Through heat, hangovers and headbanging, the Underground Music Showcase saw record attendance in its 10th year. The festival’s talent buyer Ben Desoto estimated upwards of 5,000 concertgoers walked South Broadway over the course of the four-day event that closed Sunday night.
The number may have been higher. Between the bystanders who gawked at bands playing in more than two dozen venues for free, the Baker neighborhood residents who got no-charge access wristbands and the musicians who played as well as watched their co-headliners, it may have been double that, according to organizers.
“By far, the most successful year, hands down,” Desoto said Sunday.
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Part of the festival’s success can be attributed to the addition of more national acts to this year’s roster. Desoto stressed that while bands like the Flobots may be tied to a major label, the organizers still consider everyone in the 300-band lineup to be an independent artist, playing music a notch — or several notches — out of the mainstream.
And at its heart, the fest was clearly a celebration of the Denver scene. When Mayor John Hickenlooper introduced the Flobots at their headlining performance Saturday night — to the largest single audience in UMS history — he brought that notion home.
“Forget Austin, Texas,” Hickenlooper said. “I’m sick of hearing about Seattle or Portland. It’s happening right here in Denver.”
Jim Norris, 3 Kings Tavern owner, said that he was in attendance for the first and third years of Austin’s South By Southwest music festival, an event that serves as the unofficial model for Denver’s UMS. Norris, who has been active in the UMS since its inception, attributed this year’s success to a “great” vibe, adding that his staff did not have to remove a single patron from the venue all weekend.
And this, after a high-octane mosh pit swept the hardwood in front of the 3 Kings stage during the much-anticipated (and feared) reunion of rowdy rockers Machine Gun Blues on Saturday night.
Lead singer Aaron Collins ripped down a lighting fixture, destroyed an organ and stripped to his underwear before the show’s end, and still, Norris was all smiles on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ll pay $200 to tell a story like that,” he said.
Norris cited the economic benefits the event has brought to South Broadway and wishes, in future years, that festival sponsorship can shift away from large corporations, calling the strip between Third Avenue and Alameda Avenue “rabidly independent.”
While clinging to its independence and underground nature, the UMS, now almost a teenager, has caught the attention of “the other side” of the industry. Chuck Morris, president and chief executive officer of AEG Live Rocky Mountains, said Sunday the current local music climate reminds him of his early days as a promoter in the 1970s.
Morris kick-started the Denver music scene in that era booking shows at the now-defunct Ebbets Field rock club. In a discussion led by Denver Post theater critic and UMS founder John Moore, Morris commended the festival’s commitment to area musicians and acknowledged his company’s Mile High Music Festival prides itself on booking five to seven local acts annually.
“If new bands don’t come up, I’m out of business,” Morris said.
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