Growing up in Denver, Charles Luis Cox II remembers celebrating Juneteenth every year with family. They would pack a picnic and go to the park. Or, they would go to Lincoln Hills — historically a vacation resort for African Americans in Gilpin County — as his grandparents owned a cabin there.
With his dad serving in the military, Cox also recalled celebrating the holiday in Germany.
Cox, 69, a retired Air Force Veteran, like his dad, is currently the owner of Charlie’s Smoked Meats and Fine Catering. He will be one of the many vendors offering his food to this year’s attendees of the Juneteenth Music Festival, which takes place June 18 and June 19 in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
He is looking forward to connecting with friends and relatives again this year, Cox said.
“And getting out to enjoy and celebrate the occasion,” he added.
According to the Juneteenth Music Festival website, “Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”
A Juneteenth celebration in some form has been a staple in Five in Points for decades, said Norman Harris, executive director of JMF Corporation, the nonprofit that organizes the annual festival.
“Five Points is unique in that it was one of the few commercially zoned areas in the country that had Black land-and-business ownership,” Harris said. “Five Points was a mecca for jazz and African American businesses. It was a place of opportunity for African Americans in the West.”
Five Points started to see community Juneteenth celebratory gatherings in the mid-1950s, Harris said.
By the 1980s and `90s, crowds of hundreds of thousands were coming together in Five Points to celebrate.
Festivities experienced a decline in the 2000s, Harris said, adding that in 2011, only about 1,000 people gathered in Five Points. But in 2012, which is when JMF Corporation branded the event as the Juneteenth Music Festival, between 20,000 and 30,000 people attended.
People always enjoy the food and artisan vendors at the festival, and the children’s activities are always a fun attraction, Cox said.
“And then, of course, there’s the music,” he added. “That’s a very big part of it. It’s part of our culture.”
This year’s music lineup is exciting, boasting both national and local headliners, said Erica Wright, one of the Juneteenth Music Festival’s organizers.
The music festival this year will have a main stage at 27th and Welton, a secondary stage at 29th and Welton and block parties with DJs between 25th and 29th streets.
Rapper Dave East will be taking the main stage on June 18, and the main stage will feature Twista on June 19. Other highlighted performances included Kayla Rae, who is from Denver but now lives in L.A., said Wright; and Colorado’s own Conjunto Colores.
With about 15 headliners plus all the other performances throughout the two days, the entire festival will entail not-to-miss performances, Wright said.
“We’re calling it a weekend festival,” she said, adding each day boasts a different musical lineup.
Another highlight of the event is the annual Juneteenth Parade, which represents the “historic walk through the streets of the last freed slaves,” states a news release.
The parade will feature community and government organizations, social clubs, dance troupes and more. Jim “Dr. Daddio” Walker, known as the Father of Black Radio, will be the 2022 parade’s Grand Marshall.
The parade kicks off the festivities at 11 a.m. June 18 with the route running along East 26th Avenue.
Additional attractions include appearances by Denver’s pro sports mascots, the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders, surprise guests from Meow Wolf and a Youth Zone with inflatable bounce houses, arts and crafts and other activities for children.
Harris was raised in a family of Five Points business owners. Like Cox, he and his family celebrated Juneteenth each year. While the festival has grown through the years, organizers still take the same approach, Harris said, which is “looking at including all of our communities, starting with: why is it important that we celebrate Juneteenth.”
“We as a country need to acknowledge the impacts of the institution of slavery,” Harris said. “It’s an important step to give all Americans an understanding of our history.”
Now that Juneteenth is a holiday recognized locally, at the state level and federally, there are opportunities to invite “the entire community to come together and figure out ways to move forward,” Harris said.
He added that the Juneteenth Music Festival in Five Points can serve as a model for how to celebrate the federally-recognized holiday.
The Juneteenth Music Festival is a “culturally-based celebration,” Harris said. And “music is a connector. It allows us to bring multiple sections of our community together.”