Josh Sampson has a gift for transforming dormant areas into bustling event spaces. Three years ago, the former New Yorker looked at a mostly empty lot in Curtis Park (previously Sustainability Park) and saw something else. The Big Wonderful, an urban festival featuring food trucks, games, and vendors, launched in July 2014. A housing development eventually pushed it out, and last year, the event rotated between multiple locations throughout the summer. Now, Sampson is starting all over again: For its fourth season, the Big Wonderful will be held at the former Denver Post printing plant building in Globeville and take on a new three-day, two-night festival format.
“One of New York City’s greatest exports is the blueprint on how to revitalize urban warehouse and industrial districts. I wanted to bring that blueprint to RiNo/Five Points to give it the actual authentic vibe that it needed to tell its story,” Sampson says.
He and his partners, brothers Mark Lewis and Brad Lewis, hope to turn the Big Wonderful into a recurring event, but for now there’s only one date on the schedule: May 5 to 7, the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby. The event is part beer festival (enjoy unlimited samples from 20 mostly local breweries, distilleries, and cider purveyors), part craft vendor market (those who’ve been to previous events will recognize this as Night Bazaar Denver), and part concert (featuring Jeff Austin & Friends, Drew Emmitt Band, and Rob Drabkin, among others). Attendees can stop by for one afternoon or the entire weekend; tickets range from $5 to $59. A portion of the BeerFest proceeds benefit Re:Vision, an organization that works with people in economically marginalized neighborhoods to cultivate community food systems and develop resident leaders.
Sampson’s vision is bigger than just a festival, though. He wants to eventually incorporate an urban farm into the new space in partnership with Re:Vision. “It’d be a real food hub,” he says. “Denver does need to put a priority on local, organic food, and I think we would be a catalyst for that if we could get this accomplished.” He’s currently awaiting approval from the landowners.
The Big Wonderful team also wants to continue serving as a launching pad for other small businesses. American Grind, which now has a home at Avanti Food & Beverage, started out at a Big Wonderful event. Stuart Jensen, the event’s first bar manager, is now a co-owner of Curio, inside Central Market.
For a festival “that came out of nowhere,” as he puts it, the Big Wonderful has lofty ambitions. Based on the crowds at previous events, we imagine they’re more than achievable.