The Underground Music Showcase takes over a stretch of Broadway every July, filling more than twenty venues with hundreds of bands. One of the things I love about the gathering is that no band can effectively play for over 45 minutes (because how else are you going to cram hundreds of sets into one weekend?) making it a great way to check out more local bands than you could all year.
Planning my UMS days comes down to deciding which of the bands featuring my friends, roommates, ex-bandmates and former coworkers I'll be able to see. But each summer that I visit this virtual high-school prom of Denver musicians, I wonder: How much fun is the UMS for people who aren't Denver musicians, or at least an active part of the music scene in some capacity?
My first of many UMS scheduling dilemmas came last Thursday night, when The Matildas, the band of roommate and fellow Westword contributor Robin Edwards, was playing -- in the exact same time slot as another roommate, Maria Kohler, aka Kitty Crimes. I chose to catch the Matildas, pushing through a thin crowd lining the walls at Brendan's 404 to get up close. The doorman almost tackled me to get a look at my wristband (even though it was checked at the door by another doorman), which made me feel cool, like I had snuck in to see Taylor Swift at the Pepsi Center.
Even without their drummer -- who also plays in Sauna and was on tour at the time -- the Matildas ruled, and I stood in front alone, singing along to all of their songs like the lunatic super-fan I am.
I was sad I had to miss Kitty Crimes's set, but knew I would catch Maria later in the weekend when she played with one of her other handful of bands, Science Partner. Science Partner's Friday night set at the Irish Rover ended up so packed that I could barely get in the door (but that made me feel even cooler because I knew a person on stage that everyone was staring at.)
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One of the interesting things about the UMS is that even though there are hundreds of bands playing, plenty are made up of artists pulling double or triple duty in several acts. I can't imagine what it's like planning this thing, strategically scheduling to make sure a drummer -- clearly a hot commodity, given how many sets an average local drummer probably played at UMS -- isn't supposed to be in two places at the same time.
After I left the Irish Rover, it was over to the Skylark Lounge, where my friends Accordion Crimes were playing, along with (one of) my boyfriend's bands. If you're familiar with Broadway at all, you know that the Irish Rover and the Skylark Lounge are about .01 miles away from each other. On this short walk, I ran into at least twenty people I knew, effectively making the two-minute trek a thirty-minute one.
This is how the entire weekend goes for local music folks, though: You walk out a venue door and before you've hit your next destination, you've hugged, high-fived and probably avoided more than two dozen people.
A four-day, 417-band festival should be a testament to how Denver's music community is continually growing -- which it is. But to me, the UMS weekend is just a reminder that as big as we think we get, Denver is still a little city. A cool little city where Denver musicians come out in droves to play shows and, more important, support each other. And considering that several thousand wristbands are sold for this event each summer, I can only guess how many new fans are introduced to the music that happens here everyday.
Still, based on a conversation I overheard in the Skylark ladies' room, I'm not so sure the UMS is as effective a showcase as it could be.
From the other side of a stall door, I heard one woman say, "Have you heard of this band that's playing right now?"
To which another woman replied, "I'm from Colorado and I've never heard of any of these bands."
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Denver musicians, there is still a lot of work left to do.