The Mile High Makeout: Denver women rock at two distinct festivals - Reverb

The Mile High Makeout: Denver women rock at two distinct festivals

The Blackouts, one of the bands performing at the Vixens Ball, stand outside behind 3 Kings Tavern.

The Blackouts, one of the bands performing at the Vixens Ball, stand outside behind 3 Kings Tavern. Darci Armstrong, center, is the festival's organizer. Photo by Melanie Watson.

It’s easy to get the impression that the world of music is filled with nothing but men — dudes with guitars and laptops, drum sticks and keytars, all of them celebrating their masculinity through music. But talented, hard-working women are a vital component of Denver’s fertile music scene.

For evidence, look no further than the fact that not one but TWO music festivals in July focus on female performers — the second annual Titwrench Fest and the inaugural Vixens Ball.

“If I tried to do this five years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough bands!” exclaims Darci Armstrong, frontwoman for the Blackouts and the organizer of the Vixens Ball. Showcasing a dozen bands — as well as burlesque performers and DJs — on July 9 and 10 at the Oriental Theater in northwest Denver, the event highlights some of the hardest rocking women in Denver.

Like Armstrong’s own band, the others on the bill for Vixens Ball — including Smoothbore, Fire in the Asylum, Dirty Backseat Lovers and more — are loud, fast and often raunchy — using sexuality as both a marketing tool and a weapon. Armstrong sought out women who were unapologetic rockers.

“I’m not against the Lilith Fair thing,” Armstrong says, referring to the traveling femme folk festival coming to Denver the week after the Vixens Ball. “But this is hardcore, suck-the-skin-off-your-c*ck music!”

The Titwrench Fest, now in its second year, also shines a spotlight on powerful women performers, but with a slightly different purpose and agenda. Scheduled for July 9, 10 and 11 at Glob and Rhinoceropolis, the experimental music and art festival includes nearly 40 girl-centric musical performers, as well as DJs, visual artists, food and educational workshops on topics like making DIY contact microphones and how to run a live PA system. Most of the performers are locals, but the festival also includes folks from Arizona, California, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Founded by Sarah Slater, Titwrench grew out of conversations among like-minded women from the community of artists and musicians that has arisen out of Rhinoceropolis and Glob. Bree Davies, whose band, Night of Joy, will be performing at Titwrench, was part of the planning committee during the festival’s inception.

“Sarah got a group of us together and we just started meeting at various places,” Davies recalls. “We just started talking about feminism and our feelings about it, and our conversations just evolved into the festival.” As the event’s nine core organizers began to develop the idea, they agreed that they wanted to make room for a variety of expressions of femininity. This year’s lineup — culled from submissions that came from as far away as Australia and Iceland — includes a wide range of performers that follows that intention, from the electric ukulele folk of Robin Walker to the unpredictable punk of Hot White and the gloomy pop of Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.

To help fund Titwrench, Slater began a monthly women’s music showcase at the Meadowlark Bar late last year. Called “Surfacing,” the evening usually focuses on lesser known acts. However, tomorrow night’s ninth installment of the series will be headlined by Porlolo, performing only its second show since frontwoman Erin Roberts returned to Denver. The evening’s performers will be donating their pay to the festival, compilations CDs featuring 11 of last year’s performers will be available and three-day passess for Titwrench 2010 will be on sale for just $30.

Valerie Franz and Bree Davies of Night of Joy wear eye makeup that looks like a combination of running mascara and Kiss.

Valerie Franz and Bree Davies are Night of Joy, one of the band's performing at Titwrench 2010. Davies was also on the planning committee for last year's Titwrench Fest. Photo by Raul San Miguel.

“We wanted to create a safe space people — women in particular — could perform in whatever manner they wanted,” says Davies. “Where they could be themselves, regardless of what was going on elsewhere.” To maximize that feeling of safety, Titwrench’s organizers also make sure that the performers are housed and fed, and that festival attendees have access to healthy food, not just keg beer.

For Armstrong, safety is the last thing the Vixens Ball needs. “I just say f— you! This is rock and roll!” Encouraged by friends like Amy Ray from the defunct Angels and Bullets and Samantha Donen of Samantha Doom Blows Up the Band and former bassist for Hexen, Armstrong wants her event — produced in close collaboration with Jim Norris, one of the owners of 3 Kings Tavern and the Oriental — to celebrate the raw rock power of women. “I want crazy pyrotechnics and stuff,” she says. “I just want girls that rock!”

In addition to the efforts of women like Armstrong and Slater, both the Vixens Ball and Titwrench have sympathetic venue owners to thank for their existence. “3 Kings is like our home,” Armstrong says with a smile. “Jim’s like my brother.”

Thinking back on Titwrench’s beginnings, Davies echoes her comrade’s sentiments. “Rhino and Glob let us do all of our parties there,” she says. “Those guys are so awesome and accommodating, and that helps create this energy. Those venues are our homes.”

Events like the Vixens Ball and Titwrench also couldn’t happen without a supportive and successful scene surrounding them. In this, both Armstrong and Davies agree that Denver has something special.

“When Fire in the Asylum moved here from L.A.,” Armstrong relates, “I asked them to play a show with us. And they said, ‘This would never happen in L.A.’ It’s too competitive there.”

“Denver is so easy to navigate,” Davies agrees. “We can do whatever we want because there’s not this nationally recognized scene. It’s cool and easy and cheap.”

As Denver’s music scene grows and national attention to it increases, we can only hope that events like the Vixens Ball and Titwrench continue to happen, celebrating not only the creative fertility of our community, but its diversity as well.

Titwrench Fest 2010, a lady-centered DIY music and arts festival, occurs July 9, 10 and 11, at Rhinoceropolis (3553 Brighton Blvd) and Glob (3551 Brighton Blvd). Passes will be available at Wax Trax Records and tomorrow night at the Meadowlark.

The Vixens Ball is July 10 and 11, at the Oriental Theater (4335 W 44th Ave). Tickets for each night are $8.

Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet.

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  • S. Brine

    Go ladies. You rock!!

  • Bree Davies

    Just to clarify– Surfacing doesn't help fund Titwrench, but does help keep the collective's community presence at the forefront, while exposing new artists to Denver at large. Eryc, thank you so much for giving us the space to talk about what a radical community of artists Denver and beyond holds!

  • Tom Murphy

    So glad you're doing this column, Eryc. You're a positive force in the local scene for sure. And thanks for covering these two festivals in such respectful, erudite manner. No surprise on either score.

  • Annie Mac

    Also featuring Lola Black Saturday night! Winner of the 2010 Westword Best Punk band! YAY

  • Fishonjonson

    I have been lucky enough to see Fire in the Asylum , here in Indiana. SMOKIN SHOW . they blew every one away.. why they are not famous is what we waled away saying?