I wasn't sure what the Big Wonderful was, and I wasn't alone.
“An art festival.” “A food truck lot.” “Some outdoor deal with music.” “A DIY-scene thing.”
These were the rumored descriptions of Denver’s The Big Wonderful. Several Boulder and Denver bands had posted about playing the event and the cursive yellow sign occasionally crept into my Instagram feed. So I rolled over to TBW lot on 26th and Lawrence one Saturday. And if you had come with me, this is what you would have seen:
Upon entering (admission is free), the staff try to talk to you about buying various alcohol packages. It’s too hot for you to listen, but you learn over the course of the afternoon that this is a booze-heavy event. There’s a giant tent in the middle of the lot where you can get cocktails depending on the drink deal you buy. There is also a keg truck if you go the beer route. And between musical performances, the emcee (who appears like the ringleader of this hipster circus in his top hat and vest) auctions off cocktail packages and ski shots. That’s all you know about the dranks because you meet some of the bands and hang ‘backstage.’ The artists are paid with a check and a six-pack of PBR, so you dip into some of their free poison water for kicks.
After chatting with the local bands on the lineup, you decide to wander around. The Big Wonderful is set up in one big circle, so you do a lap and make a mental list of what’s up:
1. There are food trucks. The most notable: a giant red one that sells lobster (which appears to be very popular), a real-looking fire truck that sells crepes, and thank god, an ice-cream truck. You are very grateful for Happy Cones Co. in this heat today.
2. You come upon a giant, old abandoned tour bus, the kind with seating on the roof. You want to take a selfie in front of it, but feel like someone may shout “millennial” at you, so you don’t.
3. There is a weird, enclosed, wooden hut with streamers that looks like it was used for pony rides years ago by carnies on LSD but it’s currently used for nothing. You stare at it and contemplate The Big Wonderful’s funky circus vibes.
4. You pass a small windowed house that claims to be full of local art merch, but is empty.
5. You see fashion trucks. A ton of fashion trucks.
6. You sit under the big beer garden tent at a picnic table for a few minutes with your PBR. Everyone around you is either drinking or napping. This is the only real shade you can find.
7. Occasionally, you notice cool art painted on various trucks/structures.
8. There are some yard games and a sand pit to your left. You wonder what might be buried in that sand pit.
9. You walk toward the stage, where four bands play through the course of the day. There is no one else anywhere near the stage at any point of your time there, except for a group of girls who hoop for five minutes and then disappear. One of them tells you she has to leave to try to find vegan edibles.
10. Suddenly, your curiosity about why The Big Wonderful exists is suddenly overwhelming. You enter what appears to be The Big Wonderful information tent. You ask the 20-something volunteer sitting among all of the TBW merch what this crazy festival is about. She smiles, points at two men chatting in a different tent nearby, and tells you, “Ummmm- why don’t you go talk to the guy over there who started it?” You then wonder if any of the volunteers know more about this event than you do. You ask a volunteer near the exit about TBW and he directs you back to the information tent. You then ask him how long The Big Wonderful has been around. He tells you six months; later a third volunteer tells you two years.
And that’s when you realize, though this event has a lot of potential, it’s just not quite there yet.
The food trucks are scattered and some are even located behind each other, making it impossible for you to mouth-wateringly glance at all of your delicious options at once. And dotted among these food trucks are the fashion trucks. You wish these had their own designated area of The Big Wonderful circle so you could traipse through their wares, one after the other, instead of spending $25 on a crystal necklace and then wishing you still had cash for that all-natural deodorant stand. You hippie.
You look at the band playing and realize that since the stage is so far from any shade and oddly sandwiched between two empty structures (the windowed house and the pony hut), the musicians have had no contact with any sort of audience today. Except the hoopers.
And speaking of the empty structures, you wonder: Why isn’t the pony hut a trippy VIP booze area or something? Where is the local art that the little house claims to hold? Why isn’t the tour bus repurposed so that it’s more than just something to look at? The pieces stand alone like bones.
You’ve officially sweated out all of your PBR, so you decide to call it a day. You think about trying to ask yet another volunteer questions on your way out, but he appears passed out in the shade, or dead. It’s hard to tell.
Walking away, you wish The Big Wonderful felt a little more like a proper festival. It has the potential to be, with some organization, planning, and general DIY-awesomeness. The bones for a sweet weekend event exist at The Big Wonderful, but someone needs to put this skeleton together.
All photos per the author. Volleyball photo per Erin Burke. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.