Denver’s largest urban park has always been a place for music. In the late 19th century, locals strolled through City Park on Sundays, listening to musicians play on a floating bandstand.
In 1986, a small group of neighbors revived the tradition. At the time, the roads that wound through the green space were heavily trafficked by visitors to the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The neighbors wanted to bring back a sense of community and inclusivity by inviting Colorado jazz artists to play free outdoor concerts.
“We crave an opportunity to come together, set aside our differences, forget our troubles for a couple of hours, and enjoy music we all love,” says Lynn Sibbet, one of the original neighbors who helped launch City Park Jazz. “The concerts bring a very diverse audience together and [that creates] a special sense of community.”
Thirty years later, the concert series is one of the Mile High City’s most popular summertime events. Most Sunday nights (from 6 to 8 p.m. through August 7), thousands of people head to City Park Jazz for live performances by local musicians, food trucks, volleyball, and other outdoor recreations—even a blanket picnic. Though not much has changed in three decades, audiences for each show have expanded from 200 people in the earliest days to an estimated 10,000 today.
As the event has grown, organizers have gotten requests from out-of-town bands who hope to play on the Bandshell stage. The answer is always a firm no; City Park Jazz was always about showcasing local talent, and it still is, says Bob Nelson, executive director of the City Park Jazz board of directors. This summer’s lineup includes Selina Albright, a soulful Colorado R&B and jazz vocalist; the Heavy Heavies, a six-member jazz group based in Denver; and Hazel Miller, a powerful jazz, R&B, and blues vocalist and a City Park Jazz regular.
The concerts are still free and organized entirely by volunteers, though the group pays police, paramedics, sound engineers, and people to pick up trash. Feel free to bring your own 3.2 beer (while the law lasts) and food—or opt for one of the roughly 20 food trucks serving up everything from smoothies to Ethiopian food. Whatever you do, don’t miss this epic summer series as it celebrates 30 years of outdoor jazz performances.