Mile High Makeout: Making Music Matter

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There’s a lot of talk – especially in this column – about how supportive and caring the Denver music scene is. Every time you turn around, there’s a benefit show to help some musician pay his medical bills, move out of state, or fund his honeymoon. It’s not unlike the rent parties of the 1920s, when jazz musicians would throw together a party, play their hearts out and then pass around the hat so they could make rent for the month.

But it’s not all that often that you see indie rockers put together something that benefits people outside of the scene. Last Friday night, however, a bunch of them did just that. Iuengliss, Joseph Pope III, Astrophagus, Ian Cooke, Joshua Novak and the Wheel all donated their time and their performances to Empower, a fundraising and recruiting event for Metro Denver Partners, an organization that matches adult mentors to kids who need them. Not only was it a good show, but it’s also a damned good cause.

The masterminds behind this magical event were Jessica Summers, program director for Douglas County Partners, and Melissa Kemp, program coordinator for the Youth Mentoring Collaborative. Two music lovers with a passion for the local scene (in fact, Summers’s husband is Astrophagus drummer and Bocumast-ermind, Dave Kurtz), Summers and Kemp originally proposed a small indie rock event as an alternative to the usual swanky, stuffed-golf-shirt cocktail buffet, in hopes of reaching a fresh, younger pool of both donors and volunteers. Their board liked the idea so much that they turned into a large-scale fundraising and recruiting affair, and then gave Summers and Kemp the responsibility of making it happen.

And they did. The two women were amazed at how willing and eager to help the musicians they approached were. They might not be folks with a lot of money to spare, but they were more than happy to give their performances, a far more generous donation that drew in an impressive crowd. Even Scott LaBarbera, who gave the organization a discounted rate to rent the Oriental Theater for the event, was astounded by the quality of the lineup (many of whom later thanks Summers and Kemp for letting them play – for free).

During the show, you could just tell that all the musicians felt good about what they were doing. Joseph Pope cracked jokes about the identities of his onstage collaborators, calling drummer Nathaniel Rateliff (yes, that one) “T-Bone” and Daniel Pope “Peg leg.” Ian Cooke practically danced through his set, bouncing from cello to piano and back again. Joshua Novak – who is finally coming into his own as a soulful and jubilant pop star – wowed the crowd with his energetic set, which included tasty guitar work by Nathan Meese (yes, that one). Astrophagus included ubiquitous violinist, Carrie Beeder, and Born in the Flood guitarist, Matt Fox, in its collective lineup. If you’re keeping a tally, that’s three-fourths of BITF accounted for.

And speaking of one of Denver’s biggest bands, even Nathaniel Rateliff, who frequently appears either shy or dour during his sets as the Wheel, cracked jokes between – and during – songs, and busted out an absurdly accurate James Taylor impersonation. Summers thinks the energy and enthusiasm of some of the performers might have had something to do with their own experiences as troubled, challenged or underserved kids. In Rateliff’s case, that just might be right.

By the end of the night, I was left feeling that warm, familial (and familiar) love for these big-hearted musicians, and I also felt great about Metro Denver Partners, wondering how I could help.

If you’re wondering too, the organization is holding an information session at Stella’s Coffee House at 1476 South Pearl tonight at 6:30 p.m. Even if you don’t have money to give (and who does?), you can find out about how to volunteer your time as a mentor to a kid who really needs another adult in his or her life. If you can’t make it, or you’re reading this after the fact, check out Metro Denver Partner’s website.

With its seven different programs, Metro Denver Partners serves over 400 kids around the metro area who are struggling with gangs, abuse, incarceration, substance abuse and academic issues. And all they’re looking for is a cool adult they can hang out with. Even if you’re kinda screwed up yourself, you can probably help. You don’t have to fix them – you just have to be a friend.

-- Eryc Eyl

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