The 2016 Underground Music Showcase: four days of numerous shows, countless forms of entertainment and music fans spilling onto the sidewalks of South Broadway. Yet one of the most striking impressions of this year's UMS is that it felt smaller. Not smaller in terms of lacking quality or crowds, but in a way that felt more manageable.
Since the festival became a relatively large event, the going concern was that it seemed to expand like a temporary empire sprawling out of control, expanding to four days and multiple venues as far south as Herman's Hideaway and as far north as Moe's Original Bar B Que. Walking that expanse to catch a band's set felt like you were traversing an ephemeral musical imperium with the often unforgiving heat of the late-July sun slowly enervating the spirit of even the most dedicated attendee.
This year's UMS, though, didn't include the venues Moe's or the now-defunct Club 404, much less Compound Basix. There were no one-off storefronts, carpet stores or even Eslinger Gallery, which was often largely the preserve of the festival's most experimental bands. While fewer venues was a welcome update, there also seemed to be fewer experimental bands and a less robust representation of heavy music. However, more bands with those leanings could be found at the Mile High Parlay at Mutiny Information Cafe, situated in the midst of the festival venues.
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Coupled with the relatively mild weather, UMS seemed, overall, more mellow. Unless you were trying to get into the hi-dive to see Colfax Speed Queen or Tacocat, Dressy Bessy at the Irish Rover or the Still Tide at 3 Kings Tavern on Friday night, it seemed as though even the most well-attended shows weren't uncomfortably packed.
Was attendance down? It didn't seem possible, considering the buzzing crowds in the venues and the streets, and considering the drastic increase in Denver's population of young people in the last few years, but with few exceptions, the 2016 edition felt like UMS of several years ago, when you could get into most shows with no problem. This weekend you could catch some of the better younger acts — like locals The Velveteers and Beat Soft Pop and Brooklyn's Sunflower Bean — with ease and really take in the music on its own terms. There also seemed to be no difficulty getting into shows by some veterans and new bands like Emerald Siam, Pale Sun, Quantum Creep, iZCALLi, Modern Leisure and Oko Tygra.
Whatever the factors involved, UMS 2016 came across as a glimpse into a Denver music world of the past, a time before any kind of microscope was put on the local scene. Partly because walking up and down the streets felt like wading through an extended family reunion for Denver music people, but also because the atmosphere didn't feel as overwhelming and you could enjoy the festival at your leisure. Parking still sucked, but if you were willing to walk a block or two outside the boundary of the UMS proper, even that seemed like not such a taxing proposition.