Independent Promoters Make Denver's Music Scene Thrive

Levitt Pavilion's free concert series starts Memorial Day weekend.
Levitt Pavilion's free concert series starts Memorial Day weekend. Jake Cox
Denver has one of the most active live-music scenes in the country, yet artists constantly complain that the biggest venues are too often reserved for out-of-town acts. But there are plenty of smaller stages run by independents, from the hi-dive and Syntax Physic Opera to the Lion’s Lair, Streets, the Oriental Theater and Your Mom’s House, offering places where Colorado musicians can build their careers and local audiences can enjoy homegrown music.

Artists can also earn fans through collaborations with other cultural institutions that care about the Denver scene. Leading the way are two art-house efforts: Film on the Rocks, run by the champions of independent cinema at the Denver Film Society, brings mid-level metro-area locals like Ramakhandra, Neyla Pekarek and YaSi to Red Rocks Amphitheatre; Alamo Drafthouse Sloan’s Lake books a compelling series of small- to mid-level Front Range artists in its Barfly venue, giving film-goers the chance to experience sounds they might otherwise never encounter.

Even large cultural institutions like the Clyfford Still Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Denver Art Museum and the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities host concerts by acts both small and large. Many of these facilities also host outdoor concerts that make for perfect spring and summer outings.

While Levitt Pavilion, the nonprofit amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park, books concerts co-promoted with Live Nation’s Emporium Presents, the nonprofit also offers more than fifty free, independently promoted shows a year, for which dozens of Denver bands are paid an industry-standard rate and have the chance to test their playing and promotion chops in a large venue. This year, that series launches Memorial Day weekend with a performance by Dragondeer on Friday, May 24, and the Mile High Soul Club on Saturday, May 25. Pack a picnic and head on over!

With a host of music festivals — from the Westword Music Showcase to the Underground Music Showcase and FoCoMx, as well as such underground operations as the Compost Heap DIY Music Fest — and plenty of independent promoters spotlighting local talent, Denver has become more than just a concert-goers’ market: It’s also a city where musicians can thrive.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris