Anyone who has attended the UMS, The Denver Post’s annual summer music celebration, knows it’s a beast. With 350-plus local and national bands, DJs, comedians and more spread across four days and nearly 20 venues on South Broadway, it’s easily the largest indie music festival in the region.
But let’s further the metaphor: If you know how to tame a beast, it can be a powerful ally. So between bands, beers and necessary naps, there are a few things to keep in mind about the 12th annual Underground Music Showcase.
Here are some handy tips for this year’s installment, which kicks off tonight (Thursday, July 19) and continues through Sunday (July 22).
Preparation: You’ve probably heard of many of the acts at The UMS, from critically-acclaimed national artists like Cloud Nothings, Atlas Sound and Imperial Teen to locals such as Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Sauna and Mane Rok. But who else is there? And when are they playing? You’ll get a printed schedule when you grab your wristband or badge, but you can check out denverpost.com/ums right now for some pre-festival research. The official UMS website also lists the artists in various ways — alphabetically, by venue and by their set list times — and clicking through any of them will give you a full bio page with links, photos and more.
Transportation: South Broadway’s Baker neighborhood is a pedestrian’s dream, but if you don’t live near the area, your best bet is to hop on RTD’s zero line, which stops at multiple locations along the UMS stretch (roughly between 6th and Maple avenues). There’s also limited street parking on either side of Broadway between 2nd and Maple, but with recent street construction and the general popularity of the neighborhood, don’t count on much of it. (As always, remember to respect the neighbors who live there year-round). And of course, biking is another great option. Just also remember to bring a sturdy lock and check on it from time to time.
Tickets: Stop by the UMS box office to pick up your wristbands or badges — or to get your artist packet — from one of the smiling volunteers. It opens at 5 p.m. on Friday near the outdoor stage at 21 S. Broadway (across from Goodwill) and an hour before the first shows on Saturday and Sunday. Wristbands that will get you into every show are $50, while badges (with various VIP perks) are $120.
Getting around: One of the beautiful things about The UMS is the proximity of the venues to one another. Most take about 3-5 minutes (if that) to walk between, although if you’re going from Moe’s Original Bar B Que to the Skylark Lounge (on opposite sides of the showcase’s footprint) it’s best to build in about 15 minutes of hustle time. Fortunately, you’ll find some form of air conditioning and plenty of thirst-quenching beverages waiting for you wherever you arrive.
Exploration: The UMS is all about discovery, so take some chances on bands you’ve never heard before. Unfamiliar with the soothing indie-pop of Mombi, the psychedelic squall of Black Moth Super Rainbow or the tag-team comedy of the Fine Gentleman’s Club? You’re in a for a treat. Reverb, The Denver Post’s music site, has dozens of free downloads of various UMS artists via the Steal This Track column and the Mile Marker in-house recording series, so don’t be shy. It’s also fun to just pop into venues and see what’s happening — especially if you like what you can hear and see from the street.
Common sense: If you want to get the most out of your UMS, it’s best to come early and stay late, and that means pacing yourself. Some of these things should go without saying, but after several hours of partying, it’s easy to lose perspective: Wear sunscreen. Drink lots of water. Eat every few hours. Bring earplugs. Rest when you need to. Charge your cellphone. And don’t wait for a comedian to tell you to tip your bartenders and servers.
THE 12TH ANNUAL DENVER POST UNDERGROUND MUSIC SHOWCASE
For continuing coverage of the UMS this weekend, go to denverpost.com/ums. You’ll find a complete schedule, list of venues, tips on where to eat and shop, and much more. More than 350 performances scattered among 20 venues on South Broadway between Sixth and Alameda avenues in Denver. Featuring an eclectic mix of rock, pop, punk, hip-hop, metal, electronic, folk, experimental/avant-garde, country, jam, soul and live comedy from Colorado and beyond. The festival started yesterday and runs through Sunday. Festival passes are $50, and day passes cost $25. Available at the festival box office at 21 S. Broadway.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and blogs editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.