Editor's note: No doubt the Mile High music scene is rich these days, thanks to its fans, bookers, promoters, musicians, sound engineers, techs and the like. And we're grateful for all the people who make it what it is. Each month we will be introducing you to five people doing the most for music in this city. Here are the first five (listed in no particular order).
Every scene needs a champion, and when it comes to Mile High hip-hop – and a whole lot of other music – nobody's working it harder than Ru Johnson. This former Westword contributor launched her own company, Roux Black, which promotes concerts and artists citywide. Up-and-coming musicians looking at next steps in their careers are wise to take note of the huge influence she has over this city's scene.
Look back at the drum kit when Roka Hueka, Roots Rice and Beans and Wild Lives are playing, and you'll see a self-effacing guy with deep skills. Were he just a drummer who could handle Latin ska, jazz-infused hip-hop and straight-up punk with dexterity, that might be enough to catch our eye. But what Blake Pendergrass has offered the scene is so much more than his superb musicianship. He has also stepped into the role of community organizer, using his music-industry connections to advocate for immigrants and fight for social justice – all while using his sticks to make people dance.
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Aaron Saye, the congenial brains behind Seventh Circle Music Collective, has been showing up for Denver's DIY scene for nearly a decade, running soundboards, documenting shows and booking thousands of bands in a garage off Federal Boulevard. Few people in the music community have shown the humility and dedication of Saye, and he has rightfully garnered widespread admiration.
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The Mercury Cafe has been a staple in Denver's music community for decades. At the helm is the witchy bohemian pioneer Marilyn Megenity, who not only runs two stages that showcase music of all genres, but who also employs a bevy of local musicians who use their work at the Mercury to subsidize the music they create. On top of that, Megenity's venue often hosts benefit concerts, dance lessons and the annual Titwrench Festival. While it's more than aboveground, her restaurant often fills the void when the city's DIY scene is hurting.
Gregory Alan Isakov's manager, Sarah Levin, knows how to hustle. She built up the indie-folk crooner's career from his early days playing coffee shops and helped turn him into a major international force. Levin is both business-savvy and a force of kindness in a cutthroat music industry. And talk about loyalty! While other managers and agents have spread themselves thin representing multiple artists or working for larger agencies, she only represents Isakov.
We'd love to hear who your favorite people are in this city's music scene. Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.