Music Showcase, Take Three

Now in its third year, the Westword Music Awards Showcase is rapidly becoming a Denver tradition. But it seems like only yesterday that it was nothing more than an idea.

In 1995, several Westworders wondered what we could do to raise the profile of local music in Denver. From these musings arose the concept of a Westword-sponsored local music festival, at which the width and breadth of Colorado music could be put on display. It was not a new notion; other organizations had put on bashes of this type, but many of them had failed to attract audiences as large as the bands deserved. For the most part, these predecessors were either daylong spectacles at single locations or concerts at original-music venues that were so far from each other that it was difficult to hear all the music on tap without racking up a pile of speeding tickets. The latter approach compared unfavorably with the setup utilized each March by the planners of the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. But then again, these organizers had a geographical advantage: Austin's Sixth Street is lined with clubs so close to each other that patrons wearing SXSW wristbands can walk from one room to the next in a matter of seconds, thereby making it possible for them to see dozens of acts in a single night. If only Denver had an area like that.

As it turned out, Denver did. By 1995, the Coors Field-inspired boom in lower downtown (the longtime home of Westword) had resulted in a proliferation of nightspots within blocks of each other. If we could gain the cooperation of a handful of these joints, the result would be a mini-SXSW--except that the focus would not be on combos from across the country or around the globe, but on Colorado's finest. Thus, the Westword Music Awards Showcase was born.

Next came the decision about how to choose the acts that would be part of the project. We quickly came to the conclusion that rather than simply inviting groups we liked, we would assemble a committee of nominators from the music community--promoters, club owners, bookers, radio professionals and so on--and ask them to jot down their favorites in several different categories. We would then add up their picks and place the top five vote-getters in each category on ballots that would appear in several issues of Westword, as well as at venues on the evening of the Showcase, in order to determine favorite acts in each bracket. In that way, the people who mattered most--music fans themselves--would be able to have the final word.

For the inaugural event, we wound up with 55 nominees in 11 different groupings, and 30 of those played at 6 LoDo venues. No one involved in the Showcase--not Westword staffers, not the business owners, not the musicians--had the slightest idea how many people would turn out on the early October night in question. However, thousands did. Lower downtown was filled with everyone from rabid local-music fanciers and assorted groupies to nightlife novices and celebrities like the Colorado Rockies' Andres Galarraga, all of whom discovered that there's a lot more to Denver music than John Denver.

Last year's Showcase was bigger--60 nominees, 12 categories, 39 live acts, 7 venues--and better.

For the 1997 version, scheduled from 6 p.m. until midnight Sunday, September 21, we've upped the ante again. We now have thirteen categories, with the new kid on the block being Favorite Major Label Act. This in itself is a sign that the Denver-Boulder scene is gaining greater recognition from the world at large: It's the first time since the Showcase came into existence that there have been enough Colorado bands to fill such a category. We've also added an eighth Showcase venue. This year's lineup: Blake Street Baseball Club, Comedy Sports at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., the Great Room at Wazoo's, Skybox at Jackson's Sports Rock, McCormick's Fish House & Bar, the Soiled Dove, the Sports Column, and Rock Island, an all-ages venue.

And because last year's private awards ceremony--where the winners of the readers' votes received their plaudits and then jammed afterward--was so successful, we've decided to do this year's gala at 7 p.m. Sunday, September 28, at the Bluebird Theater. Now the public can join the party. In addition to rubbing shoulders with the best musicians in the area, you'll get a chance to see a special acoustic performance by A&M Records artist 16 Horsepower and, obviously, hear plenty of other musical surprises.

Of course, the main attraction is the Showcase, and you can enjoy all of it for the cost of a $5 wristband (21 ID required), which will allow you access to all eight nightspots. (Under-agers will be able to attend Rock Island, the Showcase's all-ages club, for a $5 cover; if you have a wristband, you don't need to pay the Rock Island cover.) Showcase winners will be announced at the Bluebird Theater on September 28, and then again in the October 2 issue of Westword.

Will this year's Westword Music Awards Showcase top the two that came before? If history repeats itself, you bet it will--which makes us even more excited to see what next year will bring.

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