Do you remember when people used to say that Denver was a sports town, that music here was an afterthought and that's all it ever would be? Yeah, me too. It was a popular argument five years ago.
Things have obviously changed since then. At Mile High Music Festival last month, for example, Flobots played in front of thousands of people, and last fall, the Fray performed in front of at least twice as many over the course of three days. Still, those are the anomalies. All too often, at smaller indie rock shows, it's not uncommon to see audiences of fifty to a hundred people — at best. In contrast, throngs flock to see the Colorado Mammoth at the Pepsi Center.
Actually, I dig the Mammoth. So I'm not trying to disparage lacrosse (I mean, what is football if not moving a pigskin down the field?), but simply using it to illustrate a point: Although this sport doesn't have the cachet of our quartet of golden geese, it still manages to put asses in the seats. A lot of asses, thanks to zealous friends like mine who invited me to a game. Whereas some of my favorite bands are doing well to fill up the hi-dive.
MIle High Music Festival
So what does this tell us? That we're so sports-crazed we'll pay good money to see damn near any sort of organized athletics? Well, yeah — I'm convinced folks would pay to watch a tetherball league if one existed. But does it also mean that our friends and neighbors are so culturally inept they're unwilling to appreciate good art? Not so much. They're simply uninformed.
Case in point: Last week one of my best friends — who is well aware of what I do for a living — told me that he hadn't known the Flobots are local and only discovered it after hearing "Handlebars" on his satellite radio (he has no use for terrestrial, which puts him a far sight ahead of your average listener) and Googling the band, whereupon he stumbled upon the piece I wrote about the group last fall. Now that they're on his radar, though, he's a fan.
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People here dig music, man. That's evident. But many just like a different kind than the rest of us. You know what kind? The kind they've heard. Last month, standing on the field at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, watching hordes of people singing along with Tom Petty and Dave Matthews Band, I was stunned by the turnout. Last I heard, 40,000 folks made it out to Mile High Music Fest on day one and 50,000 the next. And it goes far beyond just MHMF: I'm consistently awed by how well live music can and does draw in the Mile High City. Take this past weekend: The Alkaline Trio show (ask your older brother) at Cervantes' was sold out, as was the Brokencyde/Hyper Crush/Millionaires show (ask your little brother) at the Marquis. And at the same time, discriminating local music fans filled the sidewalks of South Broadway for the Underground Music Showcase.
When people are exposed to good local music, they like it. Flobots weren't the only one to play a sizable crowd at MHMF; so did Meese and Rose Hill Drive. And a few weeks ago, there was a line wrapped around the block at 5 p.m. for the return of Single File, which hadn't played a local show in a while. Likewise, this past weekend, there was a substantial line for Tickle Me Pink at Cervantes'.
The common denominator for all these bands? Exposure. Every one of them blew up the minute they were added to KTCL's playlist. Thank God for Nerf and Alf and the crew over there, and for all the other stations and outlets propping up the scene. But those folks can only do so much. The rest is up to us — to preach the gospel to our friends, families and co-workers. We need to spread the word like those dudes in the suits who go door-to-door proselytizing. Make compilation discs, bring them to shows — like my friends did with the Mammoth. Each one teach one, you know? Before we know it, every show will have a line snaking down the sidewalk.
Ball's in your court.