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Photos: Musicians In Action confront homelessness with first annual outdoor festival

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In case you haven't noticed, Denver's proposed urban camping ban is shining a pretty heavy spotlight on the city's homeless community right now. Westword has covered the issue and the debate at great length -- we even spent a night on the 16th Street Mall -- and last weekend, we tracked the community to its musical roots.

Over the weekend, local advocates at Musicians in Action staged their first full-day outdoor festival devoted to raising awareness for the Denver homeless community and collecting supplies for The Gathering Place, during nine hours of art and live music. Click through for photos of the celebration.

"I think right now people are finally realizing the full effects of the downturn in the economy and the fact that every little thing counts," MIA director Marc Olson says. "One of our goals is to try to get more and more bands to physically volunteer at agencies, because then they become tied to the cause completely."

Launched in 2009, Musicians in Action is a direct reaction to Olson's personal relationship with homelessness. As the then-singer with the High Council, he watched two of his bandmates lose their homes. Although both have since gotten their lives back on track, the experience made him consider the link between music and material life.

"There's two things going on here: The first is that most musicians are kind of self-absorbed, or they wouldn't get on stage in the first place," Olson says. "So we're trying to help them see beyond themselves and work with others in a struggling economy. But on top of that, musicians do go through patterns of homelessness. All of us are really just a stone's throw away from that, and recognizing the pattern is the first half of that battle."

In conjunction with the Colfax Business Improvement District, MIA gathers local musicians together for events that directly benefit the city's homeless population. Of the all-volunteer group's eleven-person board of directors, six serve in Denver bands and five support them. On Saturday, the group organized a food drive to replenish the canned stocks for shelters that have run low since their Thanksgiving surpluses. Performances featured Colorado's NEMESYS, The Pirate Signal, MF Ruckus, Hot Apostles, Synergy, The Hits and Gription, among others, for a show that lasted from 11 a.m. into the night. Although turnout was small -- only a few hundred attendees -- MIA organizers ended the evening with three carloads full of cans and plans for their next outdoor festival. Expect a return in mid-August.

"We're totally making this annual, and we hope it builds and builds and builds," Olson says. "We focused on awareness, for the most part, on our first one, but we're going to expand from there."

Click through for additional photos.

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