On June 29, we'll present our 25th Westword Music Showcase. The event has grown dramatically since it was founded in 1995 with just a handful of bands playing around LoDo. In 2019, more than 75 local acts will fill venues throughout the Golden Triangle, while national headliners CHVRCHES, Jai Wolf, JAUZ, Bishop Briggs, Crooked Colours, lovelytheband, the Knocks, the Wrecks and SHAED will play the two main stages.
Many of the artists who have participated in Showcase have gone on to worldwide success, while others continue to perform for loyal local audiences. And some have cashed in and left music altogether.
Andy "Rok" Guerrero has been a force in Denver's music scene for nearly two decades. He was a founding member of Flobots, and his funk act Bop Skizzum made waves in town before breaking up. He's seen the city shift from a place where most bands played covers to today's diverse scene, where musicians making original music flourish across genres; he's now teaching in the music-industry program at the University of Colorado Denver. In this Q&A, Guerrero looks back on his time playing Showcase, how his career has evolved, and how Denver's music scene has changed.
Westword: What memories and stories do you have of playing Westword Music Showcase?
Andy Guerrero: I remember the first time my funk band Bop Skizzum got invited to play the Showcase. We were playing La Rumba. I remember this being one of the first times my band or music project was recognized by the Denver music community, and it gave me a real sense of pride. I worked my tail off as a young musician in Denver, so being nominated and getting a chance to perform in front of my peers meant a lot to me.
One of my fondest memories was playing the Stoney’s stage with Bop Skizzum back in 2012 or 2013. I just remember having the opportunity to play for a full house and everyone jumping around and getting crazy. That was a time when I felt like Bop Skizzum really benefited from playing the Showcase and was exposed to a ton of new fans. The room was just alive and full of energy.
I also remember how hard we worked to get to that show. We had booked a show in Fort Collins earlier in the year, and it ended up landing on the same day as the Showcase. It was an outdoor show, and in the high 90s that day: We sweated out a ninety-minute set, then loaded all our gear and sped down to Denver to make our Showcase slot later that afternoon. I remember being drenched in sweat, having to change outfits, and barely making it to the stage on time. But we did it. And the show turned out to be one of the best that I can remember playing at the Showcase.
I think the greatest thing about getting to be a part of the Westword Showcase was not only the recognition, but the ability to see all of your friends' bands in one day. You really felt like you were a part of the Denver music scene, no matter the genre of music. There were so many great bands in Colorado, but we all tended to be gigging on the same days, so it could be hard to go check out your fellow musicians' shows. But at the Showcase, you got the chance and opportunity to cheer on your fellow musicians and dance to their music.
How has your own band evolved since playing Showcase?
I think iron sharpens iron, and when you get to see your fellow musicians crush a performance, it makes you want to be better and to write better songs. I can remember Flobots being inspired by Nathaniel Rateliff and Joseph Pope’s old band, Born in the Flood, before the days of the Night Sweats' success.
After seeing them perform at one of the Showcases and taking home their record If This Thing Should Spill, from 2007, we were in awe of the songwriting and sonic quality and production of that full-length album. When we began working on what would become our major-label debut, Fight With Tools, over the next year, we felt that our album had to live up to that standard of recording and songwriting. Similarly, with bands like the Hot IQs, who we also loved, we were inspired by their performances and records.
Denver's music scene has changed a lot over the past 25 years. What are your thoughts on its evolution?
I was gigging in Colorado almost twenty years ago. I played my first gig at a place called Cafe Euphrates with my high school band, the Funktion. In the mid- to late ’90s, I could count the amount of bands and artists making original music and getting recognized for it on one hand: bands like the Psychodelic Zombiez, Lord of Word & the Disciples of Bass, Chaos Theory, Opie Gone Bad and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. If you wanted to be a gigging band in Denver, you pretty much had to be a cover band that could play for three hours a night. The city just wasn’t as interested in original music. It didn’t thirst for it the way it does today.
It was nowhere close to the diverse and budding scene we have today. The fact that local artists who are making original music can now sell out 250- to 500-cap rooms on a regular basis, regardless of genre, is pretty amazing. Teaching at CU Denver, I’m exposed to so many student bands and projects, which become a part of Denver's music scene and have been able to flourish, because every part of the music community — from the promoters and club owners, the press, nonprofits, radio, businesses, etc. — all want to see the local guys or gals do good.
I think the success of bands like the Fray, One Republic, Flobots, 3OH!3, Pretty Lights, Nathaniel Rateliff, Trev Rich, etc., have made the local music community see that Colorado artists can accomplish great things, and we have a city truly flush with talent.