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Room for All at the Westword Music Showcase Free Friday Night Kickoff

Art inside!
Art inside!
RiNo Art District
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Back in October 1995, when the Westword Music Showcase debuted in LoDo, Coors Field had opened just months earlier, and the area was still full of small clubs and venues perfect for staging an event celebrating up-and-coming Denver bands and performers. And the area beyond LoDo?

It was block after block of old warehouses and dusty parking lots, with no nickname at all. Technically, it was the River North section of Five Points on city maps, but the stretch had nothing in common with Welton Street, once known as the "Harlem of the West." Past El Chapultepec, there were no legendary jazz venues. In fact, past the ballpark, there were no music venues at all, and only a few retail outlets. To drum up business, some boosters tried calling it NoDough, but that didn't stick.

When the clubs started leaving LoDo two decades ago, we moved the Westword Music Showcase to the Golden Triangle.

Now we're moving it again, up to that once-dusty area beyond LoDo and Coors Field, nicknamed RiNo in the early 2000s by artists who had moved into those old warehouses, setting up studios, galleries and clubs and establishing the RiNo Art District. They were followed by businesses and, yes, developers, and today RiNo is booming. A river of creativity runs through the area, from the bars and venues on upper Larimer Street to the Mission Ballroom in the shadow of Interstate 70.

In September, the RiNo Art District will become the new home of the Westword Music Showcase, which is taking advantage of all the opportunity in the area and spreading out over two days.

On Friday, September 17, the Westword Music Showcase Free Friday Night Kickoff will be a wide-open free-for all, with dozens of local bands playing at ten venues that stretch across RiNo: Larimer Lounge, Meadowlark, Number 38, Ironton, RiNo Beer Garden, Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Walnut Room, ReelWorks and Tracks. As people move from spot to spot — listening to everything from punk to metal, rock, hip-hop, R&B, indie, jazz, alternative, country, folk, bluegrass and electronic acts — they'll find other performers, as well as artists painting five new murals in an area that's already known for them. The RiNo Art District and the Westword Music Showcase are partnering on that project, adding more art to an area whose motto is "where art is made."

"To me, it's a game-changer," Tracy Weil, executive director of the RiNo Art District and its co-founder, says of the Music Showcase move. "We want to make sure we're celebrating all the arts, and music is one of the arts that's always been big here."

And it can only get bigger. "To me, this just makes perfect sense," Weil says. "It can spread out, it can grow. And the venues need it. They had a hard time during COVID."

In addition to the venues that will be showcasing Denver's best bands (watch for the lineup in mid-August), No Vacancy, an artist and performance space at 3722 Chestnut Place, in a warehouse owned by Menalto Development, will host an open house. Last month, Menalto and RiNo announced the sixteen artists who will each get month-long residences in No Vacancy this summer, and the four in residence in September will be sharing their work that night.

That's not the only art you'll find at No Vacancy. OddKnock Productions, an immersive performance group, has a full four-month residency there, and the troupe will be offering shows in its pop-up, Test Kitchen, during the Westword Music Showcase Free Friday Night Kickoff.  The No Vacancy space is designed to be a model that other developers in the city can follow to create experimental art spaces at yet-to-be-developed properties, and the concept should get plenty of exposure on September 17. "Developers can see the power of art, the way it can activate a space," Weil explains.

There's more, of course. Bierstadt Lagerhaus will be presenting the Yellow Designs Stunt Team, former America's Got Talent performers, on its front patio. Other restaurants and bars in the area will be offering specials, food trucks will be out on the streets...and you can picnic in the ArtPark, the new RiNo park that's opening in September.

The Mission Ballroom grounds won't be this quiet on September 18.EXPAND
The Mission Ballroom grounds won't be this quiet on September 18.
Michael Emery Hecker

And that's just the warm-up for the action on Saturday, September 18, when the Westword Music Showcase will move to the Mission Ballroom Grounds.

There, national headliners Young the Giant, Thundercat, Hippo Campus and Matoma will join some of Denver's best local bands on multiple main stages for a full day of partying in the sun.

And if you still have energy, you can dance yourself into a state of ecstasy at a special late-night finale inside the Mission Ballroom, with Kaytranada and Duke Dumont. (This show is included only in the Showcase Weekender package; tickets are also available on the AXS site.)

September 18 is going to be a fun day with friends, and to make the Westword Music Showcase even friendlier, we're offering a Squad Pack: $160 will get you four general-admission tickets and all the live music you've been waiting for (otherwise, GA tickets are $45...and prices will go up). Squad Packs are limited, though, so get them now at westwordshowcase.com.

And mark September 17 on your calender for the can't miss Westword Music Showcase Free Friday Night Kickoff. Find more details here.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.