The Denver music scene is often touted as a network that balances ambition with frequent shows of kindness, whether that means putting on benefits for medical expenses, banding together for DIY festivals, or simply showing up for all-local shows. (Illegal Pete's feeds hungry musicians for free; locals are often tapped to play the big stage at Red Rocks...) We asked Colorado musicians and show organizers to weigh in on the local music community and shout out folks working to help fellow artists. Here are ten acts of musical kindness in Denver.
10. Brian Beer, singer/guitarist/songwriter of Bud Bronson & the Good Timers
Beer wrote: "Sometime during the summer of 2015, maybe during FaceMan's Journey to the Sun, our bass player Austen was talking to Justin Hicks, who through his company Incite Productions, helped construct the giant rocket that was the JTS centerpiece. Austen mentioned how cool it would be if BBGT had a giant, light-up sign to hang at shows, something like Weezer's patented "Flying W" (think the El Scorcho video). Justin agreed, and a few weeks later, he actually showed up at our house with a four-foot-diameter light-up sign featuring the logo on our band jackets. We plugged it in and fired it up for our Fantasy Machine LP release show a few weeks later, and lemme tell ya, that sign really helped tie the room together — especially considering we were playing in the very un-rock-and-roll locale of Savoy (normally a ballroom dance hall/pilates studio).
The coolest thing about this is that Justin wasn't a close pal or anything. He was just a guy who liked our band and was really generous with his time and skills, going out of his way after a one-time conversation to make this awesome thing happen for our band. Totally out of the goodness of his heart (unless there's some weird ulterior motive that has yet to manifest itself two-plus years after this act of kindness).
In response, I know we gave Justin a bunch of sick BBGT schwag along with some social media mentions, but I don't think anything we've done can really adequately thank him for this semi-random, much-appreciated act of kindness. Justin, if you're reading this, you get a lifetime guestlist pass to any show (including when we play the Pepsi Center in 2019 for the Diamond Joe Biden Presidential Campaign Tour & Arena Rock Blowout) and a lifetime of gratitude for being a good friend to us."
9. Bree Davies, co-organizer of Titwrench
Davies wanted to spotlight Witch House, a space as it was known for years, which provided affordable housing for artists: "waaaay below market rate rent, which kept many of us afloat and able to make art and stay living in Denver." Based on a belief in equitable distribution of wealth and power, the person who owns the house describes the space as "a place of healing, community, warmth, and shelter to many amazing Denver artists and musicians, as well as those touring through."
8. Amanda Gonulsen, of Automatic Iris
In addition to shouting out Wheelchair Sports Camp's activism for marginalized and disabled people, Gonulsen recounted a story of musicians coming together to build a community. Gonulsen, along with bandmate and sweetheart Glenn Hermanson, teamed up with Neil McCormick (of Kid Reverie and other bands) and Erin Korris to throw a free rooftop show — and record the event under the full moon with Lady Cactus Publishing. "Folks from the community, industry, from Open Air, UMS, and a couple close friends came to be the live audience," Gonulsen says. "It was a way to give back to them." The core four set up the rooftop party with food and drink, and Strange Americans, Chimney Choir, Overslept, Avenhart, Kinesics, Kid Reverie and Automatic Iris all played for free. Friends and neighbors helped set up, loaned supplies and lights, and took photos. The event had "a real barn-building community feel, like the night that the kids finally got to throw a dance in Footloose. Everyone got something from it, gave something to it, and we got to share a beautiful community night under the full moon!" Gonulsen says. "It was all huggable and swoony, and had nothing to do with a dime."
7. Ru Johnson, owner of Roux Black
Johnson seems to know everyone in Denver hip-hop, but when it came to the subject of kindness, she zeroed in on one name: DJ Ktone. "He's literally the best person this music scene has to offer in terms of talent and his energy," Johnson says. "He gives away bags and bags of clothing to people who need them often (and his style is fly, so he's outfitting people in hot threads)." DJ Ktone's annual birthday bash had a charitable twist this year, as he partnered with the Colorado Association of Black Journalists to create scholarships in broadcast journalism/communication. The FLO 107.1 DJ's repping for good causes extends to his own son, who's had a stellar season on Regis Jesuit High's football team. Johnson says Ktone "brought out all the rappers and promoted [Regis football] games like they were an event."
6. Tobias Krause, of Two Parts
Krause says he witnesses artists helping one another out all the time. "This is a community of awesome musicians willing to step up and help one another out," Krause says. The festival booker even remembers a hostile audience member getting tackled: "I think he was on meth..." For his part, Krause tries to contribute to the Denver scene by plugging musicians in to higher-paying gigs and providing "an alternate space to showcase their music away from the cliche clubs."
5. Kevin O' Brien, of Big City Drugs
The comedian and guitarist recently relocated from the Mile High City, but he writes that he could "spend hours" recounting "how amazing the Denver arts community has treated me. Now that I'm in New York, I know how rare and special that is." Here are a few of his shout-outs:
"Phil Palisol headlined one of the first Arguments & Grievances at Vine Street Pub. Before the show, I spent $88 on an antique boxing-ring bell and made a joke about it on the show. After winning his debate, I went to pay Phil the $50 I had promised, but he wouldn't take it. He said, 'I'm donating to the ring bell fund.'
Greg Baumhauer was the first person to take me on the road in Wyoming. While I now know that might not be an act of kindness, at the time it kept me from giving up on stand-up.
Dirty Few asked Big City Drugs to open for them at Lost Lake after we had only played house parties. They took us more seriously as a band than we ever did. Their generosity gave us a sense of legitimacy in the local scene and ourselves.
Chuck Coffey produced the Big City Drugs' Human Cargo EP for free, well for a T-shirt anyway. He was the perfect sherpa to guide us through unfamiliar territory. By the end of our marathon eleven-hour session, I couldn't believe it was our band that I was listening to. I still don't know how he made us sound so good."
4. Caitlin Powell, of Facing West
When asked about acts of kindness witnessed in the Denver community, Powell says she could write a list "as long as the Bible," but below she shares two highlights.
Facing West met producer/engineer Jon Bonus of Side 3 Studios at one of the sister duo's first shows. "We were playing in the parking lot at Casselman's, because we couldn't get inside," Powell says. "Jon was running sound, and after the show he took us under his wing and taught us how to record in studio, how to record ourselves, and how to navigate this complicated industry! Without that insanely valuable information and experience, we couldn't do what we are doing now!"
As under-age musicians, the Powells are on the lookout for creative ways to reach audiences. "The Mile High Scenesters are so passionate about giving young artists an opportunity to get on stage, which can be hard to do in Denver if you're under 21!" Powell says. "They brought us and a couple other young bands into Herman's Hideaway (thanks to Chris Thomas who has been such a powerful figure in helping young bands) and let us perform and raise money for some really incredible foundations."
3. Kendall Smith, of Underground Music Showcase
"I think one group of folks that is consistently overlooked and taken for granted is the hundreds of people who volunteer for the UMS each year," Smith says. "It is their dedication and love of the scene that allows such a complex and sprawling event to run so well. For all the complaints and subjective judgements about the festival, nobody can argue what a terrific contribution this group of people provide."
2. Alex Warzel, of Neon Brown
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Warzel, a producer from Denver who has spent time in the Oakland hip-hop scene, gives thanks to one of his mentors and friends, Zak Harper. Harper "was the producer for Council of Word back in the '90s," Warzel says. "The guy is an amazing producer. He's always been there to support me and show me the ropes since I was a kid. He has supported all of my albums and groups, lent me instruments and machinery when needed, put me onto unbelievable music and even lent me records. The man is superb."
1. Courtney Whitehead, of Bison Bone
Whitehead, of the dark-country band Bison Bone, says he has tons of stories about kindness among local musicians. "We were playing the hi-dive, and we were halfway through the second song of our set, and our bass amp just started smoking," Whitehead says. "I feel bad for not remembering the band that we were playing with that night, but after the song, the band and the sound guy grabbed their bass amp and brought it up on stage, plugged it in and mixed it while we played a stripped-down song. By the time we finished that song, we were all set again and broke into a full band song, everything in tact. The crowd loved the whole thing. Everyone was on our side and it felt great."