The SXSW of Denver is happening this weekend
This weekend brings a vibrant, can't-miss community festival to all the music loving denizens of Denver.
The Denver Post's Underground Music Showcase (UMS) is preparing to take over a walkable area of South Broadway (roughly between 3rd and Maple) and 20 venues -- including the sanctuary of a church, a Persian rug store, a custom print shop and a modern art gallery, as well as all the traditional clubs and music venues. Over 100 local bands will play on Friday evening and all day Saturday (and okay . . . probably on into Sunday).
In addition to artists I know I dig, like Gregory Alan Isakov, Hearts of Palm, Young Coyotes, Born In The Flood etc, I am especially looking forward to the "wander around aimlessly and listen" plan of attack and discovering some unexpected new local sounds. And if the tunes aren't enough to lure you, there's also a photography exhibit presented by some of Denver's finest rock photographers (with free beer). If you live in Colorado and love music, come on out -- a pass for all the action will only set you back a Jackson, and that ain't bad.
In order to find more about how one nurtures and pulls off such a rad model for a local music festival, I checked in with one of the festival organizers, Ricardo Baca of the Denver Post. He tells Fuel/Friends why you should all come around to his little utopia this weekend.
5 QUESTIONS WITH DENVER UNDERGROUND MUSIC GURU RICARDO BACA
1) When the Underground Music Showcase first began, what hopes and goals did you have for it?
In the beginning, we only wanted to celebrate Denver's local music community. It was five bands for $5, and the promoters told us we wouldn't make any money off local bands. We told them we didn't want to make the money - we wanted it all to go to the bands. (A very un-promoterly philosophy, apparently, given the looks of horror on their faces.) The Denver Post has never made money on any of the seven previous UMSs, nor have we, the organizers. But from the very beginning, the bands have always told us that they make more money at the UMS than any other show throughout the year - and since we believe that musicians deserve to make money, we've kept with that philosophy.
To this day, as we've expanded to two days and 100 bands and 20 venues and an outdoor stage this year - while still staying all-local, mind you - we still give 100 percent of the ticket sales to the artists who make the UMS what it is.
2) Name a few shows this year that you are anticipating - what's gonna be epic?
As you know, Heather, The Knew is a fiery live act that isn't to be missed. And they really step it up at festivals. I really love it how bands often utilize festivals - SXSW or Coachella or the UMS - as a time to step things up, to put on a show. And everybody treats it as an event - including the solo artists.
One of my favorite aspects of the UMS plucks artists out of bands and drops them on a solo stage. We try and pick musicians who aren't really known for their solo work, too, because it makes things more interesting. Last year, everybody showed up when Bright Channel's Jeff Suthers (now of Moonspeed) played an intense solo set at a little paper shop. He's playing again this year, and now there are others who don't play out alone much - Pee Pee's Doo Crowder, Widowers' Mike Marchant, Cat-A-Tac's Jim McTurnan and Ghost Buffalo's Marie Litton just to name a few - who are stepping out at this year's UMS.
More bands people should be aware of: Born in the Flood won our Underground Music Poll last year, and Hearts of Palm won it this year. They're both playing. Some smaller musicians and bands: Mark Darling dazzled me at last year's festival; The Beebs make lovely music; Roger Green and Dang Head and Joe Sampson and Chris Adolf are all tremendous talents in our community; and then there's Chewbacca Bukkake - and with a band name like that, how can you not go and hear what they sound like?
3) Looking back at the UMS, what are some memorably fantastic shows that stick out in your mind?
At last year's UMS, one of our featured solo performers was Patrick Meese. His band, Meese, was about to sign to Atlantic, but we didn't know that. They were still "underground" enough for us. Turns out some of Patrick's buddies showed up for his solo set - including Isaac Slade of The Fray. Isaac later sang a tune with Patrick, and then one by himself, and it was all very lovely and memorable.
I'll also never forget the time Josh Taylor's band Friends Forever got manic with a tarp, a fan and some other materials when we were at the Gothic Theatre that one year. Wovenhand put on a pretty amazing show at the UMS a couple years ago at the Bluebird Theater, and there was also the year when winning band Munly And The Lee Lewis Harlots got up from their seats at the Irish Rover (he'd requested to play the smallest venue at the festival) and walked out to the back patio, where they finished their set under the stars.
I could go on and on, seriously. Recounting the festivals over the years is like going through a history of Denver's indie rock/metal/alt-country/punk scenes.
4) How do you think that technology has changed the independent music scene since the inception of the UMS, and related to that, your job as a music reviewer and festival organizer?
Up until this year, we tabulated votes for the Underground Music Poll by hand. That's 100-plus voters, and each ballot has 20 band names on it. It was mad. This year, our tech guru Sean Porter was kind enough to build us a program that made things easy for everybody - voters included.
Speaking of Sean, he and his colleagues have made an incredible impact throughout the state --all very quietly, mind you-- by designing/running most of the major rock club websites and starting his own genius creation, Gigbot. He and his buddies created websites for many of the major music venues and festivals in the city, and their program Gigbot spiders all of those sites and blogs and MySpace pages and brings that data into one place. Who's playing tonight? Go to Gigbot. That makes my job - and my live music habit - a lot easier.. In the spirit of being forward, Gigbot is the presenting sponsor of this year's UMS. But still. They were my favorite website long before they were associated with the UMS.
5) In talking about a future vision, what would you like to add to the Underground Music Showcase in future years?
We do like growth at the UMS. Right now we're an all-volunteer shop. Even our lead booker, designer, sponsorship director and web developer are volunteers. I'd like to imagine a day where those are paid positions, even if it's just a bonus. These people give so much. They deserve it.
Other than that, I love what the UMS stands for. I hope to keep that pro-artist, pro-fan vision and continue to grow with the booming Colorado music scene.
Thanks Ricardo, for the thoughts shared and for helping (with your crew) to organize such a relevant, viable, 'music-friendly-first' local festival! The posters are printed, the bands are ready. I'm in!
[poster photo credit Todd Roeth]