Boulder Creek Hometown Festival returns with zucchini races, car show, live music and more

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While stores’ Halloween displays tease the start of autumn, folks can savor the last days of summer at this weekend’s Boulder Creek Hometown Festival — a Labor Day tradition that provides live music, arts and craft exhibitors, delicious brews, diverse eats and just the right amount of quirk.

Jerry Bailey helps his boys, Eli, left, and Charlie, get their zucchini racers to the starting line during 2015’s Hometown Festival in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

“Labor Day is a tricky weekend to produce an event because there are lots of other options for things to do,” said Meg Denbow, associate director of Boulder Creek Events. “Hometown Fest is a smaller, more relaxed event and it’s really focused on the Boulder community.”

The free event kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday and runs through Monday.

“For over 20 years we produced large events in Boulder over Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend,” Denbow said, “and while Hometown Fest was originally created as a bookend event to close out the summer event season, it’s really come into its own identity with special events of its own like the classic car show and the great zucchini race.”

Gaby Yates, left, gets some air inside her water bubble during 2013’s Boulder Creek Hometown Festival. (Cliff Grassmick/ Staff Photographer)

In addition to a beer garden and a bevy of food and artisan vendors setting up in Central Park, attendees can enjoy sets from a rotating selection of musicians from throughout Colorado.

With the Front Range’s thriving music scene, providing the right soundtrack is especially important to Denbow and crew.

“We try to have a mix of smaller, local acts, such as Cara Elizabeth, Kutandara and even the Boulder Suzuki Strings, as well as some bigger bands, like Funkiphino, Hot Lunch and Wash Park, that’ll make people want to dance,” Denbow said. “Like everything else we do, it’s a balancing act but I’m proud of the lineup we’ve created and I hope everyone else enjoys it too.”

Over a dozen acts will be taking the stage throughout the festival.

“I look forward to connecting with people,” said singer-songwriter Rodney Rice, of Littleton, who will play the Bandshell Saturday from 2-3 p.m. “If folks hear me on the radio, that is awesome and I am very grateful for stations sharing my music with their listeners, but I am removed from that exchange. That experience belongs to the people listening. On the other hand, during a live show I can see people and interact with them. I like to tell stories, where I’ve been, where I’m coming from, how a song came to be. Folks can expect to laugh and, if I do my job, they will have a catchy line in their head.”

 Littleton-based singer-songwriter Rodney Rice will perform at Boulder Creek Hometown Festival on Saturday from 2-3 p.m. (Bob Delevante/Courtesy photo)

His 2020 album “Same Shirt, Different Day” is a highly listenable 12-song collection of tunes built on witty lyrics, tight musicianship and a palpable authenticity.

With a strong vocal tone — tinged with smoke and grit — Rice offers up tracks reminiscent of a bygone era while also feeling very now. At times, his sound is reminiscent of alt-country band Lucero and at others he seems to channel the late Guy Clark.

“I certainly grew up listening to the classic outlaw country folks — Billy Joe Shaver, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings — but Grateful Dead, Uncle Tupelo, Prine and Dylan were also a big part of my formative years,” Rice said.

Blending rock, folk and honky-tonk country with what seems like great ease, Rice isn’t one to attach a label to his art.

“People need categories and bins for things and seems like music can often get siloed into those characterizations,” Rice said. “I never consciously push my music into a specific genre. It usually ends up in the far reaching, catch-all genre of Americana.”

A natural-born storyteller, his tracks paint vivid pictures of relationships, the rustic charm of backroad living and day-to-day struggles.

Rodney Rice plays guitar in a Nashville backyard in October of 2020. (Bob Delevante/Courtesy photo)

“I also enjoy talking to people after the shows,” Rice said. “Writing songs for me has been a way to clear my own head. It’s a real treat when a stranger connects with it because I never really thought people would actually listen to my music.”

Rice’s upcoming project, anticipated for a 2022 release, was conceived during lockdown and recorded shortly after at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville.

In addition to sharing the stage with fellow musicians and playing to a live crowd, Rice is looking forward to checking out the many offerings Hometown Fest is known for.

“The zucchini race sounds interesting,” Rice said. “I am always amazed how fast they grow in my raised beds.”

Organizers have ordered 500 large zucchinis and will also offer a ton of supplies, such as paint, glitter glue, googly eyes and pipe cleaners, that kids can use to transform the summer squash into mobile works of art before racing them down a ramp.

“It’s one of my favorite special events that we produce,” Denbow said, noting that Chris Dailey, BCE’s executive director dreamed it up. “Over 20 years ago, (Dailey) was toying with the idea of having races of some kind at Hometown Fest — similar to the stock cars he and his brothers used to build and race when they were kids. At first he thought of maybe doing coconut races, but figured zucchinis might be better since they’re grown locally and are more accessible.”

Joaquin, 7, (left) and his brother Mateo, 10, who asked not to share their last names, race their zucchini cars at 2016’s Hometown Festival in Boulder’s Central Park. (Daily Camera file photo)

It’s $10 to participate and races will take place every half hour, from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Saturday through Monday.

“It’s hilarious,” Denbow said. “I love seeing these zucchini creations being wheeled around the event all weekend. The one complaint I always seem to get is that the kids never want to throw away their little zucchini pets, so parents have to be a bit sneaky with the zucchini disposal a few weeks from now.”

Other wheeled beauties will also be on display.

Fans of vintage Cadillacs and Harleys can marvel at a large selection of eye-catching models.

The LETR StarLite Classic Car & Motorcycle Show will continue to benefit Special Olympics Colorado and the Law Enforcement Torch Run, but will also pay tribute to community members who lost their lives in Boulder’s mass shooting in the spring.

Meg Denbow, associate director of Boulder Creek Events, gets behind the wheel during the car show at a previous Boulder Creek Hometown Festival. (BCE Productions/Courtesy photo)

“This year we wanted to do something to honor two of the victims of the tragic King Soopers shooting last March — Officer Eric Talley, a longtime supporter of Special Olympics and a member of the Torch Run, and Teri Leiker, a Special Olympian who participated in track and field, basketball and softball,” Denbow said.

Around 70 to 100 cars are anticipated to be at the ninth annual show.

“Sgt. Dave Seper, who recently retired from the Boulder Police Department, puts together the car show, in conjunction with BCE, each year and he was close friends with Officer Talley, so it was his idea to create the two new awards to honor Eric and Teri,” Denbow said.

This year, Hometown Fest will implement stricter sanitary practices, due to COVID.

Free hand sanitizer and masks will be available at the beer tent, souvenir tent, zucchini race station and car show.

“The pandemic obviously hit a lot of people really hard — in my line of work that includes artists, performers and event producers,” Denbow said. “So this year’s Hometown Fest is really a celebration of everyone being able to come out and be together again. We have a fantastic lineup of live performances at the Bandshell all weekend and it’ll be a great place for people to listen to free music, see some of their friends and neighbors and feel like they’re a part of the community again.”