Westword Music Showcase

The Spirit of Collaboration is the Defining Characteristic of Denver Music

Denver musician Macon Terry once joked that he should start working with mediocre musicians, because in Denver, the good ones are always busy or taken. He was being facetious, but he was describing a surprisingly common issue in the local scene.Terry is a songwriter and guitar player in Clouds & Mountains, in addition to playing bass in Poet’s Row and occasionally with singer-songwriter Patrick Dethlefs. He has also shared a stage with Gregory Alan Isakov, Shakey Graves, Paper Bird, Natalie Tate, Laura Goldhamer and more.

He’s not the only one sharing his talent with other local musicians. Accomplished solo artist Natalie Tate also plays guitar with Ark Life and lends her keyboard skills to Porlolo and others. Carl Sorensen plays drums with so many local bands that he needs a spreadsheet to keep track of them all. (He’s currently working with Dragondeer, Chimney Choir and Zach Heckendorf, among others). Scott Conroy of The Raven and The Writing Desk also works with Rossonian and King Cardinal. Gregg Ziemba plays drums for Rubedo and Wheelchair Sports Camp, which also includes Joshua Trinidad, who plays trumpet with...well, you get the idea. Start naming musicians and their projects in Denver, and you uncover an elaborate web of connections.

“There are varieties of musicians and artists in Denver — and, invariably, throughout the country and out into the rest of the world — who naturally overlap with other artistic individuals, and these individuals make it a priority to make art with those very people in their immediate surroundings,” Terry says. “I think people in Colorado like how our environments tend to make us feel; therefore, we are more interconnected with one another.”

This sharing of personnel is the reason the word “community” is so often used when describing the music scene in Denver. But the collaborative spirit has its drawbacks: Sorensen and Casey Sidwell both play with Dragondeer and Zach Heckendorf’s band, which gets complicated when it’s time to tour.

“It works out well most of the time,” says Sorensen. “For instance, when both [acts] plan on touring, it’s been a two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off, back-and-forth sort of rhythm.” But, he concedes, “it makes things tough when one band gets a last-minute offer and the whole rhythm section is planning to be in another part of the country.”

This cross-pollination has also facilitated a constant reinvention that may be unique to Denver.
“In Denver, you see great musicians playing with great acts. It causes the scene to be very fluid, where acts come and go and reshape themselves all the time,” says Sorensen.

That sentiment has been shared by others. Terry has remarked in the past that the lineup for Clouds & Mountains is based more on whoever is around than on a set group of musicians.

At the Westword Music Showcase, there will be more than 100 bands and artists playing, and no doubt plenty of musicians running around the Golden Triangle neighborhood along with the fans. As the Raven’s Conroy puts it, “Denver is just a musician’s city.”

“Nobody supports Denver music more than Denver musicians,” he adds. “Nobody goes to more shows than Denver musicians. At any given show that I go to, I’m sure to run into a Denver musician that I know in the audience. This leads to an interconnected scene, because we’re all talking with, watching and listening to each other, learning who’s best, and using that info when we need a trumpet player, guitar player or singer in our band.”
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Isa Jones is an editor in Jackson Hole; her writing has appeared all over the Internet and occasionally in print.
Contact: Isa Jones