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In 2012, Thadeaous Mighell, Mitchell Pond and David Moke came up with the idea for an interactive arts festival after meeting at the now-defunct DIY space Unit E.
Soon after, Moke -- who organizes events for the Denver Theater District non-profit -- helped get the ball rolling and Blacktop was born. Although Blacktop is no more, the trio recently created something even more unique: American Gladiator Bandstand.
See also: Best New Music Festival 2013 -- Blacktop
On Sunday, Aug. 24, the first ever American Gladiator Bandstand competition will take place in the Denver Performing Arts Center Sculpture Garden, located at the corner of Speer Boulevard and Champa Street.
Unlike the traditional battle of the bands, this event (which is free to the public) will pull a group of nine local bands and two artistic collectives away from their safe stages or comfortable warehouses, then pit them against each other in a series of band-related challenges, including Ramen Noodle Flavor Hunt and Tour Tetris (where you must load your gear into a rusty van).
Pond hopes that AGB's music-related challenges will offer musicians and audience members an interesting, new way to connect. "I wanted to do an event where bands could compete against each other, but not musically," says Pond, who is a Denver musician himself. "I thought it could be a way for bands who see each other all the to get to know each other better, and a way for fans to support them in a different way."
Each of the bands must compete in teams of five. Some of the entrants, including Rubedo and the Dirty Few, don't have five members, so they can choose subs from one of the participating collectives: Moon Magnet and Rhinoceropolis. The winning band, however, will receive more than free beer and eternal glory.
"There's a number one spot and teams are definitely vying for it, because the winner will have their name engraved on a trophy that will be on display at Illegal Pete's all year," Mighell says. "If that isn't the ultimate reason to show the other bands how to get served, then I don't know what is."
Funding from the Denver Theater District, support from Denver Arts and Venues and sponsors like Illegal Pete's paid for the prize, but they also allowed Mighell and Pond to set up five intricate challenges.
One of them is the Hotel Trash and Bash. "We've designed a 'hotel room' that bands must destroy by throwing a toy guitar through a fake window, kicking a hole in a piece of drywall, and knocking over a lamp with an LP," Pond says.
Obviously fun is what matters when it comes to AGB, especially for Mighell, who recalls Blacktop's shortcomings as a festival.
"[Festivals] just aren't as useful of a tool to connect bands and artists with their audiences as they were in the past," Mighell says. "There's just so many of them now that they've lost their specialness. [AGB] is a way to give them something fun, like a celebration."
Pond agrees with Mighell and is happy to be focusing on events that showcase the local music scene in a special, individual way.
"It can be difficult to get people interested in local music because a lot of people who aren't directly connected to a band through friendship and participation are hesitant to go see music they aren't familiar with," Pond says. "With [American Gladiator Bandstand], you can go see your favorite local band do things you'd never get to see them do at a show. You won't see anything like this anywhere else."
Check out American Gladiator Bandstand, 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24 in the Denver Performing Arts Complex Sculpture Garden located at the corner of Speer Boulevard and Champa Street in downtown Denver. The event is free for all ages.
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