The year in Denver’s music community was full of struggle — fighting for equality, accessibility and visibility. Yet amid conflict, gentrification, closures, deaths and political strife, 2017 was marked by notable victories and good omens for what lies ahead. Below are five of our favorite moments in Denver music in the last year.
1. Molina Speaks wins a 2017 MasterMind Award
Rapper and poet Molina Speaks (aka Adrian H. Molina) has long contributed to the local and regional arts scenes, and this year he launched a podcast called Brown Genius with Sheree Lovemestiza Brown. The program is described as a “podcast in full color spectrum, dedicated to providing a platform for underrepresented voices,” and has featured groundbreaking artists, herbalists, activists and musicians as guests. For his ongoing efforts and creations, including plans to release albums and a film in 2018, Molina Speaks was honored in February as one of Westword’s 2017 MasterMinds.
2. Backspace puts on the Dirty Denver Festival
This year, DIY spaces across the country came under scrutiny (at best) and forced eviction for long-running havens Rhinoceropolis and Glob, and discussion continued about how artists can live in rapidly developing and gentrifying cities like Denver. Backspace, an underground venue that has been booking for the last two years, made space this summer for a celebration of DIY culture associated with “old Denver.” Backspace organizers went public for this event, obtaining permits and even speaking with the press in order to promote awareness of the city’s housing crisis. The Dirty Denver Fest was going to be called “Fuck New Denver,” but organizers made concessions to gain a larger audience. Dozens of local bands performed, including Corner Girls, Oxeye Daisy, Church Fire, Pizza Time and more. Backspace closed its former space shortly after the festival, but there remain plenty of people continuing the good DIY work to Keep Denver Dirty.
3. MCA Denver wins huge grant — which could result in a music festival
Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a goddamn gem, constantly surprising the public with new programming that encourages collaboration among artists of all media (presentations on existentialism and junk food, for example) and expanding the idea of what a visual arts museum can be. (Rooftop concerts, anyone?) In February, MCA Denver won a $400,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for “Animating Museums,” a program that will bring creative fellows to Denver to learn from our kick-ass MCA, and also to launch a group project in July 2018. That project, with a budget of $100,000, reports the Denver Post, could be a music festival in downtown Denver, a virtual-reality immersion or (our hope) a combination of experiences.
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4. “Hello? Denver? Are You Still There?” podcast launches
Bree Davies is a longtime writer on music and local Colorado culture, co-founder of the Titwrench music festival and outspoken cheerleader for Denver's DIY arts and ethos. In November, Davies, former host of music-industry-focused podcast Welcome to Rock Island, launched a podcast to discuss what it means to be a Denverite — when the city itself is rapidly changing. The podcast is recorded live every month at Mutiny Information Caf, and the first episode’s guests included advocates, an urban-management strategist, an artist/writer/teacher, and musician/poet Molina Speaks. The podcast’s focus may be civic issues, but its concerns and celebrations are shared by and intersect with the Denver music community.
5. Pollstar Awards recognize Denver venues
Colorado landmarks often pop up in Pollstar’s annual music-industry award nominations: Don Strasburg, VP and senior talent buyer for AEG Live Rocky Mountains, always seems to make an appearance, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre has won so many times that an award was eventually named after the venue. But in 2017, Pollstar recognized two different Denver venues: Bellco Theatre was nominated for Theatre of the Year, and the new Levitt Pavilion was nominated for Best New Concert Venue — in the whole United States. The nominees were selected by a panel of more than 200 agents, managers, promoters, venue operators, and others who work in the live-entertainment industry. Winners will be announced in February.