I only braved two of the four days of UMS this year, which is still a lot considering I was able to catch dozens of sets by some incredible musicians. Now in its fifteenth year, the Underground Music Showcase works to bring hundreds of acts to the multi-venue stage that is South Broadway, turning the strip into a heavily trafficked hub for a weekend of mostly-rock oriented live shows. I enjoy the fest because I get to see so many artists perform in cool, local spaces; it's also kind of like summer camp because I end up running into old friends from around the country who I don't spend time with the rest of the year.
But there's this other part of the experience that I don't like — the usually drunk, (mostly white) dude-dominant boys' club that lords over a geographical part of my city, and the aggressive behavior that comes with it. I know by now that when I walk into any venue packed with people, my chances of getting groped and touched without consent are higher than say, when I'm at the grocery store. But when marathon concert events are paired with marathon boozing and a lot of male entitlement, the situation gets far worse for women. Believe me, being felt up, grabbed and thrown around by men at shows isn't merely a UMS problem; it is an unfortunate but common experience women face at music festivals and shows everywhere.
There was something about this year's festival that felt even more charged with aggressive energy, though. By midnight on Friday, I felt like I was dodging more intense unsolicited interactions with dudes than usual — even outside of venues when I was just standing on Broadway, talking to people. Though I made sure I was well beyond the stream of foot traffic, I still managed to get pushed by multiple passing groups of inebriated dudes. At one point, a man elbowed me so hard I almost fell over. I braced myself and was fine, but instead of stepping away from me and apologizing, he grabbed me by my waist and said, "Sorry." I don't know why grabbing a woman without her consent is ever acceptable, because it's not. (Hint: Do not ever grab a woman by the waist who hasn't already made clear that it is something you are allowed to do.)
As the weekend progressed, so did the drunkenness, the shirtlessness and brazen righteousness from huge gaggles of wasted dudes. On more than one occasion I had to step out of the way of a drunk man carrying another drunk man on his back, barreling down a pedestrian area like the rest of us weren't there. Shirtless dudes pushed by me with some sort of pride over the fact that they were shirtless. I saw via twitter that a woman I know got punched in the face in a mosh pit at one of the shows. Another friend — who happens to be a dude — told me that his girlfriend's drink was taken out of her hand by a stranger and consumed right in front of her. He also watched as another man intentionally rubbed up against her while passing through the crowd.
Then there was the more subtle sexism that comes with many, many concert and bar experiences — like when a doorman checked my dude-friends' IDs and said thank you to them by name, but when he checked mine made sure to say, "Thank you, honey." That's normal behavior in the boys' club that is the world. I used to get mad about it and call the dude out, but sometimes I'm just too tired to say anything. You fight so many battles in one day and that's just one I don't care about anymore.
Was the heightened man's world feel of this past weekend of otherwise glorious musical output just a side effect of the bro-ification of Denver? Probably not, because when I talk to my friends in other cities, they share similar experiences with harassment and groping at music festivals and regular concerts. It's not limited to Denver by any means, but I can't help but notice how much more aggression I felt from dudes along Broadway during this time of year than I have in the past. Again, this isn't a UMS-specific issue, but I wonder: What can be done to ensure that during four days of alcohol-centered concert-going, we are all allowed to enjoy ourselves without the fear of being groped or harassed?
It starts with the idea that other humans should be respected, regardless of the situation. If you get too drunk in public, it's on you to control your own behavior. If you can't control it, go home. If you think that touching a person without their consent is acceptable, you should also go home. There's no place for that at a music festival — or anywhere. But if you do accidentally bump into someone in a crowded public space? What you should do is a pretty simple procedure: step away from the person and apologize. That's it.
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