To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, the differences between the first Westword Music Showcase, staged in 1995, and the current version of the event could just about fill Mile High Stadium.
Like the home of the Denver Broncos, the name of our annual music celebration has changed: It was originally the Westword Music Awards Showcase, reflecting that fact that attendees could vote on their favorite acts in various categories. They can still do that, but there have been other changes to the Showcase beyond its shortened name. Initially, no national acts from outside of Colorado earned invitations to take part — it was locals only — and the venues were located in the vicinity of Coors Field, not the Golden Triangle. The original batch of rooms included Jackson’s Hole Sports Rock, Blake Street Baseball Club, Comedy Sports at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., McCormick’s Fish House and Bar, the Great Room at Wazoo’s and Rock Island.
And then there was the time of year when the Showcase was scheduled: The first event was not on a Saturday in June, but on Sunday, October 8, shortly after the conclusion of the Colorado Rockies’ season (because the venues were too crowded with baseball fans before then). Because of the date, my main concern leading up to the big day was that our Indian summer would end just in time to turn the bash into a disaster — and sure enough, a rain-snow mix rolled in just as the first bands were plugging in. I remember racing from place to place in a pedicab, fearful that the only person in attendance would be...me. But I needn’t have worried. A throng of thousands of hearty music lovers that included Rockies slugger Andrés Galarraga — who gave me an autograph that I still have — braved the weather to see a lineup featuring such acts (nostalgia alert) as Foreskin 500, ’57 Lesbian, Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass, and the Apples, before they were known as the Apples in Stereo.
And against all odds, a tradition was born.
The 2002 Music Showcase was our last one in LoDo, and it felt like going to a festival inside of a campfire. The Hayman Fire was burning north of Colorado Springs, and there was a thick haze hanging over the city; we were all breathing in pine trees as people flowed constantly in and out of every club on Market Street. When the doors opened, you’d hear bursts of whatever band was on stage at that moment, and it all combined in a smoky cacophony.
I remember watching Leftover Salmon’s headlining set on the main stage, feeling happily exhausted in a surreal scene. I also remember walking through empty lots and open spaces, moving from one show to another. It was a different Denver, with plenty of space where one could move around.
The next morning, as I sorted through my notes, trying to write a colu mn that would encapsulate that marathon of sounds, observations and funny moments (like watching drunk co-workers dance to King Rat), my hair smelled like a burnt log. I kind of liked it.
Bannock Street Garage has many advantages, including self-serve popcorn with hot sauce and a layout ensuring that basically everyone who attends a show there is standing in the front row.
I got my first close-up view of the Denver music scene while serving as MC for the “punk” stage at Bannock Street during the 2009 Westword Music Showcase. I was just a few weeks out of college, and for some reason, I was pretty sure my role as a reader of band names and corporate sponsors would impress a woman named Sarah.
I was wrong about that; as far as I know, the only time she set foot inside the venue was to collect the tickets I’d secured for her. But there were unforeseen rewards.
Despite the fact that neither the bands nor the venue do their best work by the light of day, the place was packed for the early afternoon sets. In a microcosm of what I’d later find throughout the Denver scene, everyone seemed to know everyone else, and everyone seemed to have some active role. There was very little separating musicians and spectators.
I don’t remember many specifics about the bands, except that the small stage could not contain any of them, either musically or physically. This was a clear advantage.
Still, the best part of my first Showcase came later that evening, watching Built to Spill (one of my favorite bands, then and now) sleepwalk through some terrible new material. But by then I’d finally found my way to the side of that woman, Sarah, and we touched shoulders while the band played “The Plan,” which is a perfect song.
She and I spent the rest of the summer gorging on local shows and falling in love, and I believe it’s safe to say that the two were related.
What's your favorite memory of Westword Music Showcases past? Comment on Facebook with your story to be eligible to win a pair  VIP tickets to the 2016 Westword Music Showcase, happening this Saturday, June 25. Entries will be accepted until 5 p.m. Thursday, June 23, and the winner notified shortly thereafter.