's big and it's wonderful. What more do you need to know?

The Big Wonderful festival is crammed with bluegrass music, food trucks, vendors and breweries, distilleries and wineries. Up to 10,000 people came to the first event of the season this month in Denver's River North Art District, affectionately known as RiNo. There are three Big Wonderfuls this month and more scheduled for the fall. After Saturday and Sunday's event at the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, the crew will gear up for its third May 26 in downtown Littleton.

It's all the brainchild of Josh Sampson, who moved to Denver from New York in 2014. He'd built an arts and music hub in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, and he saw similarities in RiNo.

"It had a lot of opportunity for revitalization," he said, "and one of the things I wanted to do was bring arts and culture to the warehouse district."

Four years later, he prides himself on being part of the new arts vibe permeating the district. He's also happy that his festivals have helped small businesses get a start and eventually make their way into a storefront. He says it's the primary reason he offers so many festivals during the year.

"To keep it fresh and cross-pollinate all the small businesses across the Front Range," said Sampson. "We're bringing a sense of excitement and creativity and entrepreneurism in creating fresh markets."

A few vendors he's keeping his eye on are Tractor Beam Apparel, the makers of funny, innovative T-shirts; Strongwater, which creates plant-based elixirs; and Page of Cups, which makes bath balls with CBD oil.

This weekend's musical lineup features Bob Marley tribute band Wake Up and Live, Heartstring Hunters and That Damn Sasquatch, a bluegrass band doing Talking Heads covers.

"It's a mix of a music festival, flea market and brewfest," Sampson said. "It's the ultimate Colorado marketplace. Our big thing is we're a very significant pop-up mobile economy. We try to keep the money circulating locally instead of extracting it. The money goes to small businesses who take risks."

JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM

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