New DIY Festival Debuts at the Mercury Cafe in Denver This Weekend | Westword

New DIY Festival Debuts at the Mercury Cafe This Weekend

SarahFest is a femme-forward festival showcasing badass Denver bands and celebrating all the Sarahs.
Nina de Freitas
Nina de Freitas Meesh Deyden
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If you're a Millennial, chances are you've met your fair share of Sarahs (and Rachels, Emilys, Katies — every generation has its ubiquitous names). And if you are one, then you likely remember having to go through elementary school with the teacher referring to you with your last initial tagged to your name.

Now Sarahs can reign supreme at SarahFest, a "femme-forward" music festival hosted by Denver band Bellhoss, which lands at the Mercury Cafe on Saturday, June 15. Becky Otárola, the lead singer and guitarist of Bellhoss, says she'd been playing around with the idea of a music festival since the band released the EP a rose, a thorn on Valentine's Day, and the date at the Mercury presented a serendipitous hook. "It's technically right around the half birthday of my bandmate, Sarah," she says, referring to Sarah Ault, Bellhoss's vocalist. "I was like, 'Sarah, what if we called this SarahFest and gave a flower to all the Sarahs who come?'

"Everyone knows a Sarah, so it's just funny," she laughs. 
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Meesh Deyden
The lineup encompasses a stellar roster of female-fronted local bands, including Bellhoss, the Milk Blossoms, Luna Nuñez, Dream of Time, Gartener, Pink Lady Monster, Summer Bedhead, the Tammy Shine, Nina de Freitas and DJ Demigod. There will also be a handful of vendors, as well as tables set up for the nonprofits Girls Rock Denver and Girls Inc.

"They're all friends, really," says Otárola, explaining how she wrangled the groups together. "It's something that has come together over just being in the community and making friends with people."

That said, it makes sense that Otárola is drawing from the DIY festivals of her youth in SoCal to form SarahFest. She works with Denver Public Schools and says that today's teenagers are just as hungry for in-person connections at lively events. "I loved being around that very open, safe space where it's all about people expressing themselves," she reflects. "I wanted to create a similar opportunity, especially for kids."
click to enlarge woman singing and playing guitar
The Milk Blossoms
Ben Bradley

While many adults focus on the saturation of social media in younger generations, "Gen Z and Gen Alpha still want in-person things," she continues. "So why not create more of those opportunities? Just those magical moments that I experienced growing up myself, being at DIY festivals or little shows at record shops. ... It's the idea of community-building."

To make it clear the fest is all-ages-friendly, Otárola created a poster contest for DPS teachers to present to their students. The top two posters, by students named Heidi Stefan and Maddy Arnold, both made the cut.

When it comes to Bellhoss, Otárola is very intentional about playing live. SarahFest not only presents a rare opportunity to see the band, but also rally around other femme-fronted groups and discover new music.

"I used to play all the time, and I really burned out by the time the pandemic started," Otárola says. "These are all people I want to play with, so why not make something where we get to all do something really cool and different that I can put a lot of energy and intentionality into?"

SarahFest, 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street. Tickets are $20.
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