On Saturday at The UMS, you were either there or heard about it or saw the Instagrams: A four-piece horn section standing on the aging roof of a 100-year-old Victorian house with a human mic stand. Below them Nathaniel Rateliff lead the rest of his R&B/soul band the Night Sweats through a rollicking set that came to a sweaty conclusion with a celebratory singalong of “Son of a Bitch.”
This set definitely wasn’t regulation. It wasn’t an official festival showcase. The roof? Absolutely not a legitimate stage. Hell, the day party wasn’t likely insured. But like Austin’s sprawling SXSW music festival, the UMS is sprouting unofficial day parties surrounding the four-day festival. And they make the event as a whole a more well-rounded experience.
These parties are thrown by music fans and musicians, record stores and band collectives. This one in particular was thrown by Denver indie band the Centennial, and this third edition of the Centennial UMS Day Party was potentially the most memorable.
We missed the day’s first three acts, Prism Waves, the Shilohs and Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick. When we walked in amid the late-afternoon heat, former Denver band Tennis, who moved to Nashville last year, was setting up. Their set was ideal for the weather and the shaded backyard, the historic neighorhoody feel and the free beer from the wild-eyed man in the back under the umbrella: Sunny, bright, head-noddy.
Singer Alaina Moore managed the stage with her usual understated charm, and “Origins” and “Petition” sounded particularly great. The crowd was a bit chatty, but they took note when Moore asked them if she could play a new song. (From what we could hear, it sounded like a winner.) And they definitely perked up when Moore said from the mic, “We are already moving back because we miss Colorado too much.”
And just like that, Tennis became a local Colorado band. Again.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats took the stage after a short break, and there were more than a few finger-points as the horn players started climbing a makeshift ladder to the roof. As Rateliff took the stage, it was a typical Denver moment, a standard UMS snapshot: People coming together for the best weekend of the year, sharing love and music and entertainment in true DIY fashion.
The band – which involves a rotating cast of musicians since they all have such busy schedules – sounded better than they did at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre just a few short months ago. The rhythm section, including drummer Patrick Meese (who also plays drums for Tennis and who also plays in the Centennial and who also lives in this “yellow house” hosting the day party), kept the bottom on a solid pace. Rateliff lead his group effortlessly, looking svelte in the early evening heat. And the horns, those horns …
While Rateliff’s voice is the heart of the Night Sweats, the horns are the soul of the band. And watching them navigate the pitch of the roof and the random tree poking its way into their performance space and the occasional pitcher of beer passed up from some kind soul in the yard was a beautiful thing. A friend of the band and a ubiquitous force during UMS weekend, Aaron Thomas Collins made his way to the roof to hold a mic for the four horn players. He just laid there or sat there or kneeled there, holding a mic up with whatever arm wasn’t too tired.
This is doing it yourself.
At one point during the Night Sweats’ performance, one excited dude turned to his buddy and said, “This is my UMS, right here.” I heard the same thing from another kid later at Illegal Pete’s during Hindershot’s fun and loud set. And I heard the same sentiment from another festivalgoer later on as Cults tackled the outdoor stage. And that’s The UMS for you.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.