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Eight years after Meow Wolf transformed the art world with the opening of the House of Eternal Return, its permanent immersive installation in Santa Fe, the collective spawned Vortex: a three-day experiential music festival in 2018 that entranced guests with a Cashmere Cat performance, llama trekking, and electronic-dance-infused glamping in Taos, New Mexico. The 2019 iteration of the outdoor fete featured aerial acrobats, improv actors, and artists like Zhu, Chet Faker, and GoldLink. It’s impossible to say what kaleidoscopic amusements the 2020 and 2021 Vortex music festivals would have delivered had the pandemic not stopped the party. Fortunately, this year art lovers from around the world can once again partake in Vortex—and this time, the event will be held in the Mile High City. In anticipation of the trippy festivities—which start this Friday and run through Sunday, with tickets still available online—here’s the breakdown on what should be one of the summer’s most electrifying events.
The Denver Connection
In 2021, Meow Wolf expanded from Santa Fe to Las Vegas and Denver, with the long-anticipated Convergence Station installation in Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood opening last fall after fours year under construction. While Sin City might’ve seemed like the obvious choice for the 2022 version of the Vortex music festival, the brains behind the festival felt that Denver’s artistic energy provided an ideal setting. “We have found that there is so much expression here…” says Marsi Gray, senior creative producer at Meow Wolf, “and we have found so many amazing artists who want to play with us. Collaboration and offering space for artists to participate is our jam, and this makes Denver an amazing place for us to hold Vortex.”
Nonetheless, relocating an established festival series is a risky move. The undertaking might have been easier if the Vortex team had packed up its Taos crew to handle the new opportunity. Instead, Meow Wolf recycled the playbook of its permanent exhibits: Employ local talent. For Vortex, the collective committed to hiring 30 percent of artists and 50 percent of vendors locally. Furthermore, Meow Wolf’s social impact team set clear diversity, equity, and inclusion goals: 40 percent of artists and performers and 30 percent of festival vendors will be women and/or minorities. “For Vortex, we wanted to make sure that we stuck true to our Meow Wolf roots,” Gray says, “and gave the opportunities we could to our local community members and groups.”
As such, Vortex music festival is expected to bring hundreds of paying jobs and exposure opportunities to dozens of Coloradans—from security officers to food and beverage vendors (like WeChef Kitchen and Bombay Station), and from ASL interpreters to interdisciplinary artisans (including Astral Hoops and Hyphy Color). Although Meow Wolf is famously vague with its installation descriptions, Vortex festivalgoers should expect a Murder Mystery Dinner Party–powered scavenger hunt, a naughty circus parade by LazerPantz, and Big Expression Comedy’s funniest show ever.
In June 2022, Meow Wolf announced that Vortex would eschew typical Denver hot spots like Levitt Pavilion for a refurbished salvage yard located between Denver’s Lincoln Park and Sun Valley neighborhoods. The brand-new, open-air venue, dubbed the Junk Yard, will be operated by Live Nation. “We love that the Junk Yard is in the heart of Denver,” Gray says, “close to Convergence Station, and easy to get to by public transportation and ride share services.” That’s the company line anyway. It’s not clear how “easy” it will be for hundreds—possibly thousands—of partygoers to come and go from the area, which has almost no parking and very little event infrastructure. (See more transportation tips below.) When and if festival attendees do get to the Junk Yard, however, they will encounter two stages, a craft vendors market, food and beverage stalls, and seating.
The Five Can’t-Miss Acts
Although there are 38 musical acts scheduled throughout the weekend—and likely just as many off-stage performances by the likes of Jenny Ollikainen’s Mythic Times space goats and cloud bois—there are a few you should not miss. On Friday, Barry Can’t Swim will grace the stage with poppy-808 melodies as one of five opening acts before Brazilian icon Pabllo Vittar belts out political pop. 100 gecs will keep the bops coming with its sonic collage of trap, death metal, and EDM on Day 2. On Sunday, the festival will supply an entirely different aural landscape with French DJ Worakls’ melodic techno. Finally, electronic duo Bob Moses, known for smooth summer house music, will close out the weekend’s festivities.
Single-day tickets are $69.50 or $198.75 for a three-day pass (VIP admission is $129.50 for one day or $339 for the weekend). The Vortex music festival is a rain-or-shine event, so pack for comfort: Bring a water bottle (no glass), an umbrella, and sunblock. Alcohol, weapons, food, and professional cameras are forbidden. Unsurprisingly, hula-hoops are allowed. Public transportation is your best bet since parking is limited and—bonus!—RTD has free bus rides for the entire month of August. Doors open at 4 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday doors open at 1 p.m.
(Read More: Does Colorado Have a Mega Music Festival Curse?)