Sunday afternoon I was watching Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood. It’s a classic story, the title pretty much tells the plot but I suddenly realized that half of the crowd and most of the artists this weekend at the 13th annual Denver Post Underground Music Showcase all looked like Alcatraz convicts. It’s a simple uniform: jean shirt buttoned all the way to the top, tucked into brown pants and a scowl that could tear through a cement wall.
I’m not sure what this means for the underground music scene in Colorado, but apparently looking like a convict from 1962 has become fashionable. Friday night, I was standing amongst a crowd of funky sunglasses, thrift store outfits and tattoos bobbing their heads to some obscure band—I fit in a little too well.
The festival began in 2000 with a mere 300 attendees for one night of music at the Bluebird. This year at the four-day festival, 14,000 people were in attendance to watch 375 bands in the Baker neighborhood. Boulder County-based bands in the mix included Idlewhile, School Knights and West Water Outlaws.
Walking down South Broadway in Denver, every step was a discovery. I came across a cross-dressing punk band in front of a liquor store, half a block up the street was an opened truck that housed a metal band, and then a quarter of a block farther was a fistful of people crowded into a tiny box of an art gallery to listen to what sounded like a band eternally sound-checking.
I tried to see the final show of Boulder band School Knights but ended up cursing away in rush hour traffic. To see The Yawpers we stuffed ourselves into burrito joint Illegal Pete’s, feeling like the insides of one of their burritos, wrapped in a tortilla of absolutely badass American folk music. It was more gritty, high-energy folk than Simon & Garfunkle. A few songs into their set, the musicians were dripping with sweat as was the crowd—exactly how it should be.
Saturday night rounded up some great sounds: The Epilogues, Cults, Hockey and my personal favorite, Small Black. I ended up chatting to Small Black front man, Josh Kolenik, after his set. My boyfriend saw him three years ago. Kolenik ended up helping find his friend’s lost wallet. “Oh yeah, I actually do remember that,” Kolenik responded. Hearing that put my boyfriend on cloud nine.
That close connection with the artists was what gave UMS a thrown-together sense. No one took themselves too seriously, and made sure to say, “Thank you very so much,” at least five times during their sets. The lead singer of Hockey, dressed in the Clint Eastwood uniform except with one dangling earring described the vibe of UMS while plugging their new album, Wyeth IS. It sounded more like “life is” when the singer made the announcement. “It’s a humble album, but an arrogant title,” he said.
UMS, while possibly looking like a cluster of hipster know-it-alls, proved to be a humble showcase for local music lovers and musicians. It didn’t need all the lights of the Kenny Chesney concert happening down the street at Sports Authority Field; it just needed a place to hook up an amp and a place for a mass of people to drink beer and tune-in.