Westword Music Showcase

Celebrating 25 Years of the Westword Music Showcase: Pink Hawks

Pink Hawks look back on Westword Music Showcase.
Pink Hawks look back on Westword Music Showcase. Gisele Jara
On June 29, we'll present our 25th Westword Music Showcase. The event has grown dramatically since it was founded in 1995 with just a handful of bands playing around LoDo. In 2019, more than seventy local acts will fill venues throughout the Golden Triangle, while national headliners CHVRCHES, Jai Wolf, JAUZ, Bishop Briggs, Crooked Colours, lovelytheband, The Knocks, The Wrecks and SHAED will play the two main stages.

Many of the artists who have participated in Showcase have gone on to worldwide success, while others continue to perform for loyal local audiences. And some have cashed it in and left music altogether.

Saxophonist Yuzo Nieto, who has been merging Latin, Afrobeat, cumbia, hip-hop, jazz, salsa and West African styles through his frenetic ensemble Pink Hawks, has been pushing genre boundaries and infusing Denver's music scene with songs at once experimental and highly engaging. In addition to championing local bands, teaching youth and studying music theory and history, he's been a frequent participant in the Westword Music Showcase. We caught up with Nieto to find out more about his memories of Showcase and his thoughts about the evolving Denver music scene.

Westword: What memories and stories do you have of playing Westword Music Showcase?

Yuzi Nieto: One of my favorite memories was playing the main stage the same year Macklemore headlined. Our guitar player, Mike Neff, wore a dress, I cut the legs off of my percussionist Zay Rios's pants, and even though we played pretty early, when it was hot as balls, our small crowd got TF down as if we were all on acid.

How has your own band evolved since playing Showcase?

We have definitely become a tighter, more well-oiled machine. Our compositions have become more rhythmically/harmonically complex, and we have incorporated more elements of hip-hop, disco and cumbia into our sound.

Denver's music scene has changed a lot over the past 25 years. What are your thoughts on its evolution?

On one hand, the most positive aspect of the evolution of Denver’s music scene is that there are more opportunities for us as professional musicians to make a living in this town. But I do miss the tightly knit Old Denver scene – how we were all friends across genres and would all attend every show; how we had a DIY scene on the cutting edge of art.

Nowadays, the community is so much more divided and competitive than it ever was. Our DIY spaces have been attacked in the name of development and gentrification. Where we once shared our resources and opportunities, we now take from under the noses of our brothers and sisters — our gente. I was in shock the first time another band came to watch our moves and cherry-pick our players. Now I’ve come to expect it. Our scene has become stingy when what we need is a resurgence of artistic collectivism to fight this plague of rapid growth that has overtaken us.

Musicians of Denver, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

The 25th Westword Music Showcase will sound off in the Golden Triangle on Saturday, June 29. Find out more about who's playing, vote for your favorite acts on the Westword Music Awards ballot, and buy tickets at westwordshowcase.com.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris