StirFry Sessions Is a New Hub for Denver Musicians to Collaborate | Westword

StirFry Sessions Is a New Hub for Denver Musicians to Collaborate

Ian James established a new artists' collective to help Denver musicians promote and perform their work to a larger audience.
"The heart of StirFry Sessions is a crowdsourced community," Ian James says.
"The heart of StirFry Sessions is a crowdsourced community," Ian James says. Courtesy of Josh Pruitt, Ivywild Visuals
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Ian James recalls the exact moment the idea for the StirFry Sessions took root.

“After moving to Denver, I'd met a couple of friends [Trent Juilfs and Graham Butler] through open mics and we started meeting up to collaborate before going to perform," James says. "Graham would cook some food and we would jam before the Wednesday open-mic night at the Mercury Cafe. He had cooked some stir-fry the first time we met, so I jokingly dubbed our group chat the StirFry Sessions, thinking it would stay as an inside joke between the three of us, but it quickly grew into something much larger."

Little did he know that this casual gathering would turn into a thriving independent grassroots organizer for Denver's local music scene. James founded the artist collective the StirFry Sessions a few months ago to provide more opportunities for musicians to perform in showcases and collaborate with their peers across Denver.

"I was meeting a lot of people and thought it would be cool if I brought more people in on this so we could all collaborate," he says. "Eventually, we had enough people involved to host an open mic. That was the original plan, but after talking with some locals, I realized that was not what the city needed."
click to enlarge sign that says stirfry sessions
Ian James hopes the StirFry Sessions will grow to be a vital force in unifying Denver’s music scene.
Courtesy of Josh Pruitt, Ivywild Visuals
James moved to Denver from Chicago three years ago and quickly immersed himself in the local music community. While he only started playing music shortly before his move, he's quickly established himself as a key figure in the scene.

“I only started playing music three years ago,” James explains. "I had been playing around with the ukulele, and just before I left for Denver, my father gave me one of his guitars, and I became obsessed with playing guitar. Music was an important part of my life because so many members of my family played, but I never seriously pursued music until I was 24. So I went from having never done anything musical to this. I was more of an athlete than anything else growing up, so it's ironic that I am now very involved in the art world."

His love of music and the welcoming atmosphere of Denver's open-mic scene fueled his journey. "It is a nerve-racking process at first, but you quickly realize, especially in a city like Denver, that it is a very welcoming and open community," James says. "Everyone knows you are here to test out something that is not a perfect product, and nobody's a celebrity."

As James frequented open mics, he realized the potential for something greater. He describes Denver's music scene as a "sneaky gem," with many great artists but a lack of unity and collaboration.
click to enlarge musician performing at an openmic night
To promote artists, StirFry Sessions has been hosting weekly and biweekly artist spotlights on its social media accounts.
Courtesy of Josh Pruitt, Ivywild Visuals
"The thing that's holding Denver back is a lack of unification or glue between all the artists," he says. "When you think of the Nashville or Austin scenes, which are both music hubs in the country, you're always seeing collaborations and people starting projects together. So building on ideas from these larger music cities and scenes, I recently founded the StirFry Sessions as an artist collective to help book shows and promote emerging Denver-based artists."

The Stirfry Sessions' first official event, held at the Roxy Denver on April 25, was an unexpected success, with the venue filling up beyond expectations. This momentum carried over to its recent all-day showcase at Cheesman Park on June 9, which showcased nine musical acts, including James himself, food supplied by Chuey FU's Latin-Asian Grub and more than 300 people in attendance.

"We could not have asked for a better turnout for this showcase event," James says. "The day served as entertainment for the neighborhood as well as gave a chance for the artists in our collective to get stage time, reach new audiences and capture unique photo and video for their own platforms. If we learned anything from putting on this event, it's that Denver is begging for more live music, and we certainly won't be the ones to let them down."
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StirFry Sessions founder Ian James described Denver's music scene as a "sneaky gem," with many great artists but a lack of unity and collaboration.
Courtesy of Josh Pruitt, Ivywild Visuals
Looking ahead, the collective has several exciting plans, including a special Pride show with Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation on Saturday, June 22, at Spangalang Brewery from 3 to 6 p.m., followed by a concert on Saturday, June 29, at the Mansion on Colfax from 6 to 10 p.m. The group has also booked a monthly showcase at Western Sky in Englewood from 8 to 10:30 p.m. on August 10, September 14, October 26, November 30 and December 21.

"The heart of StirFry Sessions is a crowdsourced community," James says. "I do not have all of the answers, but I have met a lot of really smart and experienced people, so if we combine our talents, things will start to work out. The whole idea of this group is to get as many people to play music together and for each other as we can.”

To further promote artists, the StirFry Sessions has been hosting weekly and biweekly artist spotlights on its social media accounts. The group is also looking to expand its efforts by producing Tiny Desk Concert-esque sessions, providing a professional platform for local musicians to perform and gain exposure.
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Local musicians from the StirFry Sessions performed at Cheesman Park on June 9.
Courtesy of Ivy Wild Visuals (@ivywildvisuals)
“Long-term, I see it operating almost more as an independent artist recording label,” he said. “Obviously, if larger acts want to be a part of what we're doing, then we're always open to that, but I think staying true to what it is, which is in support of local Denver music, is really important. If you want to record an album or some song, we want to be that physical space as well as provide the expertise to help you get that done and help promote it."

James is particularly concerned with preserving the collective's grassroots ethos and ensuring that artists maintain control over their work.“We want everyone to keep their masters," he says. "If you record a song with us, we wouldn't be taking that; it's important to us that the artists keep the rights to their songs.”

For those looking to get involved, James recommends attending a show or messaging via social media. “The best way to get involved is by coming to a show or reaching out," James says. "Some of us are working musicians, but there's a huge population of the StirFry community who can always be found at the open mic at the Mercury Cafe on Wednesdays and at others around town.”

As the StirFry Sessions continue to grow, James hopes it will be a vital force in unifying Denver’s music scene. With his leadership and the collective’s commitment to creativity, the future looks bright.

"People should watch our social media for more information about other events a few months down the line, as we've got a look at cool stuff in the works," James promises. "One day we hope to put on a larger festival-type show, which is kind of what the Cheesman show [was] a trial of, and grow as a promotional company."

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