Music News

Five Local Acts That Have Gone National

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats recently released The Future.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats recently released The Future. Jon Solomon
One look at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s list of past inductees makes it clear that music made in this state, particularly over the last five decades, has captured listeners around the nation and the world.

CMHOF recently announced its latest roster of inductees, which includes bluegrass-centric bands Hot Rize, String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band. Those artists will join the likes of Philip Bailey and Larry Dunn, who went on to join Earth, Wind & Fire; legendary singer-songwriters Judy Collins and John Denver; jazz artists Bill Frisell, Dianne Reeves and Ron Miles; and bluesman Otis Taylor.

There are plenty more local acts known around the country and beyond that have yet to be inducted into the Music Hall of Fame, but it's only a matter of time. Denver garage-punk band the Fluid was the first non-Seattle act to be signed to Sub Pop, with 1988’s Clear Black Paper. In the ’90s, acts like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and 16 Horsepower helped pioneer the Denver Sound while the Apples in Stereo and Dressy Bessy helped spread bubbly pop tunes around the country.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters' 1993 album, Sister Sweetly, ended up going platinum — and while DeVotchKa formed in 1997, the quartet gained a much bigger fan base with the success of the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack nearly a decade later. In the 2000s, OneRepublic, which initially formed in Colorado Springs, and Denver band the Fray both went on to be heard around the world while Flobots, 3OH!3, Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic also went national.

Here are five more Colorado acts that have gained national recognition, particularly over the last decade:
click to enlarge Gregory Alan Isakov - REBECCA CARIDAD
Gregory Alan Isakov
Rebecca Caridad

Boulder singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov’s hushed vocal delivery demands attention, particularly when he plays more intimate venues. He has a way of mesmerizing audiences with his voice and his songs, which also translates on his albums. Gigging a lot, releasing albums and touring with Kelly Joe Phelps helped Isakov get noticed around the country.

Grammy winner Brandi Carlile is a big fan of Isakov’s, and they’ve shared the stage multiple times; she also appears on five songs on his self-released album This Empty Hemisphere. When his song “Big Black Car” was used in a McDonald’s commercial, Isakov, who’s also a farmer, donated the proceeds to nonprofits that further sustainable farming. His songs have been used in a number of films and television shows, including Californication, Girls, Roadies, The Peanut Butter Falcon and more. His latest release, Evening Machines, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album in 2019.
click to enlarge The Lumineers at opening night of the Mission Ballroom. - MICHAEL EMERY HECKER
The Lumineers at opening night of the Mission Ballroom.
Michael Emery Hecker

While New Jersey natives Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites starting performing and writing together in 2005, it wasn’t until they relocated to Denver five years later that they started getting national recognition under the Lumineers moniker. In the early days, the trio would try out material at the Meadowlark’s open-mic nights, which were hosted by Tyler Despres and Maria Kohler at the time.

“I went to the open mic at Meadowlark and heard act after act, musician after musician, that were really fucking good," Schultz told Westword in 2012. "It really kind of blew me away.”

The Lumineers released their debut studio album in 2012, which peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 chart and contained the hit single “Ho Hey.” The band sold out two nights at the Bluebird Theater the same year the album was released, but by 2013, the act was headlining two nights at Red Rocks. Since then, the Lumineers have received two Grammy nominations and released two more albums; they're now gearing up for their next release, Brightside, which is set to drop January 14 on Dualtone and Decca Records. The band was slated to headline Coors Field last year, but the show was scrapped because of the pandemic.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. - THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon


After moving to Denver from rural Missouri about two and a half decades ago, Nathaniel Rateliff got his start in Colorado with anthemic rock band Born in the Flood. He then delved into more personal material as the Wheel before recording albums under his own name, including 2010’s In Memory of Loss for Rounder Records.

While Rateliff achieved some national recognition for his solo endeavors, he's now known for his work with the Night Sweats, which he formed in 2013 with longtime collaborator Joseph Pope III. The Night Sweats helped Rateliff and company get some long overdue recognition not only stateside, but abroad, thanks in part to a rousing version of “S.O.B.” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in August 2015, the same month the band released its self-titled debut album for Stax Records. Since then, the Night Sweats have gone on to release two more albums for the legendary label, including their latest, The Future, which dropped on November 5.

Alongside the success of the Night Sweats, Rateliff has released two solo albums on Stax that also feature members of the band: And It’s Still Alright and Red Rocks 2020, a live album that was recorded over multiple nights at the venue.
click to enlarge Primitive Man's Ethan McCarthy, center, is known as the godfather of the Denver metal scene. - ALVINO SALCEDO
Primitive Man's Ethan McCarthy, center, is known as the godfather of the Denver metal scene.
Alvino Salcedo

While Primitive Man might not be a household name outside of metal circles, the Denver doom-metal trio has a significant following around the country and has done many tours in Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia and other parts of the globe. The band recorded its latest effort, the brutal and visceral Immersion, during the second week of March 2020, just as the pandemic was forcing closures around the world. The album, released on the renowned Relapse Records label, captures the collective fear and uncertainty of how the pandemic would affect the world and the initial panic it caused.

Singer and guitarist Ethan McCarthy told Westword in 2020 that making Immersion was “as raw as it gets.” But a subsequent tour that included a number of American dates and big European festivals such as the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands, was canceled because of the pandemic.

“It was probably going to be the best year of our lives,” McCarthy told Westword. “At first that was what was bumming me the most, but now I just want everyone that I know to get out of this shit alive.”
click to enlarge Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, the husband-and-wife duo known as Tennis. - LUCA VENTER
Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, the husband-and-wife duo known as Tennis.
Luca Venter

Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore formed the indie-pop act Tennis in 2010, and national success came fairly fast on the heels of their 2011 album, Cape Dory, which drew sonic inspiration from ’60s girl groups and lyrically was about sailing and being in love. Music blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum both praised the album, which was released on Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi imprint that's put out records by the Black Keys, Iggy Pop and R.L. Burnside, among others. A year later, the husband-and-wife duo performed “It All Feels the Same” on the Late Show With David Letterman.

Tennis released Yours Conditionally in 2017 on its own label, Mutually Detrimental, and debuted at the number-three slot on Billboard’s Alternative Albums chart. While the band would go on to headline Red Rocks, play Coachella and tour with Spoon and the Shins, Riley and Moore told Westword in 2017 that fame isn’t their end game. Rather, they want to be working musicians for the rest of their lives and just make enough money to support themselves.

“I read something, a Björk quote that I’m going to butcher, that says, 'If I try to please five people, I won’t please anyone,'” Moore told Westword. “'But if I just try to please myself, I might please ten people.'”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon