Showcase Bands Discuss the Good and Bad of Denver's Music Scene

Westword Music Showcase acts are weighing in on Denver's music scene.
Westword Music Showcase acts are weighing in on Denver's music scene.
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The Westword Music Showcase is a celebration of the music scene in Denver and across the U.S. It’s also a time to reflect on where the scene has been, where it’s going and how best to get there. We sent a survey to all of the local bands performing on Saturday, June 23, to gauge their thoughts on music in Denver. One of the things we asked was what they see as the biggest issues facing Denver musicians in 2018, both good and bad. Below are just some of their answers.

Hooper: “The bad: Denver musicians face the same thing any musician does: Music, like any form of entertainment, is not a meritocracy. There are amazing bands that we haven’t even heard of, but you can walk into a dentist’s office and hear Imagine Dragons. The good: Anyone can make, record and release music.”

EVP: “I think one of the biggest issues musicians face in Denver right now is lack of affordable housing. The gentrification of Denver has been displacing communities and artists here for years, and the more we are compliant in that, the more we will see the artistic forces that made this city so attractive disappear. However, I see pockets of activists and artistic collectives here fighting for Denver every day, so I have hope we can influence the city and make Denver a cultural hub that doesn’t turn a blind eye to the needy and disenfranchised.

Aaron Bordas: “One of the biggest challenges for me is getting noticed outside of Denver. There’s a lot of DJs and producers here, so there’s plenty of competition, which, in my eyes, is a great thing. One of the reasons Denver breeds some of the best musicians in the game.”

House music DJ Freddy Rule.EXPAND
House music DJ Freddy Rule.
Freddy Rule

Freddy Rule: “It’s sad to say this, but there aren’t a lot of people with the knowledge and/or power who want to develop local talent into national acts. You have a few success stories, but in my humble opinion, it is really hard to grow out of being considered a ‘local’ to just being an ‘artist.’”

Reason the Citizen: “The biggest issue Denver musicians face in 2018 is breaking out of the local scene and into the national spotlight. We have a thriving local music community that needs nationwide recognition. Fortunately, Denver has the right amount of talent to make it happen.

The Hollow: I don’t think we support each other enough. I think there’s a lot of ME ME ME ME ME! in this scene, but in order to build community, we have to start going to shows, buying each other’s albums, wearing each other’s shirts to shows, and also just being there for other people in the scene. I know that my mental wellness has been challenged since starting the band, constantly asking, ‘Am I cool enough?’; ‘Does anyone care about this music I’m pouring my soul into?’; ‘What if no one comes to my show?’ It’s exhausting. And chatting about those issues that we all have with one another will change that drastically, I think.”

Guerrilla Fanfare: “Getting to venues, parking, accessibility (especially for large instruments) and being visible to the public are issues with which musicians struggle in the Denver area. On the flip side, we are lucky that the Denver scene is receptive to diverse music and there is almost always an appreciative audience to be found if you look hard enough.”

The Milk Blossoms: “The growing city brings in new potential audience members, but the rent is going up on musicians and venues.”

Showcase Bands Discuss the Good and Bad of Denver's Music Scene
Rare Byrd$

Rare Byrd$: “TITWRENCH is Queen City’s good issue. It’s all the dopest homies leveling up all together. Bad issues in the music scene here are drunks and apathy. Also, making a livable wage for music or anything else. Denver is a high plains desert, yet most people don’t really understand desert economics.”

Avenhart: “The city is getting really expensive, and Denver artists can’t afford to live here anymore! It would be great to have more affordable housing for musicians. There’s definitely a lack of intentionality with public funding in regard to housing, health and wellness services for artists, etc. Musicians contribute so much to this city’s life and culture, and we need the city to contribute back to us.”

Mr. David Booker: “More venues, especially Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday live music nights, please! And less hassle from BMI/ASCAP forcing venues to discontinue live music. In my case, it’s just a single guy in the corner, for god’s sake, playin’ a few tunes. Small, limited for-pay bars and venues cannot afford to pay their licensed banditry fees. I have therefore had countless unique gigs go by the wayside.”

Quemando: “Because so many people have moved to Denver, the amount of bands has increased a lot, but the amount of musical clubs has only increased a little. What this means is that there is more competition to get into the existing clubs. This means the quality of the product the bands have to offer has to increase to survive and/or move forward.”

Gora Gora Orkestar: “I think Denver is fortunate to be a city that is very supportive of music. I don’t think Denver musicians face a lot of adversity in terms of systemic issues. However, one of the things we have struggled with for many years is creating a scene where our music can be heard and appreciated. It hasn’t really happened until recently, with the influx of new brass bands. I think we have made progress that way and still have a long way to go.”

Darkwave industrial artist Kate Warner, also known as Mirror Fears.EXPAND
Darkwave industrial artist Kate Warner, also known as Mirror Fears.
Kate Warner

Mirror Fears: “Being priced out of our homes. Being priced out of our live/work/venue spaces or endless fighting through red tape. Constantly getting the message that art and music culture is far less important than beer and weed culture in this city. If your music doesn’t sell beer, its value is minimal.”

Poppet: “I believe Denver is currently in a unique position as a city because of its unprecedented population growth. We’re in a sweet spot where so much new input and movement is happening, which is amazing for the music scene, because it also means that the general population is more open to hearing and seeing new music.”

Don Chicharrón: “The Denver music scene has been a great community to be a part of. There are so many good shows now. The biggest issue for me is trying to make time for all the shows! It’s tough when Don Chicharrón is playing on the same night as some of my other favorite bands. I guess that’s a great problem to have.”

Felix Fast4ward: “For the good, I would say that on the surface, modern colonization or this ultra-capitalist mindset that’s affecting Denver doesn’t really factor into whether or not unique musicians will continue creating. The bad part is that it is plucking the ‘Be your weird and funky self’ venues out of existence and creating some really safe music. R.I.P., Colin Ward.”

IZCALLi: “I would like to see more involvement from local brands and businesses to create partnerships that promote Colorado-grown artists. Imagine walking into a restaurant and hearing a local music playlist in the background. Wouldn’t that be something!”

Singer-songwriter Jennifer Jane Niceley.EXPAND
Singer-songwriter Jennifer Jane Niceley.
photo provided by Jennifer Jane Niceley

Jennifer Jane Niceley: “I’m not sure, but I do know that ALL musicians in the country right now face very real, similar problems. How to get meaningful exposure in a saturated market and how to make a living as a full-time artist without sacrificing quality and originality are the first that come to mind.”

CITRA: “There’s such an incredible amount of musical talent in this city, it can be hard to get anyone’s attention for more than thirty seconds. Everyone is flooded on social media 24/7 with an endless stream of information. We are always so eternally grateful when anyone takes the time to come to one of our shows, listen to our music, or just stop and chat with us.”

Mawule: “I think Denver is growing to be a big music city and music powerhouse, yet not many opportunities are provided to local artists to help lead the growth and shine. With that being said, I think the issue is a lack of support from our community and presented opportunities from our music-industry folks within our own back yard.”

Chella & the Charm: “I mean, the obvious good thing is that we have this amazing cross-genre community here. It doesn’t matter who you are or what type of music you play; we’ve all had nearly the same experiences in this town, which really bonds us. The drama is minimal and can usually be hashed out over a few beers and a smoke. Keeping that sense of goodwill and camaraderie as the city and our music scene expands is important not only to us old scenesters, but for the kiddos coming in, too. It’s always a goal of mine to keep that idea alive.”

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