Jul 232012

Nathaniel Rateliff

*Sigh* I love the Denver music scene.

The Underground Music Showcase 2012 is officially a wrap, and lots of bands, artists and music fans now have that satisfied-but-exhausted feeling that comes at the end of every one of these things. Here’s a quick recap of some things seen and heard on Day Four.

One thing I love about the UMS is finding little “hidden treasures”–great music from artists that are just emerging or that aren’t that well-known as of yet. While great acts like Paper Bird and Nathaniel Rateliff (pictured left) were drawing crowds to the main stage, lots of great music was happening in front of smaller crowds in venues all up and down Broadway.


The first pleasant surprise I found was Stephanie Dorman, a newbie to the Denver music scene who played a solo set at The Hornet. I went on the recommendation of one of the members of Churchill, and I’m glad I went. Stephanie has a current voice and a great songwriting style. I look forward to hearing more from this one.

Stephanie Dorman

A bit later in the evening, singer/songwriter Kyle James Houser played a great solo set at Delite. He played an electric banjo, something you don’t see every day. The people outside on the street liked it, too.

Kyle James Houser

Another cool moment was watching Rachel and the Kings’ Denver debut on the main stage. This band consists of several Colorado music scene veterans, including Rachel James and members of the now-defunct (sort of) Tickle Me Pink, and recently beat out hundreds of other bands to win the Ford “Gimme the Gig” band competition. Their set showed us why. While still quite unknown in the Denver area under this moniker, R.a.t. Kings played some great music for the sparse but growing crowd, and excitement built for the band throughout the set.

Rachel and the Kings

Glowing House is another up-and-coming Denver act with a promising future. (I profiled their recent album here.) During their set at South Broadway Christian Church, they joked good-naturedly about their unfortunate time slot, playing at the same time as veteran indie-folk artist Nathaniel Rateliff, who indeed packed out the main stage area. However, those who sat in on the Glowing House performance got to experience a great set of music. (I would have included a picture, but the lighting was too dim by that time for my little point-and-shoot without flash.)

Other high points of the day included rocking sets at the Skylark Lounge by Megan Burtt and Jen Korte and the Loss, plus Dan Craig and The Centennial at the Irish Rover. Another great moment was when Science Partner’s jam session at Delite wafted into the streets and drew a large crowd to the open window to see, even while there was standing room only indoors.

Megan Burtt

Jen Korte and the Loss

I’ve had the privilege of attending the Underground Music Showcase for the past three years; this was the best one so far. It felt as though everyone stepped up their game, from the novices to veterans, and gave their all for the music fans.

Have I mentioned I love the Denver music scene?

Jul 222012

I have to be honest: between a hectic schedule involving more than just the UMS and overall exhaustion, I went home a bit early from the Underground Music Showcase on Saturday in order to save my strength for Sunday. :) However, I did manage to catch a few cool shows in the time I was there, including separate acoustic sets by Churchill’s Tim Bruns and Bethany Kelly at The Hornet (with an acoustic set by The Heyday sandwiched in between them).

(Forgive the quality of the pics–point-and-shoot on the fly.) :)

Bethany Kelly

I also stopped by The Irish Rover to catch a few minutes of Americana/country artist Patrick Dethlefs, and was duly impressed. I’m gonna have to make plans to hear more of this guy.

Patrick Dethlefs

Evening on the main stage was dominated by touring noise-rockers A Place to Bury Strangers and local act Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, both of whom drew large crowds, and both of whom did justice to their sets.

A Place to Bury Strangers

Off the beaten path of UMS are several “unofficial” house shows that go on now and again. I stopped by for a few minutes at the home of Nate Meese (dubbed “The Banana Stand”) to catch glimpses of In the Whale, The Centennial and Churchill.

The Centennial

Before heading home, I stopped into South Broadway Christian Church (along with a lot of other people) to see cellist Ian Cooke’s solo performance. If you haven’t heard him play, you haven’t fully experienced the Denver music scene. There’s a reason he draws crowds.

Tonight wraps up the UMS, and on the hot list tonight for me: Nathaniel Rateliff, Megan Burtt, In the Whale, Glowing House, The Centennial, and Rachel and the Kings, among others.

Jul 212012

As expected, Friday night at the Underground Music Showcase saw growing crowds as things began to get into full swing. While the Main Stage opened up with acts like Mancub, Signal Path and Big Freedia & the Divas, the numerous other venues up and down Broadway saw some great shows, including late performances by The Photo Atlas and The Epilogues at the Hi-Dive, and Churchill at 3 Kings Tavern. Here are just a few personal highlights from Day Two.

I showed up early (by “early” I mean 6pm) to Gary Lee’s Motor Pub & Grub to catch former Meese (and current Centennial) guitarist Nate Meese do a mellow set of songs under his solo moniker Lips & Teeth. Churchill’s Bethany Kelly stepped up to help with vocals on a couple of the tunes. A great way to start the evening.

Thanks to my trusty scooter (lessons learned from the last two UMS festivals), I spent the seven-o’clock hour making the rounds down Broadway to catch a few minutes each of Swing Hero at Moe’s BBQ, Roniit at Compound Basix, and Signal Path on the Main Stage–I liked all of them.

The Raven and the Writing Desk took over South Broadway Christian Church a few minutes after 8pm, and a near-capacity crowd piled into the church to hear them play. I mentioned in the preview piece that this band sounds really good in live acoustic environments, and this set was even better than last year’s. As an added flash of creativity, they projected their video backdrop against the array of organ pipes, turning it into a makeshift screen. Very effective.

Next up at South Broadway Christian was indie rock outfit FaceMan; they started about 20 minutes late due in part to technical difficulties, but they were the final act on the stage that evening, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind. They turned in a powerful performance that was well worth the wait.

I finished up my rounds with an 11pm show at Moe’s BBQ with John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light–a great way to end the evening. I’m always struck not just by John’s songwriting, but by the impeccable musicianship of the band–and tonight was no exception. In fact, John played the whole set on electric guitar, which added a fresh vibe to his material–and keyboardist Jon Wirtz wowed the crowd multiple times with incredible solos on the Fender Rhodes.

Tonight I’m a little torn, because on more than one occasion I’ll have to be in two places at once to catch bands I want to see. Oh, well, it comes with the territory. On the short list are Varlet, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, The Swayback, Patrick Dehthlefs, Kentucky Street Parlour Pickers and Jessica Sonner…

Jul 202012

If day one is any indication, this year’s Underground Music Showcase is on track to be the best attended yet, and possibly the best one overall.

I’ve been to several of these things, and in my experience, opening night of the UMS is generally slow as things are just getting started and people are just starting to trickle into the event. But last night, it felt as though everything was already in full swing, even without the main outdoor stages active (which will open tonight), with numerous shows filled almost to capacity. (Not bad considering the current heat wave.) Likewise, the bands I saw all seemed to be energized and on their game. A lot of great music for opening night. Here is just a sampling of things seen and heard at Day One of UMS 2012.

Indie rock band Wire Faces kicked things off at 3 Kings Tavern with a high-energy set of music. This interesting 3-piece band has a sound that somehow seems bigger than the sum of its parts, with Shane Zweigardt leading center stage from the drums. Very solid.  Meanwhile, a couple of doors down at the Irish Rover, there was standing room only for the set of indie-folk band Fairchildren, who plays around the area when not backing up Nathaniel Rateliff. (Nathaniel is slated for the main stage Sunday night.)

The Oak Creek Band, a Denver roots/rock band (by way of Arizona), also played a lively set at the Skylark Lounge. It was my first time hearing them play and I was fairly impressed by their sound, which blends elements of rock, soul and even a tinge of country.

I’m taking a quick break to write this as the UMS is already underway tonight (Friday). Must-sees for tonight include The Raven and the Writing Desk and John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light. I’ll let you know.

May 272012

Photo: Shelby McQuilkin

Here’s something to consider. If you:

a) live around Denver;


b) like classic rock;


c) you like the ballet;

then you need to see Ballet Nouveau Colorado perform “Rock Ballets.”

I have had the opportunity to see two different shows by this innovative Denver-based dance company, which has gained a reputation for putting a modern twist on traditional ballet, frequently incorporating visual art, unorthodox music and even poetry into their performances. To see one of their shows is nothing short of spellbinding.

Created by BNC’s artistic director Garrett Ammon, “Rock Ballets” is a series of three short ballets, set to the music of INXS, Queen and David Bowie, respectively. It was first premiered in 2008, and in conclusion of their 10th season, Ballet Nouveau Colorado is presenting an encore performance of this unique presentation on Friday, June 8, at the outdoor amphitheatre at the Arvada Center at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. The evening will kick off with spoken word poetry performances by the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop.

“Rock Ballets” has a history of selling out, so if you’re interested in catching this show (which you should be), it’s best to get your tickets now, rather than later. You can purchase tickets here.

Jul 262010

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen.

I commented here on Friday about all the roots-acoustic-indie bands at the UMS, and quipped how I was surprised nobody pulled out a washboard. 

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

During Ayo Awosika’s solo set Saturday night, she announced that she and singer/songwriter Megan Burtt had started a duo called Travel By Skylark and were having their debut performance Sunday night–and among the instruments she said they’d be playing?


Obviously I had to go and see this spectacle.  So on this Sunday, I swapped out some of my scheduled stops at the UMS to watch the official launch of Travel By Skylark at The Irish Rover.  Sure enough, they pulled out a washboard for one of the songs.  They even dedicated the song to me.

Yeah, I went and told Megan about my snide bloggy remark.  Me and my big mouth. :)

Fun and games aside, though–Travel By Skylark’s debut performance went very well.  They won over the crowd from the first song, and the response remained enthusiastic throughout. Their sound together is folky, but not retro–even with the washboard, which Ayo played quite well, BTW. It was a great experience to see these two young women, both highly talented artists in their own right, coming together for the fun of it to play new material, just because they enjoy playing together.  Travel by Skylark gets my mark as Sunday’s highlight of the day–and not just because they dedicated the song to me.  (Believe what you want.  My vote can’t be bought with song dedications–only with cold, hard cash.)

That was a joke, too.  You’ll just have to get used to that.  Can you tell I’m a little loopy this morning?

I was moving a lot slower Sunday, so I didn’t catch as many acts as the other days. But I did manage to catch most of an informative panel discussion on indie bands and recording studios, and I also managed to stop in and see:

  • Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard (pop/rock)
  • Maudlin (indie-rock)
  • Annie Lynch (folk)
  • Josh Novak (pop/rock)

I tried to catch Hello Kavita, but apparently illness prevented the band from playing.  Their replacement was The Photo Atlas, whom I’d seen before, so I chose to move on and try to catch someone I hadn’t seen.

Before wrapping up my journal of this year’s UMS, an honorable mention also goes to Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard, who played in a small venue to a sparse crowd, but did a great job.

Looking forward to next year!

Jul 252010

The Rouge at the UMS 2010.

Day 3 of the UMS started off with some panel discussions in a church basement. I caught the last few minutes of a discussion with three members of local bands who have had some experience with record labels. I learned more in those few minutes than any of a number of books I’ve read.

Today was just a great, not-too-hot Denver day for walking Broadway and hearing the streets filled with music. One band I saw literally had set up their gear on the sidewalk and were playing to a gathering crowd of passers-by. Quite good, actually.

Acts I caught today:

  • The Rouge–alternative rock
  • The Yes We Cans–punk
  • Angela Jane–indie rock
  • Kal Cahoone & the Dirty Pretty–acoustic alternative
  • Annie Lynch–folk
  • Varlet (with Lilly Scott)–indie
  • Megan Burtt–acoustic country/rock
  • Andrea Ball–indie
  • Ayo Awosika–jazz/soul
  • Dan Craig Band–indie rock
  • Science Partner–folk
  • Churchill–acoustic rock

So many acts, I actually have two favorite picks for today, followed by some honorable mentions:

PICK ONE:  Dan Craig Band
I first heard Dan Craig opening for John Common.  Dan was quite sick at the time, and his voice reflected it–although he was a good sport.  Tonight I could hear the band without the handicap.  Great songs, powerful sound.  Be looking  for a review of the band’s upcoming CD.

PICK TWO: Annie Lynch
I happened on Annie quite by accident. She heads a folk band from Brooklyn called Annie and the Beekeepers, but is playing solo at the UMS. The church building where I started the afternoon also happens to be one of the venues, and she was playing there. Simple, pure vocals with acoustic guitar, set in the live acoustics of the church–it was one of those moments. (Annie gave me permission to share a song from her band’s latest EP–you can find it at the end of this post.  If you are local, you can catch her at the UMS again Sunday night at 7PM at the Irish Rover on S. Broadway.)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I can always count on Megan Burtt and Churchill to give solid performances. I was also pleased to see the way Churchill is gaining momentum as a band. Their 11PM set packed out Moe’s Bar-B-Q.  Another shout-out goes to Science Partner, just for being quirky and entertaining.

We’re still not done yet…

Annie & the Beekeepers: “Again and Again”

Jul 242010

The UMS got into full swing Friday as more bands played in more venues. If you’re into this kind of thing (like me), it’s akin to being a kid in a whole row of candy stores.  All you have to do is walk down South Broadway, and music of many different kinds pours out into the streets from the various indoor (and outdoor) stages.

For me, Friday evening  for some reason was mainly retro night.  I even Tweeted about the irony that indie music is supposed to be progressive, but most of what I heard sounded like it had come from 4 to 8 decades ago. 

Forget 60’s retro–that’s so ’90s. No, this stuff sounded like it comes out of the Dust Bowl.  (One of my Facebook friends joked about the recession stirring the collective memory.)

Forget electric guitar; that’s so early 2000’s.  The bands that are truly chic today use string basses, banjos and mandolins. (I’m surprised no one has thought to throw in some washboard.)

My tongue is in my cheek, of course. Not all the indie bands are doing this, though the ones who are doing so are actually pretty good. The beauty of indie music is you’re free to play what inspires you, and there is a lot of diversity (I just happened upon a slew of acoustic acts tonight).  I just couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of these twenty-somethings writing and playing music my grandparents would have liked.

The acts I caught all or part of tonight were:

  • Natural and the Disasters–indie folk/rock/something-or-other
  • Speakeasy Tiger–pop/rock with a retro ’80s glam vibe
  • Tim Bruns (frontman for Churchill)–country
  • Paper Bird–acoustic indie/folk with a bit of doo-wop thrown in
  • The Beaten Sea–alt-country/folk
  • The Centennial (formerly Meese)–atmospheric pop? (I covered this one for Examiner.com here.)
  • Carbon Choir–indie-rock

And my pick for the evening:  Tim Bruns of Churchill.

Admittedly, I had some bias here; Churchill is my current favorite local band. But left to himself, Tim has a country-leaning style all his own, and his lyrics are intelligent, emotional and thought provoking.

Carbon Choir ran a close second–but I could only catch the last few minutes of their act.

More to come…

Jul 232010

So this weekend in Denver, over 300 indie bands (both locals and passers-thru) are gracing 20-plus stages along South Broadway in the Underground Music Showcase. Often billed as Denver’s version of SXSW, it’s a great deal for music lovers.  Forty bucks for four days of music.  Not bad. :)  I have a lot of friends playing the showcase this year, so between showing them some love and catching new bands I haven’t seen yet, I’ve got my boat loaded.

So what am I doing in my few minutes of down time?  Blogging about it. :)

Seriously, I thought I’d keep a running diary through the four days, giving a few of my impressions, and a “top pick” for my favorite act each night.  So here goes…

DAY 1 (Thursday, July 22)

The UMS box office is in a vacant lot next to one of the many venues on S. Broadway.  I pick up my wristband, and discover that it’s one of those small plastic you-can-drink-in-the-bars kind of bands that is NOT refastenable, so if you take it off, you ruin it.  And it’s good for all four days, and you HAVE to wear it, not just carry it around.  This means I have to either keep it on for four days, or figure a way to re-fasten it day to day.  I choose option 2.

Opening night is the slowest, with only a few venues and artists starting off.  Still, I’m able to catch all or part of the sets of five acts, and I’m already impressed with the diversity just within the music I heard.  These are the acts I caught, and the best genre that describes them for me:

  • Alan Baird Project–indie rock
  • Chella Negro–Americana
  • Sarah Slaton–indie/acoustic
  • Paean–experimental/atmopheric
  • Jeremy Messersmith–indie/acoustic

My pick of the night: Paean

I had some prior experience with Paean, having reviewed their record. The down side of their set was that they are a larger band and were packed onto a tiny stage like so many sardines, and some of the bandmates had to have their backs to the crowd just to fit onstage.  Also, the vocals were too low in the mix, and when I could hear the lead singer, it was that strange, half-singing-half-screaming, I-am-in-great-pain kind of sound I’ve talked about before.  But there is a passion and vibe in the music of this band that is absolutely captivating, with songs that tend to start minimalistically, and crescendo to a fever pitch.  Once again, I found myself forgiving the vocals in favor of the music.

More to come!

Nov 032009

Excerpted from my article on Examiner.com:

Bigwheel Electrosoul, an active Denver band combining soul and electronica, has been invited to participate in the first ever Japan Music Week, an international music festival taking place in Tokyo November 9 through 15. To represent Denver and Colorado for the event, they need to raise their own funds, and they are asking you, the public, for your help….

Read the rest here…