For roughly eight hours yesterday, Bender's Tavern hosted day one of the UMX, round after round of speed-dating-style auditions for the upcoming 41st Annual Capitol Hill People's Fair. Having only two songs or ten minutes to prove themselves, scores of acts busted out their A-material, performing for a room full of judges with scorecards. Between two stages at any given moment, you could expect to hear country, funk, hardcore, jazz or punk. walking back and forth between the stages, with each set concluding just as another was beginning. It was like rolling the dial of a car radio while on a road trip through New Mexico.
From high-school bands performing for the first time to middle-aged men with wedding combos trying to bring their Sunday-afternoon garage band to the next level, the UMX auditions offered a gamut of unpredictable talent with some endearing trainwrecks. Well, maybe trainwrecks is a bit harsh...
Really, there was nothing worse than a fender-bender -- and the kind of fender-benders that are still entertaining on some level. Being in a room full of people of widely varying ages, cultures and perspectives on what it means to be in a band pretty much robs you of any hipster snobbery. You can never put your finger on a sound or a style for the event, and you can never say this is the scene, which is a heady thing to stand in for too long.
While temptation here is to mock, the sincerity of the whole event can melt the heart of any snarky rock critic. When the youngsters of Coloradio (a Sublime-esque reggae-rock band from Fort Collins) began their first song, the group looked nervous but clearly thrilled to be on stage. They had the sound of a band who's spent hours practicing, but rarely gets the chance to perform for an audience; all the stage moves seeming so choreographed. When the two frontmen did a little simultaneous hop to a drum beat, they blushed and giggled, as if they'd discussed the move beforehand.
In contrast, a band like Take to the Oars -- looking stunning with expertly styled haircuts, played overly stylized songs exuding little sincerity -- seemed like the ideal band to be "discovered." Though at the UMX auditions, the only ones doing the discovering are the local music fans who judged the bands, each one getting a survey when they walked through the door. (The event was also made up of other, higher ranking judges from UMX and the local music industry, whose votes were weighted a little more than the others. You could say these were the delegate votes.)
Between both Saturday and Sunday, around eighty bands will have auditioned. But those eighty have already been selected from the over two-hundred acts who sent record submissions to the UMX entertainment committee. Made up of a group of fifteen to twenty people, the entertainment committee gets together each year for a listening party, wading through the stacks of tapes, CDs and LPs, eventually narrowing it all down for the big two-day audition.
After this weekend, around forty bands will be selected for to perform at this year's People's Fair, joining the other seventy veteran bands who no longer need to audition; and others who didn't make it to the UMX auditions but will be invited nonetheless. All and all, the afternoon provided a rare chance to get a macroscopic glimpse of the many different music-minded people Denver has to offer with all the music fans, sitting poised with pencils in hand, ready to decide what cream rises to the top.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music