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Outside Festival: 7 Questions with Conor Hall

conor hall denver colorado outdoors office director

This weekend, Fleet Foxes, Thundercat, Andrew Bird, Lettuce, and more perform at the inaugural Outside Festival in Denver’s Civic Center Park. And while music takes center stage, the festival also features films, gear exhibits, speakers (including Shaun White and Diane Nyad), and more centered around outdoor recreation – a match that makes perfect sense in Colorado.

To better understand the story behind this massive two-day event, we connected with Conor Hall, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, who worked with Boulder-based Outside Interactive, Inc. (publishers of Outside and other magazines) to develop this one-of-a-kind event.

outside festival lineup poster 2024

“We loved the idea of a festival that brings people from all over the state and beyond to celebrate outdoor recreation and foster more inclusion and equitable access to the outdoors,” he tells us. “The Outside Festival is a one-of-a-kind celebration of everything outdoors.”

Read our 7 Questions with Conor Hall below.

What was the first thing or thought that gave you the idea of putting on the Outside Festival?

Our work at the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office gives us the opportunity to work with partners across the state, and through that work we saw a strong interest in reinventing the typical outdoor industry trade show. Businesses and outdoor enthusiasts alike wanted a space to come together not only to celebrate the outdoors but also work on issues like protecting our public land and water or creating more equitable access to the outdoors. We started to imagine a South by Southwest type of event. We loved the idea of a festival that brings people from all over the state and beyond to celebrate outdoor recreation and foster more inclusion and equitable access to the outdoors.

We were fortunate to find a partner like Outside Interactive Inc., as dedicated as we are to building a bold, dynamic, gathering where people can come together, network, share ideas and solidify Colorado as the heart of the outdoor recreation economy.

Other than Outside magazine being based in Boulder, how did you decide on Denver?

Outdoor recreation is a lifeblood industry in Colorado, generating $62 billion in economic activity every year and supporting more than a half-million jobs across the state. Ultimately, we’d love to see the Outside Festival growing into a hub and spoke model, with the primary festival in Denver and additional events taking place in communities across the state. Denver’s Civic Center Park provided a great outdoor venue for the festival’s first year, and we look forward to seeing how it grows over time.

Expanding on that, with the Outdoor Retailer Convention leaving Denver to return to Salt Lake City a few years ago, can you talk about how the Outside Festival fits into that vacancy?

When Outdoor Retailer returned to Utah, we heard a lot of interest in creating a new convening event for the outdoor industry. We knew it was our chance to fully develop the idea of an outdoor recreation event that engaged the consumers in a new way. The inaugural Outside Festival is truly the result of collective efforts by public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders. With invaluable support from Gov. Polis, the Colorado Economic Development Commission, some of the best brands in the world, and our incredibly dedicated team at the State and Outside, this dream is becoming a reality.

The Outside Festival may get a lot of attention for the music, but it feels like there are several other festivals happening under the same roof with films, panel discussions, and more. It’s like each of the elements could stand on its own. Could you describe the experience you and your team has put together for the weekend?

The Outside Festival is a one-of-a-kind celebration of everything outdoors, featuring music, films, speakers, and gear. We’ve designed it to have something for everyone, from beginners to experts and from climbers and hikers to cyclists, skiers, and the everyday recreationist. We want to inspire and educate so more people can experience everything the outdoors—and Colorado—have to offer.

Shaun White will be here, I could take a walk with Diana Nyad. And you’ll have a place where I could trade in my outdoor gear for cash?

And more! We have to give huge credit to Outside and the partners they brought to the table for attracting big name bands and celebrities to the festival. We always tell people that this event will grow over time, but Outside has done an incredible job of working to make the first year something unforgettable and truly unique.

This is not just about celebrating the outdoors with the people who already get out there, there’s an effort to get children and those who are under-represented in the outdoors involved. Could you tell us more?

We want the Outside Festival to be a jumping off point for people, including kids and families, to explore the outdoors. It’s one reason Civic Center Park offered such a great venue—it’s reachable. You don’t have to have a car to get there and we’re encouraging people to take public transportation. And by expanding our focus beyond gear to include music, films, and speakers we can attract people with varying interests and experience in the outdoors.

Kids under the age of 12 also enter free, and we’ve incorporated unique family-friendly activities. Curiosity Cruiser from the Museum of Nature and Science will offer a mobile wonderland to ignite young minds with hands-on exhibits, and a top-rope climbing wall will provide a safe and exciting challenge for young climbers. And for families, we’ve included a dedicated picnic zone and nursing tent.

I can’t see this being a ‘one and done’ event. What ideas are you contemplating for the future?

From the beginning, we knew it would take more than a year to implement our full vision for the Outside Festival. South by Southwest did not become the internationally known festival it is today in year one. We also believe there are long-term benefits to continuing the festival, introducing even more people to outdoor recreation and continuing to strengthen Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry. I have been really pleased to see how all the partners involved in the inaugural festival are working hard to launch an incredible event and plan for the future. Our collective goal is to work toward an annual hub for the industry and outdoor enthusiasts, so get ready now for an even bigger second year in 2025.

Outside Festival takes place June 1-2 in Civic Center Park in Denver, Colo. Tickets are on sale now.

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