Great local music scenes are what lead to great national music scenes. When musicians and bands, songwriters and instrumentalists, folkies and punks gather and evolve in a community of clubs and bars and have local media following and promoting them, the best music emerges and has a shot at a wider audience. Standout indie artists get the chance to tour regionally, then across the country, playing to dedicated audiences in small clubs and theaters or at local festivals, and their music gets played and purchased by more and more fans.
The lucky ones break out and become stars; some get to be superstars. That’s the process of attaining success in the music biz. Bands since the birth of rock and roll, from Buddy Holly and the Crickets to R.E.M., and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to even The Beatles, have traveled the trail to stardom by starting locally and building their fan base.
Gatherings like Endless Sunshine — which will take place at Denver’s Civic Center Park starting at 4 p.m. on Friday, September 8 — provide exposure to some of the premier indie bands in the country, while also giving audiences a chance to support the best local talent alongside the national acts.
The lineup of touring performers includes The Backseat Lovers from Provo, Utah; Peach Pit from Vancouver, British Columbia; and Briston Maroney from Knoxville, Tennessee. The showcasing local bands, all of which have gained regional and national audiences by touring tirelessly themselves, are The Velveteers, Co-Stanza, The Mañanas and Blankslate.
Endless Sunshine will set before it’s all over, but the day promises an inspiring lineup of groovy, catchy power pop, indie rock and alt-attitudes, with the bonus of food trucks, lawn games, beer and craft cocktails.
The history of indie rock goes way back to the music explosion of the 1960s, when regional scenes led to hit-producing groups from not just the music capitals of New York and Los Angeles, but from the Midwest (“Hang on Sloopy” and “96 Tears” are great examples). Many of those bands were archived on a collection titled Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968. The compilation curated what was called “garage rock” at the time, and its liner notes marked one of the first times the term “punk rock” was used.
“Punk” is a good way to describe the musicians who play indie rock, because while they might dream of stardom, many are anti-establishment and want to disrupt the music industry with fresher sounds and make music as self-expression, not with a hit single in mind.
The Live at CBGB’s set of young and hungry bands from the underground Manhattan scene in 1976 — which also introduced the Ramones and Blondie — featured groups that had some commercial success (Mink DeVille lived in Boulder in the late 1980s for a time). Mostly, it spotlighted the creative energy of the scene. Similarly, other music scenes outside of the mainstream, like Seattle’s grunge community, have resulted in butt-kicking music magic.
In the 1980s and ’90s, packaged “festival” tours like Lollapalooza or the H.O.R.D.E. Tour (which Big Head Todd and the Monsters joined one year) led to bigger annual events with all types of music, like Bonnaroo and Coachella, which book up-and-coming artists alongside major stars.
Endless Sunshine will keep indie artists in the spotlight at Denver’s Civic Center Park.
The headliners include The Backseat Lovers, a foursome that was founded when lead singer and guitarist Joshua Harmon met guitarist Jonas Swanson in a Provo bar while waiting to play at an open-mic night. The band has released two albums, including last year’s “Waiting to Spill,” its major-label debut on Capitol. The music ranges from mellow and dreamy to dynamic and dramatic.
Vancouver’s Peach Pit incorporates country-picking and cool guitar riffs into its catchy songs. Like The Backseat Lovers, this music isn’t all gentle and quiet.
Knoxville singer-songwriter Briston Maroney made his first splash in showbiz by reaching the semi-finals of American Idol in 2014. He’s played in bluegrass bands, and he performed at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2019. His vocals are crisp and clear and cutting, and his lyrics are front and center in his songs.
The Moss grew out of a duo formed in Hawaii and are now a quartet based in Salt Lake City, playing sparkling power pop with ringing and memorable guitar lines and island-reggae rhythms that weave in from time to time. Their music is catchy, the kind of “indie” sound that deserves as much of a wide audience as possible.
Endless Sunshine will also include a quartet of Denver-area bands that express the best of the current Rocky Mountain indie-rock scene.
The Velveteers from Boulder are led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Demi Demitro, and like the headline acts, The Velveteers play music that ranges from quiet and reflective to dense and distorted, all the while staying memorable with earworm-y hooks and production, anchored by Demitro’s powerful and flexible vocals.
Co-Stanza’s Jack Costanza began his career in Chicago before relocating to Denver. Slipping in a little funk and punk among the grooves, Costanza's strong vocals and indie-rock instincts bring a fresh sound to the local scene.
The Mañanas have been making fans in the Denver area and have expanded out of the club scene to play venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre (opening for a Film on the Rocks screening) and Civic Center Park two years ago. The group’s music lands more on the power-pop side than folk rock, and it’s a refreshing change-up when The Mañanas cover the Spanish-language rocker “La Plaga.”
Blankslate was formed by three women from across the country who were roommates at the University of Denver. The group has made a name for itself playing throughout the Denver area, but got its start playing open-mic nights and coffee shops around the DU campus. The trio released its debut album, Summer on a Salt Flat, last October, and has been touring this summer throughout the Southwest and up and down the West Coast.
With such a terrific lineup of both national and local-but-soon-to-be-national talent, the Endless Sunshine on this day will warm local scenes everywhere!