Friday, July 30, 2010

Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, July 22nd - 25th

It’s taken the whole week for some of us to recover from the four days of non-stop action that constituted the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, which just wrapped up its tenth (and by most accounts, best) year of events this past Sunday. Several members of the staff went to check out – or perform at - the weekend’s overload of music that took place along South Broadway from July 22nd – 25th. The overarching story here is that the festival, which concentrates on the best locally grown talent Colorado has to offer, has so many concerts and activities going on that there’s no way for one person to take it all in. You’re busy hearing something at the Skylark while someone else you desperately want to see is hitting the stage at Club 404, and by the time you zip over there to see them, you’re missing someone else at the main outdoor stage, so you run back to hear the tail end of that set and notice on the schedule that you just missed somebody else at the Hi-Dive altogether. And meanwhile, you’re hoofing it up and down Broadway, running into friends from bands, friends who love local music, and friends who are simply in the area to check out the scene. It’s all a hell of a lot of fun, and we thought we’d give a few different takes on the festival to give you a taste of what went down – and of course your own story could be completely different. (To illustrate the difference between our stories and someone else's, please check out the photographs of the whole festival by John Moore here:!/umsdenver?v=photos&ref=ts)
Patrick’s take –
In the past I’ve avoided this festival on the grounds that it turns my neighborhood (I live in Baker) into a traffic-y, loud, drunken circus for a weekend. Of course when you get a pass and can do whatever you want, it takes on a different character where it’s all about the fun and the music and the scene, not the noise and foot traffic. I ran myself around a lot for this. Thursday I DJed at Delite and played a nice little set, if I may say so myself. Cooled it for the rest of the night with friends. Friday was mellow because Thursday ended up running awfully late for me. Saw Lilly Scott (that girl who was on American Idol) perform solo at the Walnut Room Pizzeria and ended up talking with her mom quite a bit because she worked with my stepfather; then skipped over around the corner from my house to catch a DJ set from James Pants, who records on the Stones Throw label and has imminent plans to move to Denver. Lilly was in front of a mostly appreciative crowd (though some were just there for pizza), and Pants put on a great show – he’s not just up there intently spinning records and ignoring the crowd, he’s playing percussion, singing occasionally, interacting with the crowd, and jumping around and dancing to entertain you, not just subject you to his taste in music. Saturday I went out a bit more – caught Lilly again playing with her band Varlet, who are about to embark on an East Coast tour, and chatted a little. Who knows - maybe I can get them to do an in-store out of this? After her set, I literally turned around to watch Snake Rattle Rattle Snake – one of the big buzz bands of the festival. I know some of these guys but the only time I’ve seen them in the past was at a Meadowlark show where so many of my friends were there that I ended up chatting throughout most of the set (sorry if you were around and I bugged you) so I was intent on concentrating on the music this time out. But alas, it was not to be. This festival is about so much more than the music – it’s about a music community, an active local scene, a bunch of local businesses working together, and a festival celebrating not just this band or that band as a “headliner,” but about the entire culture of support around the music in the city – and it’s kind of inspiring. That said, I had at least a dozen different friends come up to say hi during the course of their set, which makes close concentration tough. Oh well, they were playing Sunday too. Took a break and then headed over to see Joshua Novak perform at the garden of an architecture firm(!) with Patrick Meese sitting right near and listening in closely as well. Great singing from this guy whose album is coming out very soon. Sunday was a little lower key – lots of going out for this took its toll a bit – but I still managed to catch a couple things in the evening. Former Twister Robert Rutherford (whose excellent Backlog music blog can be found here: spun some records at the Sputnik and I checked his set out while eating some nice dinner, then bounced over to the Skylark to catch Oblio’s Arrow (another Twister in there on stage), a six-piece, country influenced band I haven’t seen since they were Oblio Duo, and they’ve made some real strides in songwriting and performance for sure. Capped the night off by taking another shot at Snake Rattle Rattle Snake at the packed blast oven that was 3 Kings Tavern. I really got to listen here and they were great, even if I decided to call it a night/weekend before their set was fully over. Next year, I’m definitely going back. Major props to all the organizers, musicians, technicians, and other folks who made this happen!

Doug’s take –
The UMS is probably my favorite summer festival in Denver. In the heat of July you can wander over a small area and see a huge amount of music and drink your heart’s content. A fifty-dollar pass to see music from Thursday night all the way through Sunday is a great price. I saw Snake Rattle Rattle Snake on the outdoor stage, I also saw the Polkanauts cover Kiss's “God Of Thunder,” a Burlesque show, and much, much, more. I didn't even have a schedule, I gave myself up to the whims of others I was with. Wandering by a bar with something that sounded good might tell you whether or not to check it out. My friends saw a great band set up on the sidewalk running power guerrilla style from a Middle Eastern restaurant on Friday night. I have to say that my favorite part of the festival was just hanging out with my friends, running into different people and checking out random acts.
For those in need of more structure schedules were available and all of the venues are maybe five minutes away from each other. It also seems like the scope is expanding - this year I heard of comedy and burlesque. Awesome job to the organizers, let's keep it growing, let's keep it affordable, and fun!

Natasha’s take –
I am still nursing the hangover from a long and glorious UMS weekend. Four days of indie music bliss has never felt so good. I go every year, and I would even consider myself a bit of a music festival veteran. But the last few days stood out as one of the best times I have had at a music fest. The lineup this year was really good, in fact it may have been too good. I feel like I missed more than I saw, it was impossible to be at every stage and see every band I wanted to see.
Like many of these festivals that showcase local music I am forced to choose between the known and unknown, and so I tried to make a point of not just going to see friends and associates. This year I saw a few bands I had never seen before like Roger Roll, the Omens and the Blackout. For me the best band was Munly and the Lupercalians, I wish I could see them perform every month. It was also great to see Snake Rattle Rattle Snake twice, I wish I lived in that band’s practice space so I could see them all the time. I was surprised at myself by how much I enjoyed the burlesque at 3 Kings, and must admit I will be going to that again.

My lasting impression from this weekend at the UMS was that Denver may be the friendliest city I have ever lived in. All throughout the Underground Music Showcase I was greeted by old friends, people I have met through Twist & Shout, awesome musicians, the UMS staff that made this weekend so amazing… but best part of the social aspect was all of the great people I met for the first time. Normally I just want to lurk in the shadows (and I did) but even in the shadows there were smiling faces and warm hearts that made me feel happy I chose Denver as my home. All of us music lovers were so thrilled to be a part of this event that we endured some sweltering sauna-like conditions just to hear good tunes.

Alf's take -
When faced with a buffet with 300 items on it, perhaps it's not surprising that sometimes people take comfort in the familiar. I definitely was guilty of that Saturday at the UMS. I sought out and watched sets by bands I'd seen before (Northern Way) and others I'd not seen but were quite familiar with (the Rouge). But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Seeing some bands I was familiar with helped recalibrate me, and kept me from feeling like I was stuck in some foreign country. And besides that, both sets were excellent and really enjoyable. It was strange seeing the Northern Way playing on a tiny stage attached to the back of a truck (the last place I saw them? A sold out show at the Gothic), but in a sense, it was fun to see them in a new setting.
I never did catch anything less than intriguing. One Wolf, a band from Texas (I think?) did a pleasant if unremarkable set at a bar, but it provided a chance to sit, rehydrate, and recharge our batteries. Tim Pourbaix performed solo and acoustic, raining down his folky-indie rock onto mainly confused pizza parlor patrons. And, unusually for me, I was at one of those "you-gotta-check-out" events - Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. They performed their nearly unidentifiable hodgepodge of musical forms (electro rock meets indie with prog and jam and Janis Joplin-filtered blues...kinda?) confidently in front of a large and appreciative crowd. And it was fun picking out all the "scenesters" - or, at least, the ones I can recognize on sight - enjoying the set in the audience.
As much as I enjoyed the show, and as much as I loved the company, I did decide that perhaps the UMS is a show to experience solo. With upwards of ten bands playing at any given time, it's helpful to be able to watch one performance and think "OK, got it, let's go check out something else" without having to check with everybody else in your party if that's OK. Even if they DO say it's OK, you don't want to be the one dictating the schedule. Next time, I think I'll go solo, with just a bottle of water, a set of earplugs and a sturdy pair of walking shoes for company.

1 comment:

John Wenzel said...

Thanks for the love! Glad to have you all down there on South Broadway.