On with the Showcase!
For the past month, Westword Music Showcase ballots have been pouring into our offices. Like Cabbage Patch Kids and good mullet haircuts, each is unique in its own special way: Some are neatly written out with a careful hand, others are scribbled in a doctor-like scrawl. All, however, convey strong feelings about the music coming out of the Denver area. Ballots keep arriving from all over the Front Range -- from Castle Rock to Fort Collins, from Commerce City to Englewood and points in between. Thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web (You can vote online), we've even received responses from former Denverites who miss their favorite local bands. At least that's one way to explain the ballots we've been getting from places like Texas, Alaska and Georgia.
During the 2001 Westword Music Showcase, which takes place on Sunday, May 20, in the 1900 block of Market Street, ballot boxes will be scattered around for on-site voting; votes will also be accepted online and at the Westword office, at 969 Broadway, until noon on Monday, May 21. At that point, the counting begins, as our staff determines reader favorites in the categories of Blues, Country/Bluegrass, DJ/ Dance/Electronica, Eclectic, Hard Rock/Punk, Hip-Hop, Jazz/Swing, Rock/Pop, Roots and Singer/Songwriter. Winners will be announced at a special awards ceremony at the Bluebird Theater on Thursday, May 31, an open-to-the-(over-21)-public event to be hosted by the irrepressible Matt Need and featuring a performance/jam session led by Blues nominees The Trainwreckers. (A list of the winners will be published in the June 7 issue of Westword.)
From an organizational standpoint, the Westword Music Showcase is a cool thing to watch come together. For seven years now -- ever since the first showcase sprawled across LoDo in 1995 -- Westword has shaken up the local music community by asking fans and players alike to do a difficult thing: select ten of the "best" musicians and bands in a city with hundreds and hundreds of good ones. It's a process that begins with our nominating committee, a body of more than fifty local-music supporters and insiders who vote on who should be included on the formal ballot. (You'll find their names on the ballot printed on page 23 of this section.) This year, we invited people who'd never participated in the Westword Music Showcase to join the committee, in the process bringing some new names and energy to the event. Judging by the diversity of this year's ballot, it was a good move: The 57 names on the ballot include many familiar artists, but there are also some refreshing new additions. It's a trend that we see continuing as the music scene grows (it already produces talent faster than a farm-league baseball team), especially when you consider the large number of write-in votes for artists who didn't quite make the list.
This year, 24 of the nominated bands will perform in the showcase at five locations along the 1900 block of Market: Market 41, the Soiled Dove, B-52 Billiards, LoDo's Bar & Grill, and an outdoor stage located at the junction of Market and 19th streets. The showcase kicks off on that outdoor stage with a 5 p.m. performance by showcase newbies Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts, nominated in the Roots category (although based on the band's responses to our artist questionnaire -- see below -- it's possible that some cloned variation will show up to perform the refried goodness). Hip-hop nominees nGoMa close out the evening with a rousing round of wordplay and groove at Market 41 beginning at 11:45 p.m.. You might want to warn your boss you'll be a little bleary-eyed come Monday morning; the showcase tends to have that effect on those who stick it out until the wee hours. This is the most hard-earned hangover of the year -- but the music marathon makes it worthwhile.
And this year, the event's capacity to exhaust is diminished by the fact that all of the venues are located on one block, which will be closed to automobiles and non-showcase traffic. In other words, there will be much less frantic running about from show to show, and that has to be a good thing. As in years past, a wristband -- which grants access to the blocked-off portion of Market Street and all participating showcase venues -- will set you back a mere $5. That's not a bad deal for an evening of nonstop music and a guaranteed good time, highlighted by a special set from the local boys gone big in Leftover Salmon, who have graduated from consideration on the showcase ballot but will perform at 9 p.m. on the outdoor stage. Wristbands are available in advance or on the day of the event at all participating venues, as well as at Mountain States Motors. (Sorry, admission is limited to music fans 21 and over.)
In the pages that follow, you'll find information on each of the nominated bands, presented in their own words. We decided to let the artists speak for themselves by issuing each band an identical fifteen-item questionnaire -- an experiment that was both silly and serious. The results tell us something about the differences -- and the similarities -- among the musicians that have been selected to represent the cream of Denver's crop. The responses appear as submitted to us, with minimal editorial interference, and range from unexpected (we learn, for example, that Blues nominee Otis Taylor has a secret bicycle-related skill) to funny (The Pindowns inform us that it is illegal for a certain farm animal to roam the streets of Washington unattended) to slightly disgusting (see Hard Rock/Punk nominee King Rat's rejected band names). Some seized the opportunity to do some promotional campaigning (after all, this is technically a contest), while others adopted a tone of irreverence or elusiveness that suggests that artists are often more comfortable making their art rather than dissecting or explaining it. Overall, however, the feedback reinforces our belief that people who create music are generally witty, passionate, serious, emotional, aloof, self-promotional, clever and confident. And many of the acts who appear on our ballot are all of these things at once.
It's difficult to choose the one response that really stands out (just as it is difficult to try to choose which artist is best when the category includes five or six outstanding choices), but I'm particularly fond of a line from Lannie Garrett, who's nominated in the Jazz/Swing category. When asked what she wanted to do with her music, she responded with this: "Help people open up, feel things, connect with one another, fall in love, laugh. Simply, entertain them."
In one way or another, that seems to be the goal of all 57 of our nominees.
Vote your conscience.
For showcase linup, schedule, and to vote for your favorite bands, click over to the Music Showcase 2001 website
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.