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Denver Day of Rock throws annual free, kid-friendly shows downtown

When 100,000 people swarm downtown during this weekend’s free Denver Day of Rock, they’ll see 25 national and local acts playing rock, pop, R&B, folk, indie and country music across five stages.

But they won’t see Pitbull.

“My friend who’s an agent says you can get anybody to do anything for you as long as you pay them,” said Christie Isenberg, president and co-founder of Concerts for Kids, the nonprofit that puts on Denver Day of Rock.

“But unless you have a personal relationship with them, they’re not going to cut you a break. And we’re very strict about keeping within our budget for entertainment.”

That’s why Isenberg’s fifth annual multistage festival, which kicks off with a concert from the Congress and the Wallflowers on May 23 and continues across the 16th Street Mall on May 24, didn’t reach out to the popular Miami rapper — even though Isenberg wanted to. Pitbull’s reported asking price of $500,000 was too high for a nonprofit event that prides itself on turning a modest budget of $180,000 from corporate sponsorships into hundreds of thousands more in charity money.

“We have a lot of agents that are actually contacting us saying, ‘Hey, we have these great bands. Want to work with us?’ ” Isenberg said. “And they’re offering up all these names for us to book, so it’s really great to think we’re becoming more well-known. But we don’t get a discount (when booking them).”

Denver Day of Rock is the biggest annual fundraiser for Concerts for Kids, which has handed out $3.9 million to dozens of children’s health and education organizations since it was founded 10 years ago.

This year’s main event features acclaimed indie rockers the Hold Steady, Black Joe Lewis, Plain White T’s, the Whigs, Monophonics, Trampled Underfoot, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and locals like Calder’s Revolvers, Katey Laurel and Wendy Woo — along with the usual beer gardens, food trucks and vendors.

Isenberg is proud that her Day of Rock, which was born as a one-off event with a tiny budget, has broadened its appeal over the years while maintaining an impressive momentum.

She was hoping for 10,000 people to show up during the first year. The Day of Rock counted 10 times that — and has every year since. Isenberg credits the free, family-friendly nature of the shows and the variety of acts.

“In some ways free things like this are the best types,” said Craig Finn, singer and guitarist for Brooklyn-based group the Hold Steady. “You might play for people who wouldn’t know you or don’t have a take a big risk to come see you.”

As for the kid-friendly nature of these mostly daytime shows, Finn welcomes the change from his band’s usual late-night gigs at theaters and clubs.

“Rock and roll is 60 years old, and it’s not just a young person’s game anymore, so it’s really cool seeing fathers and sons and mothers and daughters out there together.”

The concert is the most visible thing Concerts for Kids does all year. But Isenberg fears people don’t understand that the nonprofit keeps humming even after the music stops.

“We’re in the middle of rebranding ourselves and changing the name, which is important because I think people have been really confused by it,” she said. “We started as this once-a-year event, but we’re year-round. Now we do a community day with 1,000 volunteers and 50 nonprofits, and last Christmas we wrapped 25,000 gifts for 2,100 kids. Denver Day of Rock helps support that, but it’s not all we do.”

John Wenzel

FIFTH ANNUAL DENVER DAY OF ROCK. Family-friendly music from Concerts for Kids featuring the Hold Steady, Black Joe Lewis, the Wallflowers, Plain White T’s, John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, Rachel and the Kings and more. 2:30-9:30 p.m. on May 24, various locations. Free. 303-605-2885 or