Maybe it is time to replace the GABF with a craft beer drinking friendly crowd and begin a few regional beer fests that are more accessible to the people that deserve to be there?
There are smaller events, particularly on the regional level, that are less advertised, less crowded and more relaxed. They are not all cut from the same cloth. Some are just stupid excuses for a company to charge $30-75 to let you come in and drink 1-2oz samples of the same beer that is normally distributed in your area and easily available at the beer bars in town.
However, I do think it will only be a matter of time before the GABF's prominence starts to decline for brewers because it's gotten so big. If you're a regional brewery that doesn't distribute in the west half of the country then it probably doesn't make as much sense to dedicate the time to going to Denver when you could spend the same time and money to invest more deeply in building brand loyalty in the market where you distribute or where you want to distribute next. After all, how much brand building can you do 1oz at a time where you barely talk to the people trying your beers?
That's not a dig on GABF, rather it's a testament to how successful the event has become and how big craft brewing has become. It's fantastic that so many breweries want to come together from around the country and be featured together. However, there are so many small breweries with small distribution markets it just may not be cost effective to go to GABF and compete against all the other breweries.