The Show(case) Must Go On!

The Westword Music Showcase has come of age over the past decade -- not unlike LoDo, where we launched the event in 1995. Now in its ninth year, the Showcase has moved out of its original home and grown into a can't-miss annual celebration of area talent. And this year, we're expanding the lineup of one of Colorado's biggest local-music events to include three powerhouse national acts: Guided by Voices, Particle and Mark Farina.

Last year, thousands of music fans converged on Market Street, where we hosted scores of bands in five clubs and on a packed outdoor-stage area. True, we had some minor problems with smoke and ash -- courtesy of the Hayman Fire, which blazed brightest on the day of the 2002 event (the year before, when the Showcase was held in late May, there was a blizzard) -- but that wasn't enough to quiet the musicians or the crowds who turned out to take part in the party. Recognizing that while we couldn't do much to influence the weather, we could improve our surroundings, this year we decided to take our show on -- or, down -- the road: We've moved out of lower downtown and into the burgeoning Golden Triangle neighborhood.

But while the neighborhood is new, the concept isn't; it's simply old and improved. And so on Saturday, June 21, we'll present another marathon-style roster of first-rate talent, with 34 local acts culled from the Westword Music Showcase ballot at five venues: La Rumba (99 West Ninth Avenue), the Acoma Center (1080 Acoma Street), Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge (930 Lincoln Street), the Church (1160 Lincoln Street) and Serengeti (1037 Broadway), as well as an outdoor stage located in the 900 block of Acoma Street.

Gates open at 3 p.m. at Ninth and Acoma, and the music lasts well beyond the witching hour: Showcase ticket holders are eligible for a reduced admission to Mark Farina's show at the Church, which begins at 11 p.m., when our other venues will be shutting down. Farina will also perform a teaser set on the outdoor stage at 6 p.m., followed by national headliners Particle and Guided by Voices.

With solid lineups in every venue, some strategy will be required to survive the Showcase: We recommend wearing good shoes, drinking a lot (of water or other beverages; the event is open to those 21 and up only) and mapping out a parade route. Our pocket guides, available at each venue, are helpful navigational tools; so is this guide, which includes the times and places that participating acts will be playing.

As in years past, the Westword Music Showcase ballot was shaped by a committee of local-music enthusiasts and bona fide experts. This year, 62 acts were nominated in the categories of blues; hip-hop; DJ/dance/electronica; country/bluegrass/ roots; singer/songwriter; rock; pop; hard rock; punk; jazz/swing; and eclectic. That's the largest number of artists we've ever had on a ballot. We also have more new names on the roster this year than ever before: Black Black Ocean, the Soul Thieves, FOMOFUIAB, Rogue, Vaux, the Motet and Sons of Armageddon are just a few of the first-timers who appear alongside such Showcase veterans as Otis Taylor, Nina Storey, Opie Gone Bad, Yo, Flaco! and DJ Ivy. Profiles of each act, written by a crew of Backbeat contributors and spreading across this section, will help you bone up on what the nominated bands are up to, where they came from and where they're going.

Fans and readers determine the winners: Readers can vote by mailing in the ballot printed on page 23; filling in a ballot at any Showcase venue; or voting online at The deadline for submitting ballots is noon on Monday, June 23; winners will be announced during a special awards ceremony at the Bluebird Theater at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 26. The evening will be hosted by Bob Rupp, with music by Sam Bivens and the Denver Jazz Orchestra, and will include the induction of five-time winner Blister 66 into the Showcase Hall of Fame. That event is free and open to the public; tickets are available at the Westword office, located at 969 Broadway -- in the heart of the same Golden Triangle neighborhood.

The Showcase itself isn't free, but it's pretty darn close. Advance tickets are available for $5 at any of the participating venues and Colorado Liquor Mart; tickets are $10 on the day of the event. That's a good deal for a stellar afternoon and evening. Come help us celebrate the Showcase's new digs -- and our city's vibrant music scene.


Mark Farina's trademark synthesis of soulful house that's soaked with an almost liquid overlay of slow-burn subterranean jazz has made him one of the most popular and well-known DJs in the world. A native of Park Ridge, Illinois (a hamlet just outside of Chicago), Farina began deejaying in high school -- taking his influences from the Chi-town house scene where he was indoctrinated at clubs like downtown's Medusa. But Farina was thrust into the spotlight when he began spinning in his adopted home of San Francisco, where he still resides. Using a bare-bones setup of two turntables, a soundboard, a couple of CD players and a sampler, Farina creates his deep-house groove sans the pre-fab mixing software many DJs rely on to smooth out the kinks. His flawless mixing shows a fondness for minimalism, with darker tones and funky bass lines glazed with exotic world music and samples seamlessly laid over everything from beepy techno to relaxed soul.

Farina began releasing mixes in 1996, with Seasons One (on Domestic) and his ubiquitous Mushroom Jazz series (on Om Records), now in its fourth incarnation. Farina's answer to acid jazz, Mushroom Jazz was the child of a lounge night at San Francisco's Cat's Grille in the early '90s hosted by Farina and longtime collaborator Derrick Carter. The first release in the series, Mushroom Jazz, was followed by 1999's San Francisco Sessions and Connect, both on Om, and 2001's United DJs of America (Razor & Tie). Mushroom Jazz 2 followed in 1998, with the third installment coming out in 2001. The most recent foray into the Mushroom Jazz universe appeared in November 2002 and is more of the same sticky jazz infused with a little more hip-hop.

Farina is still king of both the horizontal chillout and dance-floor hip-house. -- Quetta Carpenter


For almost twenty years, Robert Pollard has been the singer, songwriter, souse and Svengali of Ohio's Guided by Voices. The group's revolving lineup is as legendary as Pollard's brew-fueled stage performances, but what the band is most known for is its songs. Hundreds and hundreds of songs, actually. Guided by Voices is as prolific as it is influential; from its 1987 debut Devil Between My Toes to last year's masterful Universal Truths and Cycles, Pollard's quirky, scratchy songcraft has inspired everyone from Pavement to Modest Mouse to the Strokes. Falling halfway in between stadium rock and garage pop, GBV's music crams the grandeur and psychedelic surrealism of the Beatles and Syd Barrett into brief bursts of raw melody that pop and crackle like fireworks. The overall effect is that of classic-rock radio anthems run through a supercollider. Pollard, an ex-schoolteacher, laces his lyrics with streams of consciousness that are at once cryptic, pensive, literate and hilarious.

GBV's current crew, including bassist Tim Tobias, drummer Kevin March and guitarists Doug Gillard and Nate Farley, continues the group's tradition of twisted, guitar-driven pop. Like his contemporary and fellow indie visionary Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Pollard has a persistence and integrity that have elevated his band from the basement level up to near-legendary status. Earthquake Glue, the fourteenth studio album by Guided by Voices, is due out in August and will surely cement Pollard's position as an elder statesmen - even an icon - of underground rock. -- Jason Heller


Particle was born on a boat in 2000, while playing a party in the San Francisco bay. Since then, keyboardist Steve Molitz, guitarist Charlie Hitchcock, bassist Eric Gourd and drummer Darren Pujalet have made waves in the jam-band world with a multimedia fusion of improvised instrumentals and video and slide shows (crafted by full-time band projectionist Scott MacKinnon), plus something the band's fans call "space porn."

Particle's funk-style thumping, wah-wah guitars and neo-psychedelic stage presentation has made the California band a favorite of the festival circuit, where boys and girls who spin convene to shake their heads and dreads. But it's also one of the few jam bands that's been welcomed into the club set -- maybe because club-hoppers like to dance while watching the pretty pictures?

Moving from atmospheric and purposely aimless to plain old down and dirty, Particle's Linear Accelerator is a studio approximation of the band's live gigs. But there ain't nothing like the real thing: The band's live show is where all the elements come together. -- Laura Bond


After swerving around the Western Hemisphere for the better part of the '80s (from Philadelphia to Norway to Boulder), singer/songwriter Mary Beth Abella has been in Denver for more than a decade. Unfortunately for local listeners, her nomadic tendencies are acting up again.

"All I know is, we're leaving," Abella says of her impending plan to bolt from Colorado with husband Kevin Kauper. "We're selling our house. We're selling everything we own." After wrapping a calendar of local gigs in late July, the two intend to leave for parts unknown; at the moment, their semi-realized itinerary includes stops in New York, Norway and New Zealand. "We feel we need to shake off this town before we settle someplace else," Abella explains.

Armed with edgily honest material that encompasses both wit and heartache, the singer performed solo in the Denver area from the early to late '90s. To bolster her prickly-soft vocals and hooks, she recruited a backing band in 1999, an outfit that has since included "a rotating cast of characters," she notes. ("People have different needs," she says of the high turnover rate.)

The current lineup -- at least until Abella rips up her fourteen-year-old roots -- includes ex-Rainville bassist Matt Sumner, drummer Chris Budin, guitarist Gerry Hundt and keyboardist Judy Brady. For lower-key sets, the singer teams with violinist Jennifer Kavanaugh. At the Westword Music Showcase, Abella's brother/longtime musical collaborator John -- who produced her glittery, gritty full-length debut, What Happened to the Girls?, last year before fleeing to Los Angeles -- returns to her side on guitar for one night only. Catch Abella while you can. -- Eric Peterson


Many Internet-driven pockets of the recording industry took a hit with the crash, but some bands have taken the e-baton and run with it. And few have raced faster or covered more ground than Accidental Superhero. The Colorado Springs-based quartet has logged more than 400,000 downloads off -- often charting amid the likes of Eminem and Avril Lavigne -- and amassed an e-mail list of 500,000 fans.

"Most of us are tech nerds," says vocalist Jonathan Kuiper, "except Jeff [Woods, AS's drummer] -- he's a pro golfer." As such, the members of the eight-year-old band, rounded out by guitarist Chris "Cornbread" Willard and bassist Sean Mulholland, took to the Web the minute they finished their second full-length album, Full Circle, last year. "It did well by word of mouth," Kuiper says. "It just snowballed."

"We embraced the whole Napster/KaZaa thing," he adds. "I don't think artists are going to be able to change how stuff is pirated nowadays." Thus the band's strategy remains largely the same as it ever was: doing it themselves -- writing, self-recording and self-releasing a brand of polished, affecting rock anchored by industrial-strength guitar riffs and boosted by soaring pop hooks.

Accidental Superhero, which has a national tour slated for the end of the year and a third album in the works, has had its share of offers and rejections from labels big and small. But a tour to New York last fall proved to be an educational, if somewhat jading, experience. "The more you learn about the music industry, the more you see behind the curtain," says Kuiper. "There is no wizard. It's not necessarily what you thought it would be. We realized we could do a lot of it on our own." -- Peterson


Mike Stephens of Against Tomorrow's Sky recently left an old friend for dead on the side of the road in the middle of the California desert. What's more, he shows no signs of remorse for his actions. In fact, he'd probably do it again if it meant another potentially amazing gig was on the other side.

The Colorado Springs-based quartet -- composed of guitarist/vocalist Jeff Fuller, bassist Mike Nipp, drummer Shawn Stafford and vocalist/guitarist Stephens -- was baptized by fire when its '78 Econoline van bit the dust in the middle of the desert on the band's first tour ever. "I can laugh now, but at the time it wasn't so funny," says Stephens. The group stopped for gas in Bakersfield, California, on its way from Sacramento to Anaheim. Unbeknownst to the bandmembers, the gas station had mistakenly put diesel fuel in its unleaded pumps. Had it not been for the kindness of a handful of strangers who pitched in to help out, the players might still be stuck somewhere in the middle of the Mojave. Fortunately, they made it back home. The van did not.

Sounds like enough to dissuade most bands from giving it another go, right? But this one can't wait to get back on the road.

"We've done really well in Colorado Springs. We've built up a cool little following, and we're just trying to do that everywhere else," says Stephens. "And we know that it doesn't happen overnight."

From Stephens's mouth to God's ears. The band's reputation is quickly outgrowing the confines of its home town. Formed during the summer of 2000 from the remnants of various Colorado Springs bands, Against Tomorrow's Sky was recently voted best band by its hometown paper, the Gazette, and inked a deal with Pennsylvania-based indie Universal Warning Records. The outfit's debut EP, Jump the Hedges First, recorded at 8 Houses Down by studio whiz Matt Vanleuven, was initially intended as a demo. Ultimately, the recordings were released as is. Stephens credits Vanleuven's production skills.

"We had never worked with an engineer that was really good. We were so excited with how good his production was. It sounded pro to us, so we were like, 'We'll release this as is.' Right off the board, our scratch mixes were incredible. For the quality of work they do, [8 Houses Down] could be charging four times as much. I can't see why any band in the state would record anywhere else."

Against Tomorrow's Sky won't have to worry much about where to record its next record, at least not in the near future. According to Stephens, the band wants to tour more to support the latest album before starting work on the next. Hopefully, the new van will cooperate. ­ Dave Herrera


There's something Aggressive Persuasion doesn't want its sponsor, Jägermeister, to know: Though all members of Jäger bands are supposed to be of legal drinking age, only frontman Steve Leflar is over 21. The other bandmembers aren't even close.

Drummer Richard Valdez and twins Misty and David Bryant (on bass and guitar, respectively) started the band when they were eleven, showing a fierce commitment despite their tender ages. Playing any Pueblo bar that would let them, the young musicians were chaperoned at each gig by their parents -- their biggest fans and cheerleaders. Ron Bryant, Misty and David's dad, currently handles management duties for the group.

Shredding a scorching form of nü-metal, Aggressive Persuasion's live show borders on savage. Taking full advantage of youth's limitless energy, the members drip sweat and blitzkrieg passion on each stage they play. After finding an audience in southern Colorado, the band started gigging in Denver, sharing stages with other members of the heavy-music scene. AP's sound solidified in 2002, when Leflar, who has a background as an a cappella singer, replaced longtime vocalist Mattie Baughn. Such changes helped move the band outside of the bar realm; its live schedule now includes such venues as Denver's Bluebird and Gothic theaters and Pueblo's Chief. In January, the group released its debut CD, A Sense of Reality.

"I'm a band Nazi," Leflar says, chuckling, when asked if being older than his mates foists extra responsibility onto his shoulders. Pushing the others to work even harder on practices and promotions, Leflar is also behind AP's plans to move to Denver after its regional tour ends in August -- something that's possible now that the other members have finally graduated from high school. -- Catalina Soltero


Boulder's All Night Honky Tonk All-Stars serve up a twangy, old-timey soundscape, and as their name implies, they do it all night long: The quintet plays forty songs at an average gig.

Formed as a one-off opening act in 2001, the ensemble continued as a band because the chemistry between players was so good. "The gig felt great, the dance floor was full, so we went at it," says vocalist/rhythm guitarist Danny Shafer.

The All-Stars claim former members of Runaway Truck Ramp and the Danny Shafer Band, plus current members of Hit and Run, Greenwich Gulch and Danny Shafer and the Ramblers. Augmented by drummer Jason Pawlina and bassist Jim Sullivan, the outfit boasts not one, not two, but three capable singers in Shafer, mandolinist Rebecca Hoggan and lead guitarist Greg Schochet.

"There's nothing we can't cover in terms of vocal style," says Shafer. "[Hoggan] does all the Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris stuff. I do all the Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Gram Parsons stuff. Greg does the Johnny Cash and Junior Brown stuff -- he's got a really low voice."

"It's nice to have that male/female front in a country group," Shafer adds. "We do all the old duets."

Beyond the covers, the All-Stars also play a number of originals primarily penned by Shafer, but all of it is true to the classic honky-tonk sound. That doesn't mean their audience is easily categorized, however. "We'll go up to Wyoming and play for a bunch of cowboys," says Shafer, "and the next night, we'll play the Fox Theatre for a room full of college students." -- Peterson


The coed blues-rock quartet Backbone Velvet first took shape at guitarist John Gonzales's wedding reception, in August 2000. The performance was a milestone for standout vocalist Marri Jo, as it marked a triumph in her twenty-year struggle with stage fright.

A classically trained opera singer who toured Europe when she was eighteen, Marri Jo gave up singing in 1985 because of burnout and anxiety. She started singing again for her circle of friends, including Gonzales, bassist Chip Fair and drummer Laura Coleman, in the late '90s. At first she would avoid their gazes by singing from a darkened kitchen, but she slowly built her confidence to the point where she could sing in front of complete strangers again. But the anxiety is not entirely gone: "I'm a puker," she says. "I throw up at every single show."

The original plan was for Backbone Velvet to play ten or fifteen covers for friends at Chip Fair's annual Christmas bash in Bailey, but the band soon mushroomed into a mainstay at Herman's Hideaway, the Soiled Dove and other Denver stages. Thank goodness: Marri Jo's re-entry into the performing world is a boon to the Denver music scene. Her raw, powerful pipes are reminiscent of Grace Slick's and Janis Joplin's, and they're backed by a band that dabbles in everything from blues to hard rock to psychedelic exploration.

Ultimately, the bandmates' longtime mutual friendships are the glue that holds Backbone Velvet together. "We all get along so well," says Fair. "It's all about the love." -- Peterson


Marcy Baruch throws a mean pancake party. Every New Year's Day, the luckiest people in Denver are invited over for breakfast and mimosas. But not everything that Baruch serves up is syrupy and sweet: Rousing rockers and spare, personal pieces are nestled among the catchy pop tunes and folksy offerings on her two recent discs, Hathaway Smiles and Clearly.

In addition to penning her own compositions, Baruch has been collaborating with other artists. "I love my work as a singer/songwriter, but my other true love is in harmony work," she says. She produced fellow songstress Kate Gleason's CD, Return to Me, and performed as both an opening act and a backing vocalist on tour with Nashville artist Lynette Vantreese in 2002.

Baruch's versatility is evident in her live show. Her performance is equally compelling whether she's working as a solo act or backed by a band, whose membership varies with each gig; the only constant is her creative partner and collaborator, bassist Scott Surine. Baruch, who recently returned from a tour of the East Coast, exudes an energy that's both strong and subtle. She doesn't always generate as much fanfare as some of her local contemporaries, but her followers keep increasing in number. We suspect it's the music, not the pancakes, that keeps 'em coming back. -- Soltero


When asked to expound on the aesthetic of Black Black Ocean, guitarist Stephen Till gets excited. "Hold on, hold on, let me ask somebody. I want this to be cute," he says. After a murmur of voices in the background, he replies, "My brother just said 'sucky.'"

Black Black Ocean came together in 2001 as a fairly conventional indie-rock outfit; its first demo recording came complete with sharp guitars, bleating vocals and a thin veneer of poetic sensitivity. Then something went haywire in Modest Mouseland. ¡Operación!, the band's new full-length disc, is a malfunctioning toy robot with springs and sparks popping out all over the place. The music is gnarled and garbled, a tense mess of post-punk angst that taps into the jerky, sci-fi kinesis of Milemarker, Devo and Les Savy Fav. Ryan Eason is the group's resident spaz cadet, perpetually writhing, shrieking, purring, bashing guitars and pounding away at a synthesizer strapped to his chest like a bomb. The rest of the lineup -- Till, Quintin Schermerhorn and Jared Black -- is equally as erratic, jumping around like electrocuted chimps on stage.

"How about...Black Black Ocean is like diamond dust blown into your eyes?" Till continues, almost hyperventilating. "We're like Liza Minelli and Glen Danzig's love child. We're intensely brutal, with a heart of gold."

One of the more ubiquitous bands around town, Black Black Ocean has amassed a fervent following of swooning girls and pouting boys, and it's not hard to see why: The band's atmosphere is as cool and dark as the depths of the Mariana Trench. Or, as Till sums it up: "One, we don't suck. Two, we make an indescribable sound." -- Heller


If she's ever thought of rain a day in her life or been paralyzed by gut-wrenching heartache of Sylvia Plathian proportions, you'd never know it. Her smile brightens every corner of a room. Her laughter is more infectious than doorknobs in an elementary school. She'll have you "squirting tears out your eyes" even if you didn't hear the punchline. So what, then, is Erica Brown doing singing the blues? Dropping jaws of anyone within earshot of her stellar vocals and forging a reputation as the leader of a band no one wants to follow, that's what.

The Erica Brown Band formed in 1998 after the collective members of J.D. and the Love Bandits contacted Brown with the prospect of fronting their band. As luck would have it, the soulstress was between projects (Brown previously contributed vocals to the irreverent, critically acclaimed cult bands Foreskin 500 and Cherry Bomb Club). The subsequent name change was spurred because "I'm not a 6'3" trombone player named J.D.," says Brown, laughing.

The five-piece -- bassist Rich Sallee, guitarist Mark Lawson, keyboard and Hammond organ player Jim Ayers, and Scotty Rivera, who shares vocal duties with Brown -- released its debut long-player, Body Work, in November 2000. The band's second effort, Rough Cut Stone, was recorded and produced at FTM studios by Steve Avedis, whom Brown credits as having "the sharpest ears in the business"; the recording was released in April and is already starting to gain momentum.

As a result of its inspired performances and the accolades it has garnered in its five short years of existence - the group receives regular airplay on KUVO and KGNU and was voted number one for the month of April on KRFX's specialty show, Strictly the Blues, for the month of April - the Erica Brown Band could be thrust into the national spotlight. A record label that Brown declines to disclose so as not to "hoodoo the process" has expressed interest. Whether anything comes from it, she seems content just to be in the game.

"I'm not going to be one of those little old ladies in a home -- or, worse yet, one who doesn't have a pension who eats Little Friskies because she can't afford Fancy Feast -- wishing I had done this. Someone once said, 'Don't die with the music in you,' and I couldn't agree more." -- Herrera


Rod Buckner is a teacher by day, serving as the band and orchestra instructor at Denver's Henry Middle School. By night, as the leader and namesake of Buckner Funken Jazz, among the most popular combos working the local circuit, he's had plenty of chances to teach as well.

"The band started about five years ago, and it was originally supposed to be a blues and jazz band," Buckner says. "But the first guys that I had were mainly rockers, so I had to teach them how to play jazz. That was a hard job."

Fortunately, the situation has improved over time. As Buckner Funken Jazz established a reputation via regular performances at clubs such as Herman's Hideaway and Herb's Hideout, like-minded instrumentalists were drawn to it. At present, the band consists of Buckner on trumpet and sibling Ron Buckner on bass, supplemented by saxophonist Matthew White, conga expert Bobby Hill, guitarist Devon Kurzweil, keyboardist Mark Esquibel and drummer Chad Hodges. "The guys we have now are excellent jazz musicians, and they're definitely interested in the funk, too," Buckner says. "So the band is just getting better and better."

It's been several years since the release of Late for School, the combo's most recent CD, and Buckner would like to put another recording in the can. In the meantime, though, he wants to perfect the act's blend of classic covers and finger-popping originals. "We might play straightahead jazz during our first set, and during the second set throw in some Maceo and funk and Latin and our own stuff," Buckner says. "It's like a good stew, man. We mix it up." -- Michael Roberts


David Sherman was born with a fairly ordinary name, and he lives in the 21st century -- but he doesn't let these troublesome details cramp his style. As Juan del Queso, self-proclaimed "minister of the New Mambo Revival and professional man of leisure," Sherman fronts Cabaret Diosa, which is less a band than an alternate worldview. As he puts it, "I never really know where the myth ends and the reality begins."

Life became a Cabaret in 1995, and since then, the collective has featured a rotating membership whose recruits receive an eccentric pseudonym just for joining; current players include lead singer Montana del Fuego, trumpeter/vocalist/percussionists Don Grandisimo de la Misconception and Dinkis Con Creama. (Dinkis, by the way, is Jon Gray, formerly with Fat Mama, a much-missed Boulder jazz/groove collective.) Thanks to flamboyant costumes, a refreshing love of theatricality and a stage demeanor borrowed from an earlier, snappier era, Cabaret Diosa instantly established itself as a live act par excellence. "We try to get our freak on, but we do it in the context of a 1950s big band," Sherman notes. "We use a lot of psychedelic rock influences, too -- and bastardize the hell out of everything."

Next up for the Diosans is a busy tour schedule that includes festival stops outside the state they're in -- whatever state that is. Also on tap is the recording of what Sherman describes as "a concept album called Apocalypso, which describes how the New Mambo Revival saves the world from destruction." After a purposeful pause, he adds, "It's semi-autobiographical."

Hope that means there's more myth and less reality. -- Roberts


En route to a headlining slot at a festival in eastern Germany, the members of Cephalic Carnage made a little stopover in Amsterdam, land of the almighty hash bar. It allowed the self-proclaimed arbiters of "Rocky Mountain hydro-grind" a chance to test their THC tolerance before embarking on a full-fledged European tour later this year.

"Amsterdam was like a practice for what's ahead," says guitarist Zac. "We've got four shows coming up in Holland in October. Leonard [aka Lenzig, vocalist] and Steve [guitarist], they can take more than anyone else. The rest of us will be on the floor, and they're always coming up winners."

While some bandmates may excel in the pot-smoking arena, all four members of Cephalic Carnage have been coming up winners in recent years. A brutal blending of ass-breaking hardcore, metal math death jazz has earned the Denver-based quartet -- rounded out by drummer John -- a contract with Relapse Records, a festering following across the United States and abroad, and a confidence behind the wheel: In the past three years, the band has logged nearly 200,000 miles on the road, playing everything from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, to the New England Metal and Hardcore Fest. The group recently got off a headlining stint with the Contamination Tour, a nationwide multi-bill caravan that showcases Relapse artists.

Having first come together in Colorado in 1992, Cephalic Carnage is currently touring behind its latest full-length release, Lucid Interval; since its release in August 2002, the album has sold more than the band's two previous efforts, 1998's Conforming to Abnormality and 1999's Exploiting Dysfunction, combined. Zac credits the increased numbers to the band's non-stop gigging.

"We absolutely love it, and we get to play all these killer shows," he says. "That's the only way that we're ever going to sell records, unless we want to be stuck in this sub-cult subculture. But it does mean that we spend a lot of time away from home. That's the life that we chose. Let the tears fall where they may." -- Bond


Creighton Holly Trio did not respond to our requests for biographical materials.


Ask Czars bassist Chris Pearson what the controlling creative idea behind his band is, and you'll get dead silence as a reply. "Um. Uh. I think I'll have to pass on that one," he says. "No matter how I answer it, it'll make someone else in the band mad."

The Czars make tension sound ethereal, chemistry feel tender. Since 1994, the band -- Pearson, Roger Green, John Grant, Jeff Linsenmaier, Elin Palmer and Andy Monley -- has woven a ragged clutch of threads into an elegant sonic fabric. The members cite as personal influences everyone from Hall and Oates to John Zorn, Alice Coltrane to Ladytron. "If you asked each of us to pick a bunch of albums to take on the road, all six of us would show up with completely different albums," says Pearson.

Despite the players' eclectic backgrounds, the music of the Czars is unified and focused -- focused, that is, like a bleary eye through a lens of smoke and depression. On its four albums, including 2002's arresting The Ugly People vs. the Beautiful People, the group boils oceans of loss and regret into a vapor of swaying rhythms and billowing guitars -- not to mention the stratospheric sadness of Grant's vocals. The sound is as constricting and epic as that of Jeff Buckley or Low.

The Czars have garnered reams of critical applause over the years -- including a "Band of the Month" award in the prestigious British music journal Mojo -- and have toured America and Europe with the luminous likes of David Gray and the Flaming Lips. At work self-producing its fifth album, set for an early 2004 release, Pearson and his compatriots have weathered enough of the music industry's wrath and indifference to realize that the act of creation ultimately has to be its own reward.

"Being in this business is tough when you sell just enough albums to keep plugging along, but you don't make enough to be self-sufficient. We're stuck in that limbo between good and bad," he says with good-natured humility. "Maybe that's our creative aesthetic: We're mediocre enough to survive nine years together." One listen to the Czars and you'll realize just how humble he's being. ­ Heller


Down-and-dirty "hard wild" blues is a hallowed style not to be attempted by the meek. Fortunately, there's nothing meek about the Dearly Beloved, the all-female trio composed of guitarist/vocalist Jennifer Waters, guitarist/vocalist/bassist Whitney Rehr and drummer Laura Coleman. Having formed in Denver last year, the Dearly Beloved boasts one of the city's more power packed woman-centric combos: A longtime member of the local music scene, Rehr currently holds down frontwoman duties for Moonhead, Coleman keeps time for Backbone Velvet, and Waters toils as a solo artist.

In this incarnation, the players channel a rootsy kind of psychedelia that moves from slow-grooving and Morphine-esque to rocking and guitar heavy to playfully traditional. "Big Woman Shoes" is a gutbucket-style slice of the Delta that oozes sexuality and pro-femme stealth. (When played live, the song often ends in a rain of wayward footwear flung onto the stage by audience members.) Rehr and Waters seem like they were made to play together, despite the fact that their stage personas are so distinct: Rehr is wild, unhinged and dervish-like -- a fiery ying to Water's more controlled, tough and determined yang. They get the balance right. -- Bond


Impossible to pigeonhole, DeVotchKa has entranced a growing fan base across the Southwest with its unique melting pot of gypsy vaudeville, classical strings, polka, and hooks that sound as if they're barreling straight out of a spaghetti -- or possibly goulash -- Western soundtrack.

The band -- vocalist/guitarist/trumpeter Nick Urata, violinist/accordionist Tom Hagerman, drummer/trumpeter Shawn King and Jeanie Schroder, who plays the sousaphone and upright bass -- recently released its second album, titled Una Volta. Vacillating between haunting and ecstatic, the disc is a revelation, a fitting complement to the band's memorable live shows.

DeVotchKa recorded the CD at Wavelab Studios in downtown Tucson. "We'd wake up, get this awesome breakfast at this historic hotel [the Hotel Congress] and walk to this studio where you're surrounded by killer vintage instruments," recalls King. "Something really clicked; we made a record I'm super proud of."

Urata and company are currently touring the nation as the backup band for the traveling BurlesqueFest extravaganza, but touring Arizona and New Mexico with mariachi/indie-rock fusion act Calexico last year "was pretty epic for us," says King. "We started to hit it big in Arizona -- better than Colorado."

So is DeVotchKa planning to make like the Apples in Stereo and Slim Cessna and trade the Rockies for a change of scenery, in this case the saguaro-speckled desert? "I would love to move down there," answers King. "I really felt like we found home." But mention the triple-digit high temps that dominate Tucson summers, and King waffles. "We'll definitely have to do future recordings in the winter," he says. -- Peterson


MCs Mest One and Jarvis, the frontmen of Dialektix, have come a long way since the hip-hop combo's formative days recording in the bedroom of Mest's apartment.

In the middle of recording the group's debut album, 2001's The Return of Sid Finch, Jarvis had to pawn one of the two keyboards the musicians had been using, cutting production in half. Then, during the recording of 2002's eponymous EP, their creativity was limited by the constraints of a meager budget and the studio's ticking clock.

Consequently, Dialektix has taken its time within the relaxed confines of its own studio, the Cracker Factory, for its next effort. "We were not pressured by studio time," says Mest. "When we're not flowing, we can take a break and revisit things later." Bolstered by the addition of DJ Destro, whom the MC refers to as "the best DJ in the state," and the confidence amassed from performing over one hundred shows in the past two years (with Atmosphere, Storm the Unpredictable, Black Sheep and Five Fingers of Funk, among others), the band has completed fourteen of sixteen tracks for the new album.

"Everything will be looser, but with a tighter sound on this album," offers Mest. "We're just trying to put together the best product we can, so we can hopefully generate enough cash to keep putting out album after album and tour."

According to Mest, southern Colorado, New Mexico and Texas are all on the itinerary in the near future. A return trip to Texas should be well received: Last year the act played a hip-hop showcase at Elements in Dallas to a packed house. Though the group has plans to take the show on the road, the players are far from making their mark on Denver. The local hip-hop scene, much like Dialektix, has come a long way since its formative years.

"Our fans are wide based, and our music is friendly and fun. People have been really supportive -- like Adict [host of Radio 1190's Basementalism] and the local promoters who keep bringing hip-hop artists to town," says Mest. "And the Denver scene is sick, but I wish it was just a little more organized. The cool thing is, though, everyone sounds opposite of each other." -- Herrera


Dishing out radio-friendly bubblegum punk, the members of D.O.R.K. have ears for music and minds for business: In fact, guitarist/vocalist Bryan Knoebel just graduated with a finance degree from the University of Colorado at Denver. "And he can play the shit out of the guitar," notes bassist Donovan Welsh.

The year 2002 was a big one for D.O.R.K., and 2003 is shaping up pretty nicely, too. Last September, the band traveled to Los Angeles and recorded three songs with producer Geza X, whose client list includes Primus and Sonic Youth. "We were extremely excited," says Welsh. "But we were extremely intimidated to work with the multi-platinum producer, being a young band." D.O.R.K.'s members range in age from nineteen (guitarist Schuyler Ankele) to 25 (Welsh). For all but drummer Jimmy Blair -- Knoebel, Ankele, Welsh, and vocalist Dylan Martinez -- D.O.R.K. represents a first band experience.

Tunes like "Friday Night" ("The cops show up, everybody turns to run/Running from the police is half the fun") unapologetically target the pubescent, adolescent and I-refuse-to-grow-up demographics. "Most of our fans are kids...ages twelve to 25," says Welsh. "We did the bar scene here in Denver, and then we started doing all-ages shows, and our numbers started getting a lot better." The typical draw boomed from around 100 attendees to more than 500.

D.O.R.K. has just come off a West Coast tour that was capped by two weeks in an L.A. studio and plans to self-release its debut album in the fall, to coincide with a national tour. "We're this close to being full-time with it," says Welsh, holding his forefinger and thumb a quarter-inch apart.

What looks like an acronym actually stands for, well, just dork. "It's just to get you to ask," says Welsh. But D.O.R.K. is soliciting ideas from its fans. Talk about geek love. -- Peterson


There's an art to pop music: Melodies have to be sharp and compact, familiar hooks should be given just the right twist, and there must be a delicate balance between elation and pensiveness. Dressy Bessy's got the formula down. Drawing mostly from the chirpy sounds of the '60s, the group long ago climbed out from under the shadow of the Apples in Stereo; Apples guitarist John Hill formed Dressy Bessy in 1997 with singer/guitarist Tammy Ealom, drummer Darren Albert and bassist Rob Greene. While both Bessy and the Apples look backward to the era of classic pop, the members of the former seem less like archaeologists of the period than they do kids on a beach digging up seashells.

Little Music is the band's third and latest disc, a collection of singles and compilation tracks, and it's the perfect overview of Dressy Bessy's nearly seven years of crafting raw, gorgeous pop. Though often stuck with lazy comparisons to candy bars and jump ropes and such, the group's sound has much more depth and dimension. Songs like "Gloria Days" and "2 My Question" come across like a roughed-up Beach Boys or Association, making ache and isolation sound oddly hummable. "Live to Tell All" and "Lipstick" are straight out of the garage, but the ragged abrasion of the Troggs is softened with a knack for singsong melody worthy of the Ohio Express. Throughout the album, doe-eyed innocence is tempered with winks of mischief -- and even an occasional downcast glance of regret and melancholy.

The band has toured numerous times across the U.S. and Europe and contributed to the surprisingly great indie-rock soundtrack to The Powerpuff Girls Movie. With stuff like Avril Lavigne's music and American Idol making "pop" a bad word all over again, thank Dressy Bessy for keeping the art form vital, true and pure. -- Heller

DJs Derrick Daisey (aka DJ Vitamin D) and Sean Biddle have been staples of the Denver house scene for years. Both moved here in 1995 and came together two years later to form the DJ duo Floorfillerz. "We got the name because these kids wanted us to do a remix for them," recalls Daisey; the group, called Floorfillers, never paid the pair for their efforts. Later, Daisey and Biddle accidentally adopted the deadbeat group's name. "It wasn't until later that I was like, 'That's where that name came from,'" Daisey says, laughing. Adds Biddle, "They didn't think it was very funny."

Both Daisey and Biddle spin solo as well as under the moniker Floorfillerz. They describe their collective sound, in fugue, as "Chicago-inspired, disco-jazz-funk house," which translates as a mixture of Biddle's Chicago-rooted soul and Southern California native Daisey's "L.A. dirty kind of sound." Though Biddle and Daisey love living in Denver, they say it's getting harder to find work lately.

"There are a lot of people like us who are fed up, burnt out on the same old shit," says Biddle. "People who want to go out, but there's nowhere to go." The duo plans to begin hosting its own parties (called GO') to supplement regular gigs at clubs like Alley Cat. "I have pretty much given up around here. I'm going to start doing my own thing," says Daisey. And GO' isn't the only thing that's starting up. Colorecordings, the pair's new record label, had its first release in December, of local DJs Pound Boys, with a Floorfillerz remix on the B-side. The tracks will be pressed on colored vinyl as a signature of the Colorecordings label. The two DJs plan to release music of their own along with that of local artists such as Sensei, Hipp-e, Miss Audry and DJ Nick. Both Biddle and Daisey have been touring out of town -- and out of the country -- to offset the lull in the local scene, but they have no plans for a permanent move anytime soon. "We love playing in Denver for people who like us," says Biddle. "It's a great place to live -- it's Denver." -- Carpenter


Upon moving to Denver in the final days of the second millennium, Ty Fury would loiter at the Guitar Center on Colorado Boulevard and "play all day long." But this guitarist had no interest in becoming the next Satriani or Malmsteen; he took out ads that read "Lead Guitarist Looking for Band" and soon hooked up with bassist Mike Krening, vocalist Chad Armstrong and drummer Mike "Fred" Schneider.

Nearly four years later, Fury has his own guitar shop in Arvada, where he can play all day -- and all night, if he's so inclined. And thanks to chops honed by non-stop gigging, FOMOFUIAB -- pronounced "fo-mo-foo-yab," it's a tongue-twisting acronym for "Four Motherfuckers in a Band" -- has grown into one of the tightest and heaviest acts in Colorado. "When we started, we played every show we could get our hands on," says Fury. "We played Tuesday nights. We played Wednesday nights. We played Sunday nights" -- to the tune of 150 dates a year. Released earlier this year, FOMOFUIAB's eponymous debut full-length is dark, unsettling and explosive, an arsenal of unyielding metal underpinned by a dollop of elastic groove.

But for these mofos, it's not all about the Benjamins. "We don't want to be rich rock stars," Fury says. "To play live shows and get people interested in our music -- that's our goal. When people are moving and everybody's moshing, you're doing that to people - it's an incredible feeling."

"We're just four guys who love jamming together," he adds. "We're no different than anyone in the crowd. We're just four motherfuckers in a band." -- Peterson


A rich pastiche of hip-hop, jazz and diverse rhythms, the Future Jazz Project grew out of a 2000 merger between two Front Range fusion jazz acts: Koru and Soul Picnic. Now a collective with guitar, bass, keyboards, horns, drums, MCs and a vocalist, it's become "a group without a leader," says saxophonist Ben Hadwen.

Soon after forming, the Future Jazz Project began playing a weekly gig at Blue 67 in downtown Denver; last year, it moved into a Thursday gig at Dazzle for "more musical freedom."

While its first true album is slated for a mid-summer release, last year the Project put out Kids Are Funky, Too!, which could be the grooviest-ever renditions of children's songs like "The Wheels on the Bus," "Old MacDonald" and "Three Blind Mice." The forthcoming disc, recorded at Boulder's Immersive Studios by Grammy-winning producer Matt Sandowsky, will be more adult-oriented, says Hadwen.

Bassist Casey Sidwell relates "the tale of a fallen MC" that drives the Project: Koru MC Jahson Soberanis was fatally wounded by an accidental gunshot in June 2000. "The rest of us in Koru had this aching need to continue playing," says Sidwell. "That light, that fire, is something that will always be with me." -- Peterson


Stroll by Blue Ice on South Broadway some Tuesday night, and you'll hear the snap and stammer of drums, the gulp of a bass, the cool sizzle of flicked ivories. Hovering over it all is the haunting flash of a saxophone, shooting through the spectral echoes like a hoot owl through the fog. That's the Clark Gibson Quartet.

"I think our strength is in the energy we produce," says sax man and bandleader Gibson. "Unfortunately, jazz has a bit of a stigma attached to it as being a sleepy form of music that only the elderly can enjoy. With this group, we've stayed in the realm of playing straightahead but really focused on producing music that swings hard and catches the attention of all listeners at any age."

The quartet, rounded out by pianist Holly Holverson, bassist Dwight Thompson and drummer Kevin Smith, formed in 2001 when Gibson returned to town after a touring stint with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. "It was a great experience for me," says Gibson, who was only 21 at the time. "The orchestra played a huge role in my development as a player. There are very few bands that swing that hard anymore." Like much of the jazz that followed in the wake of the bebop revolution, the Clark Gibson Quartet is a tight, almost telepathic unit that modulates from themes and standards to passages of solo improvisation. The faint Latin tinge of the post-bop era is also evident in its sound, but the emphasis is on the sultry, unadulterated swing of vintage pop and blues.

Besides gigging almost every other night of the month at places like Dazzle, Shakespeare's and Sambuca, Gibson and company have just finished producing their debut disc, titled The Offering. With guest trumpeter Greg Gizbert, Gibson's occasional turn at the flute and Thompson's shuddering bowed bass, the album's sound is lush and rich without being cluttered or slick. The soul leaks out like a lover's sigh. "As a band, we realize that we don't have to play a backbeat or play modern to get the attention of the younger generation," Gibson says. "We just have to be ourselves and play what we love." -- Heller


"We're action-packed. It's like watching Shaft," says MC Dow Jones of the Ground Zero Movement's live performances. When the four rappers (Ase One, Dow Jones, D.O. the Fabulous Drifter and Sid Fly) throw down with newcomer DJ See Why, the energy is as infectious as a Blaxploitation soundtrack. People don't stand still at the crew's shows; they bounce.

Through dirt-hustling diligence, the Ground Zero fellas have made their presence known. Whether strolling down the 16th Street Mall pushing their product or opening for national acts like Eightball & MJG, the group has been a ubiquitous force in Denver. The past year has seen the release of No Radio Play and a recently issued full-length, Tangerine V.I.P. er (pronounced "vipper"); according to Dow Jones, the discs "bring back the roots of real hip-hop." They're also bringing hip-hop to a wider audience: The State of Colorado recently selected Ground Zero's single "The Weakest Link" for its Get Real anti-smoking campaign this summer. The group is slated to perform at the state's Youth Summit this summer.

While the Ground Zero Movement hopes to become the first rap act to blow up outside of Denver, its members are content to provide an outlet for local artists looking to get their shine on. "We're just trying to knock down the doors for everybody. Everybody thinks hip-hop is dead, and we're trying to resurrect it," says Ase One. -- James Mayo


Heavyweight Dub Champion is in a state of expansion. Core members Patch and Resurrector have recently traveled the globe scouting for sounds and video footage that they can use to complement their illbient mix of hip-hop dubtronica and multimedia stage presentation.

"We've been expanding the empire in terms of visuals and video, and in terms of gathering resources," says Resurrector. "Patch was in Borneo taking vocal samples from villagers, which we are appropriating into the music. I went on a trip around the world. I went to Egypt, Myanmar, India, Bali and Cambodia. It's basically spiritual footage. I filmed inside the great pyramids and in the temples of southern India. We're taking that video footage and turning it into our live show."

The show, "The Liberation Process" -- which hits the Ogden Theatre on June 27 -- reflects the collective's belief that the meditative qualities of its music can help audiences achieve a liberated state of being. The Champs are also busy working on a followup to their acclaimed Survival Guide for the End of Time. The as-yet-untitled CD will be issued with an accompanying DVD.

"We're hoping to find a middle ground between what it is we do in our live performances -- the meditative, mantra-like qualities -- and what we tend to do in the studio," says Resurrector. "The discs will explore similar themes as on Survival Guide, and it will reflect our travels."

The crew expects to have the discs out by November; by then, half the group -- Patch, Resurrector and Totter -- will have moved to San Francisco. "We've been trying to expand to Asia, and this will bring us closer to that, but the main thing is, we're trying to network with other artists while keeping our foundation in Colorado," Resurrector says. "Half the band [Apostle, Stero Lion, DJ Illnaughty] will go back and forth when we tour." Hopefully, the Champions will visit often: Losing them completely would be a heavy blow. -- Mayo


When God was handing out rock, Hemi Cuda must have been pretty far up in the line. Guitarist Anika Zappe and bassist Karen Exley formed the band in 1998 and, after a succession of drummers, conscripted Scott Padawer to man the skins. "I don't think we had any big, contrived notions of what we wanted to do when we started," says Zappe. "I was coming from more of a garage-rock background at that time, and I think Karen was more of a fan of metal. We have a lot of similar interests, too, but the things that are different are the things that make the music more interesting."

On Hemi Cuda's debut CD, Classics for Lovers, garage rock runs a red light and plows headlong into heavy metal. The sound is like scorched rubber and shattered glass, with guitars so heavy and jagged they crunch bone. Although siphoning sips of riffs and lyrics from the Stooges and the Clash, Classics owes more to the high-octane sludge of L7 and Denver rock legends the Fluid. The album was released on disc in the U.S. by the Olympia, Washington, imprint Pop Sweatshop, and a vinyl version was pressed by the German label Thunderbaby, which led to a recent tour of Europe for the band.

"It was great. A lot of it was a learning experience. We made a lot of great connections and had a blast seeing Europe through a van window," Zappe says. "A few people at our shows out there were already familiar with us, but I do think we did get a little bit of interest just because we were an American, girl-fronted band."

Although Zappe and Exley have no qualms about playing up the hot-girls-with-guitars angle of their band, novelty is the least of the reasons for Hemi Cuda's appeal. Their songs are hot-wired with pop hooks and harmonies; their live shows are demolition derbies full of noise, crushed bodies and sheer rock velocity. -- Heller


Back when guys like Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash were walking the line, so to speak, between country music and rockabilly, little did they know they'd someday have illegitimate sons like the Honky Tonk Hangovers. The group -- bassist Donnie Jerome, drummer Brandon Webster and singer/guitarists Dave Hall and Jeff Yeary -- has been burning up bars and roadhouses across Denver for a couple of years now with its sizzling brand of roots music. Country, rock and roll, rockabilly, honky-tonk -- whatever you want to call it, the Hangovers' sound evokes the vintage twang and yodel of hillbilly music. No slick Nashville sophistication. No alt-country irony. Just lots of rustic pedal steel, two-steppin' rhythms and heartfelt singing about drinking, loving and driving trucks.

On the band's debut release, last year's Every Little Honky Tonk, the band is captured at its whooping, stomping best. Hall's rumbling baritone offsets Yeary's plaintive, lonesome warble, and Jerome and Webster pitch in harmonies while nailing down the beats with both precision and soul. The sound is authentic and retro without being kitschy; it's obvious the Hangovers have a true love affair with classic country music. The group is also a champion of Denver's roots-music scene and waves the flag for anyone in town willing to buck the trend of phony, commercialized country and play it straight from the heart. With an emphasis on songwriting, tasteful playing and unpretentious fun, the Honky Tonk Hangovers are the perfect reminder that, despite all the lofts and skyscrapers, Denver is still a city of the high-plains West. -- Heller


Sir Mix-It-Up might be a more fitting handle for DJ Idiom, aka Chris Cory. The platter jockey has a knack for blending disparate styles into delicious sonic smoothies. Not limited to a single-minded concept of what spinning should be, Idiom breaks down the barriers of style to please his audience and himself.

"My evolution as a musician has been a lifelong experience," he says. "I've gone all the way from listening to my mother practice for recitals as a concert pianist, to being in an alternative-rock band as a teen, to being a flamenco guitarist and B-boy throughout high school, to currently trying to turn my love for music into a career as a DJ."

When Idiom began spinning three years ago, he found that with a little practice, he could effortlessly mix alternative-rock lyrics with hip-hop instrumentals. And this kind of juxtaposing became the basis of his style: He shows "that you can listen to Jurassic 5 mixed with Al Green, Sublime mixed with the Pharcyde, Louis Armstrong mixed with Cypress Hill, Eric B. and Rakim mixed with the Smiths, Nirvana mixed with the Beastie Boys, Aphrodite mixed with Tchaikovsky, and the Grateful Dead mixed with Eydea and Abilities -- all within thirty minutes."

Think of it as sonic splatter painting. "Good music isn't confined to one genre," he says, "so why not mix it all together to make it more entertaining and enjoyable?" -- Hutchinson


Fans familiar with Ion's history will notice a glaring omission on the band's Web site: There are no references to any member's previous accomplishments. Leader Todd Schlafer headed the wildly popular Rocket Ajax, which split after a move to Los Angeles earlier this year. But so far, this strategy of only facing forward is proving successful: A few months after forming, the band has label interest and a sizable fan base.

Schlafer hasn't forgotten the past, however. "I was determined to stay and make something happen," he explains of his decision to linger in L.A. after the Ajax breakup. "Then I got a CD from two of my friends putting this thing together, and it was ten times better than anything Ajax did. I swear, it's unbelievable."

Ion's enviable lineup consists of singer Noe DeLeon, bassist Joe Sego, drummer David "Davis" Foonberg and second guitarist Nik Lawhorn. And then there's the music: Tautly crafted and unabashedly commercial, the band morphs brawny beats, torrential guitar riffs and polished vocals into songs that are as raucous as they are catchy. Ion is currently mastering a full-length CD; expect it to take off, rocket style. -- Soltero


Long before Josh Ivy moved the asses of the masses and became a household name on the electronic circuit as DJ Ivy, he was arguably one of the best downhill mountain-bike racers in the world. Then, at the age of nineteen, after nine years as a pro and numerous titles, he unceremoniously walked away at the top of his game to become a filmmaker.

"I realized being an athlete was not in my body anymore," says Ivy of his decision to leave the sport. "I realized there was an artistic side to me."

The turntablist attended film school at the University of Colorado at Boulder briefly before dropping out to make films of his own. However, fate intervened in the form of two turntables with homemade pitch controls; soon, Ivy forgot all about making films.

In what he describes as "just a completely ghetto approach," Ivy learned how to mix from a friend and after a solid year of regimented rehearsal started pursuing gigs of his own. After putting together and distributing over 600 mix tapes, everything began to coalesce in 1999. "Even though it cost me a lot of money," Ivy acknowledges, "that was how I got my name out there."

Ivy currently divides his time between several projects. First, there's his collaboration with Seafoam: Under the moniker Strawberry Fish, the duo has an unreleased twelve-inch, "How Many Licks Does It Take?," due for release on Lo-Rise Recordings. Ivy describes the material as mostly breakbeat and down-tempo. He also tends to a half-dozen residencies, including his most popular night, with partner in crime Psychonaut, at GROWednesdays (Wednesday Nights at Harry's in the Magnolia Hotel). Then there are the Unity Gain parties hosted by his crew, Mile High House. If that weren't enough, he's "hunkering down" and learning how to write his own compositions.

"In terms of deejaying, my main goal is to try and write my own music," says Ivy. "I won't ever stop deejaying; it's all relevant to writing music. My ambition, though, is to play music that makes me feel good. That makes me feel like I lose a sense of time. Makes me forget about everything that's happening and step out of a linear sense of time. I'd like to share that with people, and hopefully, they'll experience it with me." -- Herrera

Because Marty Jones, who leads the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys, is a Westword contributor, he's never been able to write in these pages about one of his favorite local bands: his own. Not surprisingly, he's got plenty to say about what he calls "Denver's finest practitioners of real alternative country music, whatever that means" when given the opportunity.

"I guess the latest is that we're proud to mark our third straight summer with a new guitar player," Jones says. "Our man Dane 'Wichita' Hunter, who joined last year, lost his job with a satellite radio company and has moved to Phoenix to learn how to repair Harley-Davidsons." Taking Hunter's spot is "Barbecue Bob" Coopergrundy, whom Jones describes as "a British guy who played in a band with the drummer from the Pogues." Coopergrundy joins an outfit whose members sport at least two colorful handles, plus a third whose moniker is ordinary but built to last: "We've got Wilbur on drums -- one name only, like Cher -- and Chuck Wagon on guitar. And my name remains Marty Jones."

Full Boar, the Poor Boys' magnum opus, recently earned a second pressing, but Jones isn't interested in sitting tight. "We have material together and might record a new EP this summer," he says. "And I'm hoping to do a little solo recording, just me and a guitar. They're songs that are either very depressing or ones that don't fit the kind of humor we enjoy in the band, like this song about JonBenét Ramsey's murder that nobody really wants to hear." Oh, yeah: Jones is also trying to write some songs with Jason Ringenberg, of Jason and the Scorchers fame, thereby "continuing our evolution into ragged honky-tonk."

Sounds like the type of band Jones would love to profile. Too bad he can't. -- Roberts


"We've got to go to Seattle and learn how the big boys make records."

That's how Love.45 guitarist Paul Trinidad describes a recent trip to the Emerald City's London Bridge Studio, where the band recorded in a facility previously used by Nickelback, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, among others. Not too shabby for a group of musicians who've been treading water in Denver's local music scene for more years than they'd like to be reminded of. (They'll admit to six as Love.45.)

Tired of the rut they were running, the players started hosting what Trinidad dubs "promo-pack parties" -- where they'd gather to assemble and send materials to anyone who might listen. Following this torrent of mail, Love.45's goods landed in the hands of 3 Doors Down guitarist Chris Henderson, who liked what he heard and passed it on to a couple of A&R reps for Universal.

Remaining "cautiously optimistic," Trinidad and bandmates Micki Shivers, Danny Elster and Jim Messina accepted an invite from Henderson to put a new demo together at London Bridge, with Henderson also lending a hand with arrangements and acting as producer. The EP, Love.45 - The Seattle Sessions, consists of three previously unrecorded songs and a remix of "Smile," which appeared on last year's Larger Than Life CD. The recording, which the band plans to use primarily as a demo, will be available to fans in July.

Local .45 lovers have been a loyal group, suffering through some dismal venues as the band worked its way toward better gigs, with a recent slot at Red Rocks (as part of the Film on the Rocks series) making up for early shows at an empty Lion's Lair. And even if Universal's flirting doesn't lead to commitment, there's always the next promo-pack party. -- Soltero


How long has Ron Miles been part of the Denver jazz scene? Long enough to have made the transition from promising newcomer to elder statesman -- and yet Miles has kept his thinking and his playing fresh by constantly placing himself in challenging situations. Of late, he's performed alongside a disparate group of jazz standouts, including veteran clarinetist Don Byron, new-schooler Charlie Hunter and Denver-bred guitarist Bill Frisell, with whom he recorded Heaven, a duet album, last year. More recently, in March of this year, he cut Laughing Barrel with a quartet featuring local drum pro Rudy Royston, as well as bassist Anthony Cox, who calls Minneapolis home, and guitarist Brandon Ross, a New Yorker who serves as Cassandra Wilson's musical director.

"The focus was not so much on me as it was the whole band," Miles says. "I wanted to see if we could develop the material and move it forward together."

Because of the distances that separate the players, regular gigging is a struggle, but Miles and company have an Iowa City show in July and some East Coast appearances slated for the following months, with a European tour likely. Such travels should bring more attention to Barrel, which is being released by the Boulder-based Sterling Circle, a label that's in the process of expanding its distribution. Still, Miles sees the advantages of keeping things close to home.

"The older I get, the more I'm feeling the importance of community, whether it be supporting the local record stores or whatever," he allows. "I think it's nice to have folks nearby who you can talk to and work things out with, so a local label seems like a good idea, especially when they're really excellent people doing good work. I like being a part of it." -- Roberts


Nathan Graham doesn't just live for hip-hop; he seems to live because of hip-hop. "Hip-hop saved my life," says Graham, also known by his stage name, Microphone Jones. "If it weren't for that positive outlet, I would've continued down the wrong path."

Graham, one of the founding members of the three-piece crew Minezai, is reticent when asked to expound on what, exactly, the wrong path was. "I did some stuff back then," says the MC, pausing to collect his thoughts, "that I'm ashamed to talk about now. Let's just say it [hip-hop] gave me the self-confidence I needed to stand up and be a man. It made me a somebody in my eyes."

Minezai, which also includes fellow MC Neil McIntyre and DJ Thought (Leroy Saiz), is in the midst of recording its debut disc, Fear of Lack Planet, at Toys for Noise studios in Denver, with noted hip-hop instrumentalist Gunther B at the helm. According to Graham, the group will be exercising a good, old-fashioned, do-it-yourself work ethic on the album and plans to self-release and distribute it on its own dime.

In addition to the outfit he helps front, Graham is also a member of local favorite Yo!, Flaco, and together with McIntyre co-hosts Denver's only weekly live hip-hop showcase -- You Night -- every Monday at the Soiled Dove.

The mere existence of You Night is proof positive that the local hip-hop scene is steadily gaining speed. "When we first started out, the only way I was able to get a show was to make friends with a rock band and they let us play on their bill," recalls the MC.

Needless to say, these days Graham has little to be ashamed of; in fact, someday hip-hop may be crediting him for saving its life, at least locally. -- Herrera


Despite being known as "that hot DJ" in many circles in Denver, DJ MLE (aka Emily Javors) has earned her recent appointment as a resident DJ at Club Vinyl the hard way -- with her high-energy style of new-school breakbeats and progressive house. Her success is proof that a good-looking girl with fashion sense and attitude has a rightful place behind the tables, not just decorating them.

Originally from Texas and born into a family of musicians (Mom was a singer/songwriter of considerable note, and Dad was a bluegrass guitarist), MLE found inspiration in everything from Freak Chakra and Hardkiss to Madonna and her father's bluegrass licks. She's been mixing for friends since age thirteen and began spinning vinyl in public around seven years ago. Mainly through self-promotion, MLE began stepping up her appearances in the state the past four years.

Some have called her the "breakbeat goddess" for her personal blend of funky breaks and hard-rolling bass lines. The style earned her the Vinyl gig, as well as appearances spinning on the same bill as Paul Oakenfold, DJ Icey, DJ Ani and Supastar DJ Dimitri from Dee-lite. She now serves up her danceably dirty house with a self-proclaimed "feminine touch" every Tuesday and Saturday night. MLE has produced three mixes in the past two years and is also creating her own music. In addition to her nights at Vinyl, she's a staple at the Burning Man Festival and has played almost every major club in Denver and Boulder. She can be seen regularly around Colorado, from Vail to Pueblo and everywhere in between. Goddess lives. -- Carpenter

Big bands, though usually associated with swing, have a rich tradition in the otherwise small-group orthodoxy of post-bop jazz. Charles Mingus and Oliver Nelson are just two of the many great bandleaders who used larger ensembles to expand the range and emotion of the jazz vocabulary. Add Bob Montgomery and Pete Olstad to that list.

"The appeal of a big band as a player is that seventeen or eighteen musicians can come together and play as creatively as a small band, but with the added electricity and energy," Montgomery says. "We also play in small bands of four or five and love the creativity of those groups, but there is something special about a large group of musicians thinking together, listening to each other and working musically in tandem that creates a musical excitement."

Montgomery and Olstad, both trumpeters, organized the group two years ago. "When Pete and I first decided to put it together, the word got out quickly. Most of the top musicians in Colorado called us, wanting to be in the band," says Montgomery. The list is long and auspicious: Tom Baker, Al Hood, Garner Pruitt, John Davis, Jeff Jenkins, Pete Lewis, Clare Church, Wade Sander, Al Hermann, Alex Heitlinger, Jeff Young, Ken Walked, Pete Sommer, Jayn Pettingill, Mike Marlier and Jerry Noonan. Their collective credentials could choke a tuba: The players have served time in the bands of everyone from Clark Terry to Tommy Dorsey to Quincy Jones. Olstad is a member of Tom Jones's touring and recording group, and Montgomery has won numerous awards over the years as both a musician and a music educator.

The band doesn't have a CD released yet, though there are plans to assemble a compilation of its live performances sometime in the future. In the meantime, the ensemble should be experienced in its natural habitat: live, in concert, a synergistic collective of soloists all breathing, thinking and expressing itself as one. -- Heller


Moving through drummers at an alarming rate -- he's worked with seventeen skinsmen in six years -- Matthew Moon has been performing in Denver since 1990. Having first distinguished himself in the singer/songwriter category, Moon -- who boasts a large catalogue of original compositions -- pooled a larger group of musicians to take his sound to the next level. And despite personnel challenges, his show goes on.

"Our drummer situation got to be kind of joke after a while," he says. "The main thing, though, is to not lose steam. You gotta keep it going, no matter what. Even if you have to do the gig with a xylophone player and a tuba for bass."

His ensemble's debut disc, 1999's More Than I Can Give, featured help from some of the taller talent of the Denver music scene: Hazel Miller, Jake Schroeder from Opie Gone Bad, Yvonne Brown and Coco Brown all contributed vocals. The Hate Fuck Trio's Sam DeStefano plucked banjo on one cut, and drum virtuoso Kenny James contributed his timekeeping skills.

A consummate renaissance man, Moon studied at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music and lists influences as broad as Michael Hedges, John Coltrane, the Indigo Girls, Bruce Hornsby, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow and Rufus Wainwright. Known for penning moving love songs, he culls his material from real life, as exemplified on his most recent releases, 2002's I Thought U Should Know and this year's XOM.

"As far as writing, I am mainly inspired when my relationships are in the shitter," he says. "Normally, one bad relationship can render a whole record, if not more."

Let's hope he continues to dodge Cupid's bow. -- Hutchinson


The Motet's influences come from points as distant as Africa, the Caribbean and New Orleans. Melding world rhythms with blues, funk and jazz, the group has developed a reputation as one of Colorado's most promising acts in the increasingly well-worn jam niche. Drummer Dave Watts, known for his work in the Theory of Everything and on Keller Williams's Laugh, propels the band in and out of a variety of fusion-esque musical journeys and plain old dirty grooves.

"We try to integrate all the sounds that we've come up with over the years -- Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and what have you -- into a cohesive whole," says Watts. "We're looking at mixing it all up, trying to put maybe a Tower of Power horn feel to salsa, or a jungle beat to Afro pop. We like to stir up the genres in an intriguing way."

Formed in 1998, the Motet consists of vocalist Jans Ingber, slide guitarist Mike Tiernan, percussionist Scot Messersmith, bass guitarist Garrett Sayer, keyboardist Greg Raymond and Watts on drums. The band combines the precision and exploration common to jazz with the tribal percussion associated with West Africa. The group has amassed quite a following in Boulder and Denver and has hosted some great guest musicians on recent gigs: Members of bands including Deep Banana Blackout and the Flecktones are recent sit-ins. Says Watts, "You never know who might show up." -- Hutchinson


Some bands are coy about their influences; others are blatant, taking the music they draw inspiration from and trying to twist it into a hybrid or a gimmick. Open Road is neither: The combo plays bluegrass, straight up, with a freshness and vitality that makes the antique style sound young.

"We like to honor the tradition of bluegrass," says Caleb Roberts, who plucks the mandolin for the Lyons group. "I prefer the power of simple melodies and the tones of the bluegrass instruments that seem to resonate with the most basic human emotions."

Roberts was once a member of Denver's now legendary Slim Cessna's Auto Club, and the rest of Open Road -- Keith Reed, Robert Britt, Eric Thorin and Bradford Lee Folk -- have noteworthy backgrounds in bands like Grass Route and Cheyenne Lonesome. Now, however, the five players have absorbed the soul, earthiness and virtuosity of bluegrass icons such as Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, blending the echoes of tradition with a modern emphasis on songwriting and energy. On Cold Wind, the group's 2002 Rounder Records debut, the Appalachian strains of fiddle, banjo and mandolin jump and holler around Folk's twangy, authentic vocals. The whole thing hums with the rootsy essence of Americana.

"I love the recordings of the first generation of bluegrass musicians, especially the recordings of live performances," Roberts says. "Part of the intensity of the performance of this music is the interaction the musician has with the audience. The audience creates a greater urgency for the performer to convey the emotion of the music." This chemistry with its listeners is a big part of Open Road's ever-increasing appeal; the band has been nominated twice, in 2001 and 2002, for the title Emerging Artist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. With a hectic summer schedule full of festival appearances -- not to mention preliminary work on a new album slated for the spring of 2004 -- Roberts and company hope that someday their own work might enter the hallowed canon of bluegrass.

"Some traditional music has a unique power to be timeless, which is why it's remembered, replayed and drawn upon in new music styles," he explains. "Traditional music has its place in the music world today because of this power to speak to people." -- Heller


Having just finished his fifth season as the house crooner of the "Star-Spangled Banner" for the Colorado Avalanche, and having logged more than a decade fronting what in 1997 became Opie Gone Bad, Jake Schroeder has developed a keen sense about the business of rock and roll.

"Since we started as a nine-piece R&B cover band in 1992," he says, "the music industry has turned upside down and is currently going through what I think is the biggest changes in its history. And we're not twenty anymore. We love to travel, but it has to make sense. None of us can hop into a van and be gone for six months and go in the hole financially to do it."

Playing music festivals from LoDo to Laramie and boasting three CDs (including a Live at Red Rocks platter), Opie Gone Bad throws down a high-octane funk, pop, hip-hop and alt-rock-tinged sound that gets audiences up and moving. And while the band plans to scale back on its busy touring schedule, its musical program is far from over.

"We're lucky enough to be able to use Rocky Mountain Recorders as our lab for recording new stuff," Schroeder says. "It really is an amazing and truly state-of-the-art facility. So for now, we're going to work on writing and recording and, by thinning out some of our gigs, work more in the vein of this being a creative endeavor. We're really lucky to have had the band as our main jobs for so long, and we're really blessed by the support we receive here in town." -- Hutchinson


When Planes Mistaken for Stars moved to Denver from Peoria, Illinois, in 1999, the small-town band dreamed of building a modest following in Colorado. Four years later, after touring extensively throughout North America and Europe, Planes has earned a worldwide notoriety as one of the most brutal -- and brutally passionate -- live acts around.

"Our philosophy? Get laid, stay wasted," says singer/guitarist Gared O'Donnell, laughing. "Seriously, though, we play this music to keep from flinging ourselves off bridges."

The group, composed of O'Donnell, Jamie Drier, Matt Bellinger and Mikey Ricketts, has had numerous releases on prominent indie labels around the country, such as Deep Elm, Dim Mak, Initial and No Idea; its newest disc, Spearheading the Sin Movement, is a three-song blitzkrieg of melody and fury that rips the heart out of emo and cauterizes the wound with a searing assault of hardcore and rock and roll.

"Some kid was posting stuff about us on an online message board," O'Donnell says. "He was like, 'I saw them play in Boston, and they've turned into total nasty cock-rock. It wasn't that cool when they got naked at the end of the show either. I don't want some heavy metal ass in my face.' Too many of these kids are so candy-ass and see-through. They just go to shows to check out each other's shoes."

Planes Mistaken for Stars has destroyed stages with everyone from Hot Water Music to Motörhead, and recently contributed to a Black Flag tribute album. Like these bands, Planes purveys epic, cathartic anthems that soar with majesty as much as they thunder with heaviness. Still, when asked where his band is headed in the future, O'Donnell responds with a healthy shot of nihilism: "Down the drain." -- Heller


When Melissa London was in high school, her parents hired a private vocal coach to help develop an already beautiful voice. A member of the choir who'd done some community theater, London was being groomed for a life on the boards. Things didn't turn out that way.

"My vocal coach had it in mind that I would go to Broadway and perform in Les Misérables," London says, laughing. "I said, 'Nah. I think I'll start a band instead.'"

It was a good choice: London, after all, is not the type to follow a script or sing someone else's songs. She's the lead vocalist, programmer and keyboardist for Project 12:01, an electronic combo she co-founded with Noel Johannes three years ago. A siren of a singer with a touch of goth romanticism, London has a stylistic and spiritual link to the Sisters of Mercy, Siouxie Sioux and the Cocteau Twins' Liz Frazier - artists she cites as influences on her vocal style as well as her songwriting. She and Johannes claim most songwriting credits, but new members (and brothers) Devin Connolly and Brendan Connolly have also made contributions to a new full-length album London hopes to release later this summer; the recording will follow Project 12:01's debut release, Time for a Taste.

"We've been progressing more into a band collaboration, and our sound is really beginning to evolve," London says of Project 12:01's ethereal pop. "We know that in order to try to make it in the industry, we've got to get a certain pop essence into our songs. We're consciously making an effort to attract labels. Otherwise, the band will just be a great, expensive hobby." -- Bond


Jim Dalton turns on his TV and sees the dilemma his band faces. "Rascal Flats?" he spits, watching the latest pop-act-in-country-disguise on Country Music Television. "God, this makes me cringe. We're nothing like the country you hear on the radio today."

Indeed, if Nashville's pop-saturated slop is your idea of great music, the Railbenders are too tough, too smart and too country for you. The Johnny Cash-style wonders created by the band (stand-up bassist Tyson Murray, drummer Graham Haworth, and pedal-steel player and part-time member Glenn Taylor) are hard-driving, beer-soaked tales that recall Cash, Waylon and Willie. Dalton's own gritty sensibility plays a big role as well.

The Railbenders' no-BS sound -- and brooding good looks and outlaw appeal -- has made the band the top-drawing alternative-country act in a town warming to the genre. "It's still an underground scene here," Dalton says, "but I think it'll only get better once people realize that what Denver has to offer is good, original country music."

The Railbenders are doing their part to speed that realization. The band has laid down tracks for its second CD, a thirteen-song collection that will see a fall release on local twang label Big Bender Records. (The disc's special guests will include the Supersuckers' Eddie Spaghetti.) In the meantime, Dalton will hold his stomach in the face of the crap country he sees on his television set. Like CMT favorite Emerson Drive, for instance: "I saw them the other day; I almost puked." -- Marty Jones


With a sound as gritty and soulful as a pair of tar-stained overalls, the still-evolving foursome Rainville claims a diverse set of influences that range from classic rockers such as Led Zeppelin to little-known indie outfits like Wheat or Karate, from the Jayhawks to Neil Young. And while the group has worn the tag of alt-country well, things are changing.

"Our sonic path has altered a bit," confesses lead singer/songwriter John Common. "We started as an alt-country-type band, but now we're headed towards what I'll call American rock. It's not unlike what happened to Wilco. They started as an alt-country band, but now, if you listen to them, their sound is closer to indie rock. For us, it's the same kind of evolution."

The quartet has been working the local music scene for a little over four years and has two albums, Collecting Empties and The Longest Street in America, under its belt. Rainville is currently working on a new disc and enjoying its expansion into the rock realm.

"We still like song-oriented roots stuff, but we're getting a little more aggressive with our sound," Common says. "You're still gonna hear some of our old stuff when we play, but we've worked up a ton of new material. I don't want to keep making the same album. It's not that we're getting rid of our alt-country influence; it's more like we're making room for different styles." -- Hutchinson


Few Denver musicians can hold a candle to the work ethic of Rogue vocalist Bill Terrell. He makes hundreds of promo calls and puts up a minimum of 10,000 handbills for every show, all while juggling two jobs and a family (he's married with two kids) and managing affairs for the band and his own indie label, Infexious Recordz.

"If my band put as much into it as I do, they'd probably die," Terrell says, laughing. "I'm a workaholic, a severe workaholic."

A hard-hitting metal quartet, Rogue was born in 1996; the current lineup -- Terrell, guitarist John Bollack, drummer Devon Kimzey and bassist E.A. Schuster -- entrenched itself a year later. The band plays 100 shows a year and has opened for such metal icons as Megadeth, Judas Priest and Alice Cooper. The third Rogue Album, Rogue Nation, came out in 2002, and its release party set alcohol sales records at the Ogden Theatre. "Our friends are all dysfunctional alcoholics," notes Terrell.

Built like a cannonball and focused like a laser, Terrell studied opera in college but doesn't sing like it; vacillating between gruff, booming and emotive vocals, he eschews Dio-esque theatrics. His backing band is a metallic juggernaut -- fierce and raw, but technical.

"Success motivates the band," says Terrell. "I have a total fear of dying normal. I'm from a small town in Indiana" -- Terre Haute, where he might well be the second-most-famous former resident after basketball legend Larry Bird. And he's confident he's picked a style with staying power. "Metal will never die," he says. "I think it's coming back tenfold." -- Peterson


When hip-hop first started to move west after germinating on the East Coast, Sista D was a preteen girl busting moves and breaking out beats with her friends on the 16th Street Mall.

"They called me Lady D back then," she says. "I was a rapper and I was a breakdancer. We were like the '80s version of the B-boys and B-girls. The boys were the Spin Masters, and I was the Spin Masterette.

"Music has always been part of my life," she adds. "If there was something going on musically in this city, I was there."

Two decades later, Sista D is still here. This month, she'll drop Rapstar, her second full-length album for the local production team Kut-N-Kru; it's her first release since 1999's Sista D in the Mile High City. Produced with her friend and DJ, Scratch G, the album is a hometown shout-out with plenty of Brown pride: One of Denver's only female Latin MCs, Sista D flows with the streetwise swagger and deft rhymes of one who's spent more than a few rounds in the game.

"I think the new album really shows the maturity in my music, that I'll be able to hang with the big boys in the rap industry," she says. "I listen to the radio and hear Lil' Kim, Trina and Foxy, and I think, 'I can give all of them a run for their money.' I hear 'em and it's like, 'I could do that. I do do that.'"

Rapstar coincides with the release of an as-yet-untitled compilation CD of works from other Kut-N-Kru artists; in Sista D's view, the double dose is proof that she's an MC who can lead the charge for Denver hip-hop.

"I see Denver grow. I used to walk the 20th Street viaduct with my mom; it isn't even the same now," she says. "I'm here to stay, and I've been here since the beginning. If anyone's gonna make a claim to fame in this town, it's gonna be me." -- Bond


A nine-piece outfit that trades in "post-apocalyptic electro-jazz," the Sons of Armageddon blend a heady brew of trip-hop, acid jazz, porn-style funk and just about everything under the stylistic sun. First taking the stage in early 2002, the Sons "meld the organic and the inorganic," says Mark Prather, aka DoctorP, the band's drummer and production man.

After leading Denver's acid-jazz pioneers Groove Kitchen throughout much of the '90s, Prather took a few years off from performing to work in production and sound design. When the itch to gig struck again, he didn't want to take the beaten path; he wanted to blaze a new one. "I didn't want to be a DJ," he says. "I wanted that live jazz feel."

So he went on to recruit a veritable who's who of the Mile High City's jazz and funk scenes: keyboardist/bassist Geoff Cleveland of the Emergency Broadcast Players, the horn section from the Psychedelic Zombies, and other top players who man samplers and electric piano. The result evokes everything from Bootsy Collins-style funk to Zappa jazz with a sci-fi edge.

After gigging all over Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs, the Sons released their self-titled debut in January, swerving all over the place with such amusingly titled tracks as "Charlie's Angel Dust" and "Monk Meets the Addams Family."

Obviously, the band has a sense of humor. So what's with that sinister-sounding name? Prather explains that it's a political joke: In the band's collective eyes, George Bush Senior represents Armageddon, which means that George W. and his siblings are the Sons of Armageddon. Laughing, Prather says, "We had no idea how prophetic we were going to be." -- Peterson


As ambitious purveyors of airtight groove rock with an occasional comedic edge, the Soul Thieves wander the Rocky Mountain region relentlessly, performing more than 200 gigs annually. In addition to touring the Midwest and Southwest in support of Microphone in the Sugar Bowl, the quintet still finds time to record humorous culture-based anthems such as "Red Wings Suck" -- which became an instant classic among crowds at the Pepsi Center.

"How do we explain the music?" asks singer/guitarist Michael St. James rhetorically. "It's butt-shakin', heartbreakin', love-makin' music. We really try to give the audience the full spectrum; from a great dance tune to a funny, tongue-in-cheek song, all the way to the affecting ballad. A lot of bands tend to categorize themselves and box themselves into a corner. It's like they feel that the heartfelt ballad will detract from the big-ass rock song. I guess we aren't afraid to give you everything."

St. James shares fronting duties with Greg Ferguson, with whom he has been singing for nearly fifteen years. During this lengthy stretch, the pair has honed its harmonies and arrived at two distinct styles. And the group boasts a rhythm section that any rocking ensemble would be proud to call its own: Dani Hofer-Harrison on bass and Jeff "The Hitman" Martin on drums.

"What sets this duo [Hofer-Harrison and Martin] apart is their gift for taking technical ability and turning it into amazing grooves and a solid backbone," offers lead guitarist Ryan Donely. "When these guys lock it in, you can't help but start dancing." -- Hutchinson


Colorado native Jill Stevenson recently shook off the dust of Denver, packed up her acoustic guitar and left her band behind. She's currently pounding the pavement in New York City; her first gig in Babylon was at CBGB, the epicenter of the original punk-rock explosion. It's a bold move for a young player who's still one year away from being able to legally purchase a drink in the venues she plays.

"I started singing before I could talk, and I always remember loving music and making it," Stevenson says. "My mom is a pianist, and my father is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who taught me how to play by ear, although I think I just inherited that gene from him."

Stevenson's first full-length CD, Underway, highlights her relaxed, soulful and passionate style. A folk-flavored effort, the recording helped boost her profile among local listeners and other Denver-based players. She promises that those who miss her will see her again: Stevenson plans to continue working with drummer Matt Amundson and single-monikered bassist Tex when she comes back to visit her home town. "It's funny how things work out," says Stevenson, "but I will be coming back to Colorado as often as possible. I certainly won't leave my home and my loyal fans behind." -- Patrick Casey


If local-music aficionados took bets on which area performer would be most likely to get signed by a major label, bluesy, evocative singer/songwriter Nina Storey would definitely be in the chips. Not that her current independence has prevented her from reaching national audiences through other mediums. "I had one of my songs, 'If I Were an Angel,' on the TV show Alias, and I had something in this really great film called The Broken Hearts Club [a 2000 release starring Dean Cain and John Mahoney]," Storey says. "And I've had music in some documentaries, a couple of films that went to cable, some stuff on the Lifetime channel. Obviously, getting stuff placed is awesome."

Touring beyond Colorado has kept Storey hopping as well: "In the past few months, I was on the West Coast for shows in L.A., went to the East Coast to places like New York, did some shows in the Midwest, and I'm doing some festivals, too." Between these dates, she'll try her best to wrap up a new album, her first since a self-titled offering issued in early 2002. She calls the new material "an evolution. It's still the essential me in terms of sound and energy and intensity that I put into my music, but it's probably more revealing in ways, and hopefully even more honest."

Clearly, Storey is taking a proactive approach to her career. "I've never waited around for, like, the magical hand from the sky. I've worked really hard to put out my music, because I feel like I have a musical purpose." Still, she adds, "It's always great to work with people who can take you to other avenues and other levels. I'm open to that in whatever form it comes." -- Roberts


Switchpin's Chris Scott sums up his band's philosophy succinctly.

"We don't play for Satan, we don't play for politics; we play for us," he says. But the members of the hard-rocking Denver act find time to play for fans, too: Their live debut in December 2000 packed 400 people into the Bluebird Theater. A subsequent show the next year won the admiration of -- and a sponsorship from -- Airwalk Shoes.

It was an apt pairing: Good foot support is imperative for a Switchpin live show, where the six players do a lot of jumping, leaping and flailing around. Rooted in solid metal, the band is fond of mixing things up with a mishmash of influences for a result that ain't pretty. Switchpin makes music by "pouring every angry, pissed-off, stepped-on emotion" into its songs.

Last year, the group's self-recorded, self-released CD, Redemption, grabbed the attention of reps from Roadrunner Records; the deal fell through when the label decided it was looking for a softer, more radio-friendly sound. No matter. Switchpin has sold more than 5,000 copies of the disc since its release in July 2002 and landed tracks on KBPI's The Pit program; the band has also spurred a flurry of downloads through

"Everybody is set on going all the way," Scott says of his mates -- vocalist Jon Novak, drummer Pat Anderson, guitarist Tano Archuleta, bassist G-Off Frantz and guitarist Joe Oaks.

Switchpin recently revised Redemption for a 2.0 edition, polishing the rough home recording for a smoother sound, and is gathering tracks for an all-new CD. The band is planning moves into other markets, as well, with an East Coast tour tentatively planned for this summer. Switchpin's commitment to success is tempered with realism; Scott, for one, has a worst-case scenario laid out in his personal mantra: "Please God, do it, or I'm going to end up working in a gas station all my life." -- Soltero


The news just keeps getting better for Otis Taylor. In 2002, he was nominated for four W.C. Handy awards [the Grammys of the blues field] and took home the trophy for Best New Artist -- a designation that doesn't bother him in the slightest, even though he's been part of the Denver music scene for long enough to have played alongside guitar god Tommy Bolin, who died in 1976. The Handy prize, not to mention a pair of 2003 nominations for the brilliant long-player Respect the Dead, undoubtedly helped convince Telarc Records, a large presence among jazz and blues labels, to ink Taylor to a deal that kicks off this month with the appearance of his latest disc, Truth Is Not Fiction. But these glad tidings don't mean that the new CD, produced by Taylor regular Kenny Passarelli, is peppy and upbeat. "It's got the most depressing songs you're going to hear this year," he promises.

An exaggeration? Not as judged by "House of the Crosses," a composition set in St. Petersburg, Russia, that's "real twisted," Taylor acknowledges. "It's about a woman who gets raped, and years later, she takes her son to prison to show him what his father looks like. And the son becomes a prison guard to watch over his father and make sure that he never hurts anyone again. It's the deepest, darkest shit I've ever done."

As this tale demonstrates, Taylor is unafraid to take the blues to places it's never been before -- and thanks to his intelligence and intensity, more and more listeners are willing to follow him on his journey. For him, the traditional conflict between art and commerce isn't a fight at all. "I'm not that concerned about selling records," he says. "That's not me. But maybe by doing what I do, I'll help change the taste in some people and make them hear the blues in different ways." -- Roberts


Tempa Singer is no run-of-the-mill blues diva. That is, unless the blues in question contain a healthy dose of bluegrass. While this chanteuse possesses a set of pipes steeped in the blues, she's not about to be painted into any corners.

Raised by her grandparents until the age of five in a place she refers to as a "West Virginian holler," she garnered an appreciation for the banjo-based genre from her Uncle Harold, who toured with esteemed bluegrass troubadour Ralph Stanley. According to Singer, this time period was pivotal in her musical development.

"When you start with music other than rock or pop, it gives you more of an open mind," she says.

She also credits the time she spent growing up on a school bus in the Florida swamplands -- sans electricity, with her hippie parents -- listening to worn-out cassette tapes of Cat Stevens, Waylon Jennings and the Beatles for providing her with a profound appreciation of "an amazing plethora of anything musical."

After stints as a solo acoustic act and fronting an all-cop band called Night Beat, Singer formed Tempa and the Tantrums and hit the local blues circuit. Augmented by guitarist Joseph Barton, bassist/harp player Steve "Red" Wilcox and drummer Brian "Shmoopi-pie" McClure, the band has two albums under its belt: Its eponymous debut, from 2001, and last year's release, Fooya Live!. The latter was recorded at the Little Bear during a benefit for a friend who was stricken with cancer. According to the singer, the disc captured "everything, warts and all."

Armed with crisp bills from an unnamed private investor and bolstered by a potential knob twister in drum-virtuoso-turned-studio-impresario Kenny James, the band is in pre-production for its forthcoming album. The as-yet-titled disc will reveal Singer's love for reggae, psychobilly and zydeco-inflected Cajun music. Singer's also considering throwing some Bessie Smith covers into the mix. She seems excited and a bit unnerved all at once at the thought of being able to stretch her creative wings and break out of the mold.

"With this new album, everybody is going to freak. I'm hoping blues clubs will still hire me," says Singer. "I'm hoping it's not too big of a shock." -- Herrera


Mike Robinson of Tinker's Punishment is reasonably sure that his band will have a record deal soon. He just doesn't know with whom.

"There are a few labels that we've gotten past the point of 'Hey, what's up' with," he says. "They'll actually come to our shows and talk to our manager. He doesn't tell us much about it, though. He doesn't want us to get all freaky on stage and forget how to play."

If the members of Tinker's -- Robinson, bassist Jordan Rivas, drummer Adam Blake and guitarist Kenneth Harris -- did forget how to play, it wouldn't be for lack of practice. Five years after the band formed in Denver, its impossibly catchy guitar pop is as polished as a new set of silver. Since the October release of Zero Summer, its fourth full-length album, TP has been on the road non-stop, playing mostly to college crowds across the Southeast; the band has found a kinship in Georgia's Jump, Little Children, with whom it partners for tours, as well as a robust Southern following.

"Atlanta is our favorite. It's really a rock-and-roll town, and everyone there loves the music," says Robinson. "Denver audiences have seen us grow up; we started when we were really young. But when you're on the road, it's cool to present a finished product to audiences who've never seen us sloppy."

Or freaky. -- Bond


After spending 2002 in Germany fronting a frenetic multi-national five-piece by the name of Dumbell, former LaDonnas singer-guitarist Ross Kersten returned home to Denver and launched a new project: the Tongues. "I came back and picked the best players I knew," says Kersten of the lineup, something of a local supergroup with roots in the Mile High City's mid-'90s punk scene: Bassist Brad Stanton formerly manned the low end for the LaDonnas, and guitarist Bill Hood and drummer Tony Weissenberg are ex-Boss 302-ers.

Leading three different bands in three years is the latest chapter in a lifelong obsession for Kersten. "I've been playing in bands since I was fourteen," he says. "I can't seem to stop."

More Minneapolis than Seattle, the Tongues reveal a taste for intense guitar riffs and catchy pop structure -- but they don't have as much pop influence as the LaDonnas once claimed. Think of a muscular set of punk licks sheathed by a layer of fuzzy tastebuds, and you're heading in the right direction.

The band recently recorded a four-song demo, which it is shopping to various indie labels. After enjoying a seven-year run with the LaDonnas on Sub Pop affiliate Scooch Pooch, Kersten is optimistic that the Tongues will ink a recording deal soon. "I'd like to do it all over again," he says. "Somebody's going to pick us up." -- Peterson


Some rock bands act like they're punk. Some punk bands act like they're emo. Some emo bands act like they rock. Vaux, however, melts all three down into a gleaming, impenetrable alloy. "We've got six guys bringing in a million different influences," says bassist Ryder Robison, "so many that it would be hard to listen to one of our songs and be like, 'This is exactly where they're getting that from.'"

The formidable sextet of Robison, Greg Daniels, Quentin Smith, Joe McChan, Adam Tymn and Chris Sorensen hammers out massive slabs of texture, melody and power. Formed in 1997 under the name Eiffel, the group quickly shed its emo-pop training wheels and transformed itself into a roaring, gas-guzzling rock juggernaut. More than sheer muscle, though, Vaux wields a deft progressive complexity; its debut full-length, this year's There Must Be Some Way to Stop Them, is an ambitious disc full of heavy, intricate post-hardcore wedged somewhere between the Blood Brothers, Tool and Radiohead.

"We've got a lot of songs that aren't real heavy rock, things that are piano-based and more rhythmically based," Robison points out. "We wanted to make a recording with a lot of depth, the kind that grows on people. That's the type of music you get goose bumps from."

The group is signed to Volcom Entertainment, an indie label distributed by MCA/Universal, and is about to embark on its second consecutive Warped Tour this summer to inflict its brand of brainy aggression on thousands of sunburned kids across the country. "A live show will make it or break it for a band," says Robison of Vaux's vaunted stage performance, a gloriously nauseating assault of lights, noise and gut-pummeling concussion. That's a big part of what we do -- playing for people and feeding off that energy. If you see us on stage, usually we're just running around like chickens with our heads cut off." -- Heller


"When I first moved here, I saw an ad that said, 'Looking for a bass player with chops,'" says Ben DeVoss, singer and guitarist for Voices Underwater. "I don't really even know what chops are, but I probably don't have them."

A native of Lawrence, Kansas, DeVoss immigrated to Denver and started Vuja Dé in 2001 with bassist/keyboardist Chris White and drummer Bill Menchaca. With the recruitment of guitarist Mackenzie Howard, the group became simply VU, or Voices Underwater.

"Voices Underwater will be ever-evolving," Howard says, and that applies to much more than just the band's name. Though certainly no showoffs in the chops department, the members of VU flaunt a certain conceptual virtuosity. Their songs progress from tender indie rock to brittle textural abstraction, and DeVoss's vocals slip from the real to the surreal with the nerdy grace of Stephen Malkmus's. "It's not like I write a song and I'm like, this is exactly what I want to say, this is exactly how I feel," he explains. "I just take different phrases and ideas and kind of mix and match."

This patchwork approach is all over the group's eponymous full-length disc, released this year on Ohio's Action Driver imprint. Guitars and keyboards surge and recede as waves of dark melody rob oxygen from DeVoss's lungs. It's a dynamic yet lulling sound that subliminally hints at Radiohead, Blonde Redhead and probably a lot of other bands with "head" in their names. Its intellectual brawn, however, never overpowers its flesh-and-blood vulnerability, and the songs morph fluidly from a crashing roar to the splash of a drop.

The VU roster is also about to take a huge leap in evolution: Howard and Menchaca are both moving away at the end of the summer. "We're very sad. The band is a huge friendship thing for us," says DeVoss. "Chris and I will do some repair work. There'll be some remixing of the lineup." After an appearance at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this year, Voices Underwater is building a swift momentum; hopefully, its next incarnation will be just as hypnotic and evocative. -- Heller


Truth be told, über-drummer Kenny James hasn't played for every band in town over the past dozen years, but it's not for want of trying. Among the combos on his resumé are the Samples, Carolyn's Mother, Judge Roughneck, God Rifle, Rorschach Test and Chaos Theory -- and if Metallica and the Backstreet Boys hailed from Denver, he would have kept time for them, too. Nonetheless, the project to which he's been most consistently devoted is the Witching Hour, in part because "it isn't actually a band," says James, who plays guitar and sings in this particular configuration. "It's me and a bunch of people I hire - normally, two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer and two background vocalists."

Given James's wide-ranging track record, it's no surprise that the Witching Hour's sound is tough to pigeonhole. "Here's a description: hard-ambient-trip-hop rock," he offers, laughing. "Seriously, it's hard rock, but since I'm not a hollerer, it's not your typical hard rock. It's melodic. There are a lot of industrial things, a lot of percussive looping going on, and some sampling, but there are some ambient moments, too, which brings up the ambient and trip-hop side of things."

The Hour hasn't put out a disc since 2001's Angels in Shadow Blue, but James is about halfway through a followup that he expects will find its way to stores next year. Until then, he'll continue to take the occasional stage ("I'm trying to make our shows events, as opposed to playing every weekend at so-and-so bar and grill") while honing his Witching approach.

"I don't want to compromise the vision I have," James says. "I have these ideas, and I want to get them out there and see what happens." -- Roberts


The Skylark Lounge on South Broadway is home to a great, rootsy jukebox, scores of vintage photographs and a folksy clientele that's trickles in from the surrounding Baker neighborhood. It is also now home to Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams, who play there once a month.

"We decided to make it our exclusive place to play in Denver," says Wofford, the group's lead vocalist, acoustic guitarist and namesake. "It's totally fun to play there, and we love Scotty [Heron, the owner]. Now if you want to see us, you have to come down to the Skylark."

The vintage-style juke joint has already played a significant role in the Hi Beams' life: In 1999, the band released Live at the Skylark, a collection of covers culled from the realms of traditional country, Western swing and honky-tonk. On Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams, released this spring, the band pays dutiful homage to the same genres, this time showcasing the songwriting abilities of Wofford, guitarist Bret Billings and mandolinist/guitarist Kevin Yost. (Bassist Ben O'Conner, founder of the Web site, and drummer Justin Greville complete the roster.) Flecked with the warbling wail of pedal-steel guitars and played as tight as a drum, the recording is anchored around Wofford, who just might be one of the most likable personalities in Denver music.

Sunny-voiced and bespectacled, Wofford radiates an easy charm whether channeling Hank Williams or Bob Wills or simply being himself. And when he isn't manning the microphone, he reads to kids as part of his job at the Tattered Cover Book Store and is illustrating a children's book about the history of country music; the volume is due in 2005 from Little Brown publishing company. He's a cheery guy, all right, even if some of the high-lonesome tunes he delivers are doused with misery and malcontents.

"I have a deep, dark nasty side," he says, laughing. "Just ask my wife."

Later this year, Wofford plans to release a solo record; while it may not be dark or nasty, it will be a bit more introspective than his work with the Hi Beams. "It's moody," he says. "It's kind of traditional and a little more folky -- closer to avant-country. It's my Lou Reed and Iggy Pop record." -- Bond


Meet Colorado's Ani DiFranco. Since establishing herself as a headliner during the '90s, talented singer/songwriter Wendy Woo has handled all of the marketing and promotional aspects that most musicians either ignore or foist upon others. "I do my booking," she notes, "and I know exactly what's going on with my business and how to pitch my price. I don't have a middleman. People call and deal directly with me."

Fortunately, Woo has grown adept at compartmentalizing, and when she's done with dollars-and-cents duties, she's able to focus on artistic concerns. Gonna Wear Red, a CD she issued in 2002, was the first disc she's made that she didn't engineer, "which was kind of nice," she admits. The album is representative of her work, she believes, in that "it's a mix of listening music and dance music. Each song represents a different emotion that goes from loss to sadness to rebirth to reliving." The high quality of the disc has been beneficial in more ways than one: "People really like it, so it's easy to sell."

Woo encounters potential customers all the time, since, by her estimate, she performs approximately 250 shows every year. She's grown successful enough to fly, rather than drive, to concerts that take her to jumbo communities, but she also appreciates the audiences in smaller burgs. "The big cities have so much music that you sometimes only get a little shot at playing," she says. "Whereas in the small towns, people want to hear you play for hours. You start pulling up songs you don't play all the time, which is great.

"I really like doing things for myself," she adds. "You get more done that way." -- Roberts


According to 16 Horsepower's David Eugene Edwards, Wovenhand, his solo project, wasn't launched out of creative frustration with his primary project. Bread and butter had a lot more to do with it.

"Jean-Yves [Tola] and Pascal [Humbert] have income outside of music," Edwards points out about two key Horsepower mates. "Jean-Yves and his wife have a horse farm where they raise jumping horses, and that keeps them quite busy -- and Pascal's wife is a teacher in Grand Junction. But I don't really have any other choice than to play, and when we decided to take a break because we'd been on the road too long, I had time on my hands."

Edwards made the most of it. "I kept writing and kept recording, and it turned into something I wasn't expecting," he says. In 2002, Glitterhouse, the imprint that issues 16 Horsepower platters in Europe, placed Edwards's creations on a CD dubbed Wovenhand, and he went on the road to support it. Today, Edwards gets plenty of help reproducing the Wovenhand sound from bassist Shane Trost, mandolinist/pump organist Daniel McMahon and drummer Ordy Garrison, who's also pounded the skins for Tarantella and Slim Cessna's Auto Club.

More recently, Wovenhand whipped up Blush, a CD already available in Europe that compiles music Edwards wrote for Ultima Vez, a Belgian dance company. The offering will eventually make its way to the States, joining Olden, a roundup of 16 Horsepower's earliest material that is presently earmarked for a September release on Jetset Records.

Hearing the Horsepower demos for the first time in ages was an odd experience for Edwards. "It was interesting how much my voice has changed, how much younger I sounded, and how much quicker we played everything," he says. "But I'm much happier now, and hopefully just better at what I do." -- Roberts


During the past several years, Yo, Flaco! has gotten so much attention for winning or placing highly in several best-unsigned-band contests that its music has sometimes gotten lost in the shuffle. As a result, some people who think they know what the band sounds like from turning an ear to Goin' At It and Bring the Battle On, a pair of discs unleashed in late 2001, may be very wrong.

"We were listening to a lot of jazz at that time, so when I listen to those albums, I hear a lot of Wes Montgomery, a lot of Thelonious Monk," says Yo guitarist Brandon Martin. "We're still listening to a ton of jazz now, but I think we're listening more to hip-hop -- and the band fuses a lot of other genres, depending on what different bandmembers bring in. The scale is always fluctuating back and forth."

That's as it should be, considering the number of folks in the Yo, Flaco! Team: Martin is joined by bassist Wes Coplen, keyboardist Matt Piazza, drummer Seth Murphy, trombonist/conch-shell player Adam Bartczak, saxophonist Ethan Raczka, and Neil McIntyre on the microphone. Despite the size of this on-stage contingent, Martin feels that the act's disparate elements mesh in a cohesive way whether they're playing for hometown dwellers who've supported Yo, Flaco! since the '90s or out-of-towners who've discovered the band during one of its frequent tours.

"With as many hours as we've spent in a van together, all of our influences have melded together," he says. "Now they all come from the same place." -- Roberts


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