When the UMS lineup was first coming together, I had no intention of attending. There were so many reasons not to go. The last two years' shows have been diabolically crowded, and there are always other, less packed places to see local bands. Besides, summer in Denver of late has been either unseasonably hot and/or rainy, and neither makes for a good time walking from venue to venue to catch a band you want to see. Also, in previous years (though not last year), I played in a band invited to perform at the festival, which gave me a real incentive to brave the crowds and the weather. This round, feeling left out poisoned my goodwill toward the whole thing — not just UMS, but the Denver music scene generally.
But then it was announced that 40th Day was part of the lineup for UMS 2015, and the thickening ice around my heart cracked a little, because you can't have ill will toward Jimmi Nasi. The guy is not just one of the town's most talented musicians, but also one of the most positive and affable people you're ever likely to meet.
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So I applied for press credentials and found the UMS people pretty cordial, as usual, and went with no agenda except to see what seemed appealing at any time and to not push it for four days. I knew the festival would be along the southern, central part of Broadway, in the “New Denver,” and I was prepared for drunken and otherwise altered idiots to make the experience a shitshow and to let that go and to not get bothered by cultural tourists with no allegiance to anything in the community. It also didn't seem out of the question that I might not actually get to see a lot of what I wanted to see because the event has become so big, with no parking to speak of. I accepted what I assumed would be mostly a terrible experience except for the music itself.
But except for some dummies stumbling into the hi-dive the first night and not seeming to get basic principles of spatial awareness and fundamental manners that make things easy for everyone, it all seemed to run pretty smoothly. And as I walked around, it seemed pretty mellow even for a crowded weekend.
On Friday the weather was cooler, and that translated into a generally peaceful atmosphere. Every set by every band I saw was excellent, from the UMS proper to the Mutiny Parlay. But the most striking aspect of the event was running into old friends whom you don't get to see often and commiserating about the heat and being tired from a long weekend and talking about real-life stuff as well as music — rediscovering that your friends, casual and otherwise, didn't forget you and still value your input and presence in their lives. These kinds of relationships are what a community is really about.
Sometimes it takes something like the UMS to bring so many bands from so many sub-scenes and from across a broad spectrum of time in Denver music together over four days to create this confluence. The UMS created the time and the space for me to run into people like the aforementioned Jimmi Nasi, Andrew Novick, Kurt Ottaway, Trey Tafoya, Kim Shively, Porscha Danielle, Mike Perfetti, Heather Bender, Pamela Webb, Luke James-Erickson, Suzi Allegra, Max Winne, Anton Krueger, Stephan Herrera, Luke Thinnes, Mike Long, Aaron Mersman, Marie Litton, Jed Kopp, ShellieB, Bhajan Williams, Brian Polk, James McElwee, Shannon Stein, Dameon Merkl, Kelly O'Dea, Fez Guzman, Brian Marcus, Eric Ten Hoeve, Jeff Suthers, Oscar Guinn, Alex Teitz, Linda Ruth Carter, David Britton, Michelle Caponigro, Alisha Sweeney, Todd Spriggs, Michael David King, Yonnas Abraham, Braden Smith, Andrew Warner and countless others. Whether you saw their show or not, it reminded you that what happens at UMS is bigger than the festival itself. UMS brings together a lot of people who may or may not know each other, but who share a mutual appreciation and even love of music.
I met a woman whose boyfriend is in the Maykit, who wanted to know if there were bands like Bikini Kill in Denver; I told her about Future Single Mom and Church Fire (as well as the now-defunct Dangerous Nonsense, of course). I urged people who might not have known about such classic Denver bands to see 40th Day and Jux County if they could. And more than one person checked out Ancient Mith and Bad Luck City because of offhand recommendations. A woman I didn't know and who didn't look old enough to really know the band complimented me on my Slowdive T-shirt after the Echo Beds show.
Both the expected connections with old and not-so-old friends and the unexpected connections made this UMS especially memorable and enjoyable, and reinforced the notion that the cultural infrastructure in Denver for art and music is strong and getting stronger.
On a personal level, even as allergies swooped in to destroy my energy levels, I was reminded that my bitterness of earlier in the year was misplaced and that to abandon a community I have become a part of would be foolish. For Denver music to reach beyond where it has been, it's going to take the contributions of everyone I named earlier and many more in their various capacities — as well as my own efforts in multifarious ways. The UMS helps facilitates this process by giving people an excuse to get together when they might not otherwise — whether they're attending the event proper or not — to celebrate being a part of the scene.
Here are more scenes from the festival:
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
- Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands
- Wolf Eyes' John Olson Talks About the Importance of Music Communities
- Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene
- DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.