The MLB All-Star Game has brought with it a lot of fanfare, and not all of it has a ticket price (or baseball).
The Stars & Stripes Streetfest, an all-ages festival in Five Points, is free to attend and offers everything from food and drinks to games, concerts, comedy showcases and ax-throwing. Emceed and hosted by former NBA Host Xavier Soller, the community festival started last Friday and has taken over two blocks of 21st Street (between Market and Lawrence) and two more of Larimer Street (20th to 22nd).
The festival is presented by Ballpark Collective, the neighborhood organization also responsible for Denver Irishfest, which launched to complement the city’s St Patrick’s Day festivities back in 2019.
Executive Director Matt Van Sistine says that with events like Stars & Stripes he hopes to make the Ballpark district, which includes the area of Five Points directly to the east of Coors Field, into more of a permanent public square or a community gathering space.
“We get a lot of families down here for the baseball and for the parade, but there hasn’t been a landing spot for them to stick around if they wanted to enjoy being downtown,” he said. “And so we’ve really pushed to do these community festivals.”
When Van Sistine heard the All-Star Game was coming to Denver, he reached out to Rockies and to the City to put something together that would bring community members together to support local businesses and to feel the energy of the game. The resulting festival isn’t technically affiliated with MLB, which typically programs all of the All-Star week events. Instead, it’s a neighborhood-sponsored event backed by the city.
There’s one day left of the festival. Here’s how you can enjoy what it has to offer.
Support local businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic
Usually, cars zip down Larimer, right where Rockies games let out. During the festival, participating blocks are closed to traffic, making it safer for pedestrians during a time where it’s even busier downtown than usual.
Businesses adjacent to the area, including Biker Jim’s, Aloy Modern Thai, Su Taco, Star Bar, Marcos Coal Fired, Mexico City, Sidecar, Retro Room and Marquis Theater, were also invited to expand their premises during the festival. Visitors are able to safely walk in the middle of the street and wander in and out of businesses. Van Sistine said the city even slowed electric scooters entering the area using Geofencing technology.
Dustin Jaramillo is the Assistant General Manager at Su Taco, a taco joint at 2124 Larimer St.
The restaurant opened in January of 2020, right before the pandemic hit. Now, Su Taco is one of nine businesses that have been allowed to expand their patios during the festival.
“It means six added tables out there, which adds on anywhere from 30 to 50 guests,” Jaramillo said. ” I think having the walkway out there for people to walk by and hear the music that we have outside is just bringing people in, in general.”
He says Su Taco just did back-to-back $50,000 weeks during the festival, when they’d previously been bringing in about $35,000 a week.
“It’s been a ride, but I believe we are at the end of the tunnel here,” he said. “We’re making money. Employees are making money and happy. So, can’t ask for too much. Maybe a vacation.”
Jon Schlegel is the founder of Snooze and the newly opened Attimo Wine at 2246 Larimer St.
He said he feels like “humanity is missing each other.”
“We have a psychological need to be around everybody,” he said. “I think the fear people have maybe created in their head over the last year and a half during the lockdown is quickly gone. We’re realizing how gorgeous Colorado is, and how nice the people are. And being outside, and food and wine… It’s a beautiful thing.”
Schlegel says it’s fun that the Ballpark district has become a destination neighborhood during All-Star week.
“It’s so beautiful to see our neighborhood as this thriving host, not just to the city, not even just the state, but perhaps the country right now,” he said.
Schlegel says the parking has been manageable during the festival, and that the operation as a whole has been smooth. And he says it’s been great providing guests with a relaxing dining experience again.
“Part of the loss that we got last year wasn’t just the fiscal challenges,” he said. “We wake up in the morning to serve people. We are happier when we get to make a guest happy. So, that that was stripped from us was as hard as anything else. ”
Play cornhole in a pop-up park
The area where the festival takes place is part of the proposed 5280 Loop route, a 5-mile city trail that would link neighborhoods and create green and cultural spaces in underutilized parts of the city.
Ballpark Collective is hoping that initiatives like Stars & Stripes will help to redefine the neighborhood, which Van Sistine says has a strong bar scene and offers a lot of important social services to the community, but doesn’t provide many opportunities for families to gather. The idea, Van Sistine says, is to attract more people to the area while also working in conjunction with those services to improve them.
This weekend, the collective launched a “pop-up park” in the district, complete with AstroTurf and 33 oak trees, planter boxes and a bar trailer. While the trees are now permanent fixtures of the neighborhood, Van Sistine says the park is a temporary installation designed to give community members a sense of what it would be like if the block permanently became a green pedestrian walkway.
“It was just to support that longer term vision of trying to create this community space public space green space that is lacking in this neighborhood,” he said.
Grab a bite, or throw an ax.
Denver BAZAAR, a market that showcases small, local businesses, is hosting a pop-up mini maker market during the festival, offering shopping and food courtesy of Colorado artisans, fashion trucks and food trucks. From 2-9 p.m, visitors can grab a drink or a bite to eat or get some shopping done by visiting tents, trucks and stands set up along the blocked-off streets.
There are also games, including an ax-throwing cage courtesy of Downtown Axe Room. Visitors can pay to throw an axe at targets in an enclosed space in the middle of the festival.
Edgar Mercedes is a Yankees fan from the Dominican Republic. He’s in town for the All-Star game, and to visit his friend Kevin Tejada, a Boston Red Socks fan living in RiNo.
Today, Mercedes enjoyed a cherry pie from Colorado Cherry Co’s BAZAAR stand.
“I’ve been here for three days now. And I was very happy to see this kind of thing,” he said, gesturing to nearby food trucks. “I’m surprised to see like a Korean barbecue truck and Italian pizza. It’s pretty cool.”
It’s his first time in Denver, and he noted that city feels very clean and organized.
“People are really nice here, and laid-back,” he said. “I really like the vibe, the attitude of the city. It feels very welcoming.”
Tejada says that seeing all of the activity in the area these last few days makes it feel normal again in Denver.
“I feel like a lot of normalcy is coming back. People are gathering, people are chatting,” he said. “It keeps Denver Denver.”
Ira Johnson is the owner of Happy Llama Inc., which partners with events to provide signs, staff and promotional items and merch. In the winter, the company transitions into the ski industry.
“Both of those emptied out pretty quick. So, we’re happy to be back,” he said. Happy Llama is providing promotions for Stars & Stripes, and also selling merch from their booth on Larimer. They’re an event-dependent business, and Johnson said there haven’t been a whole lot of events since spring of 2020.
“In a matter of three weeks, we went from having an event literally every weekend to having nothing. An empty schedule was tough to deal with,” he said. “So to recoup back to that, to have people like Ballpark Collective putting the energy back into it to make it happen, is huge. ”
Catch a show
Live music is back, and Stars & Stripes offers a lot of it. Every day, the festival has hosted a series of concerts by local bands and DJs from a stage on 21st St. Tuesday’s lineup will start with soul and R&B beatmaker CRL CRRLL at 12 pm, followed by Brothers of Bass, a local hip hop brass band, at 2. Flobots will headline at 6 pm, and the night will end with a set by DJ Low Key.
Aaron Cain and Charlene Lopez stopped by the festival’s mainstage to listen to The Tuesday Night Soundclub.
“It’s cool to come back from COVID with more of a sense of organization, and to see the community coming together,” said Lopez, who says she travels back and forth between Cherry Creek and Las Vegas.
Cain said it’s cool to see all of the different baseball jerseys around town, and how everyone’s coming together as a community. He says he lives in the Ballpark area, and could hear the festival from his apartment.
“It’s loud, but there’s usually sirens anyway,” he said. “So this is a more pleasant type of loud.”