Neither I nor most of the other folks who helped put together the first Westword Music Showcase had the slightest clue what we were doing -- not really. It's nothing short of a miracle, then, that the event -- then called the Westword Music Awards Showcase -- has not only survived but thrived, and continues to use the basic template established in advance of the inaugural event, which took place on Sunday, October 8, 1995. (This year's edition happens on Saturday, June 14. Click here for details.) Yet there have been plenty of changes, too, and not just to performing bands like the Apples (pictured), who weren't even in Stereo at that point.
The first key decision we made was to determine the acts appearing on the ballot through a vote by a nominating committee of local music-industry pros. Participants included club personnel such as Allan Roth of Herman's Hideaway, Don Strasburg of the Fox Theatre and the staffs at Cricket on the Hill and the Lion's Lair; promoters like Doug Kauffman, Jesse Morreale and Bill Bass; and an array of other experts -- Twist and Shout boss Paul Epstein, producers Bill Thomas and John Macy, the dial twisters at Time Capsule studio, E-Town mayor Nick Forster, DJ K-NEE and more. With their help, we came up with 55 acts scattered across eleven categories. Some of these divisions were straight-forward (Rock/Pop, Alternative/Punk, Blues), while others were confused (Jazz/Acid Jazz/Fusion) or desperate (Grab Bag, set aside for performers who didn't seem to fit anywhere else). To this day, figuring out where to put what band is a headache of monstrous proportions.
We excluded groups that already had significant label deals -- hence no Big Head Todd and the Monsters or the Subdudes. But those who remained represented the scene well and will stir memories in anyone who followed local music at the time: Carolyn's Mother, Sympathy F, Sherri Jackson, the Christines, Baldo Rex, Tim O'Brien and the O'Boys, the Psychodelic Zombiez, Furious George and the Monster Groove, Conjunto Colores, etc.
Then it came time to figure out the bands who'd play the Showcase itself, which took place in LoDo at six venues: Rock Island, the Blake Street Baseball Club, McCormick's Fish House and Bar, the Great Room at Wazoo's, Jackson's Hole Sports Rock and Comedy Sports, downstairs at the Wynkoop Brewing Company. Plenty agreed to participate, highlighted by Foreskin 500, Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass, the Denver Gentlemen, Ron Miles, Sick, Gladhand and '57 Lesbian, featuring Matt Bischoff of the Fluid. Thirty-one bands for the cost of a $5 wrist band; talk about a bargain.
Thanks to the expertise of Showcase ringer Dolly Zander, who handled nuts-and-bolts aspects like contracts, stage plots and the like, everything went far smoother than anticipated -- but even she couldn't control everything. We wanted to stage the Showcase in LoDo, but none of the clubs would go along until after the Colorado Rockies season was over. Hence the date in early October -- late enough that we feared weather might be a factor. And sure enough, it was. Indian summer extended until the day of the bash, when a cold, steady rain started falling and refused to stop.
Still, this downpour wasn't enough to chill the enthusiasm of the local music community. A couple of thousand fans spent the evening bouncing from one club to the next, enjoying the width and breadth of Denver sounds even when they couldn't feel their fingers or toes.
Among the throng were several members of the Rockies. Just the other day, I stumbled upon an autograph my wife got from slugger Andres Galarraga. But the real stars were the musicians, and that same philosophy infuses the Showcase to this day. -- Michael Roberts
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.