A great music festival can usually be pared down down to a series of memorable moments, and The Denver Post’s annual Underground Music Showcase has had no shortage of them over its 14 years and thousands of shows.
In advance of this year’s July 24-27 event, which features more than 400 performances at 20 venues along South Broadway, we polled musicians, writers, festival organizers and fans about their favorite memories from years past — the unexpected triumphs, the craziest live shows, and the flat-out bizarre surprises that make The UMS the reliable summer party that it is.
The first-ever UMS (2001)
Four bands, five bucks. Nuff said. — John Moore, UMS co-founder
Enter the Fray (2007)
The tiny art-supply shop off South Broadway and Ellsworth Street was already packed for an acoustic set concert by Patrick Meese, but when buddy — and lead singer of the Fray — Isaac Slade dropped in to help, the cascade of social media quickly drew a crowd dozens strong. “I’m the only performer… who had to buy a wristband,” Slade joked at the time. And, no doubt, the biggest. — John Wenzel, The Denver Post
Cops at the outdoor stage (2008)
The UMS’ first-ever outdoor stage, which featured local legends such as Born in the Flood, Hot IQs and Bela Karoli playing on a stage behind the South Broadway Christian Church, was nearly shut down by Denver police after noise complaints from neighbors. Fortunately, the bands finished before that could happen — but just barely. — Ricardo Baca, UMS co-founder/Editor, The Cannabist
Planes Mistaken for Stars mistaken for traitors (2003)
In my feature on (Denver Post music) poll winner Planes Mistaken for Stars, I quoted one band member describing what growing up in their hometown of Peoria, Ill., was like: “I had a gun in my mouth there more times than I’ve had sex.” Planes had a homecoming concert scheduled shortly after the story ran. A columnist in Peoria read the story and wrote a rabid column damning the band as disloyal and calling on picketers at the concert — which, the band happily reported afterward, was jam-packed. — John Moore
Everything Distorted by heat, and happily so (2006)
One of my most vivid UMS memories is of seeing Everything Absent or Distorted at the Hi-Dive in about 2006. It was a late-afternoon show and hot as hell outside, which meant that the Hi-Dive was a dark, stuffy sweatbox. As always with EAOD, there were about ten band members onstage, constantly trading instruments and making a huge and glorious racket. Despite the withering heat, the crowd bounced up and down dizzily and yelled along with the lyrics. It was one of those moments where you look around and think, “Denver is onto something here.” The heat just galvanized us, I guess. The heat and the PBR. — Kathleen St. John, former Denver Post and Reverb contributor
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats performing on the roof during the Meese day party (2013)
I loved the spontaneity of multiple band players on the roof. It was an insurance company’s worst nightmare, and everything seemed to work itself out with a barn-burning performance by the Night Sweats. — Julio Enriquez, heyreverb.com
John Hickenlooper, Denver music booster (2010)
Before I introduced then-Mayor Hickenlooper at a Flobots show on the main stage, he asked Andy Guerrero and me to give him a sense of what the UMS was all about. Andy said it’s a lot like SXSW in Austin, Texas. I interrupted and said we needed to stop comparing ourselves to Austin, Seattle, and Portland (Ore.), and embrace Denver’s unique awesomeness. Five minutes later, Hickenlooper (whom I introduced as “your next governor,” even though the election was a few months away) got on stage and said, “I’m tired of hearing about Austin and Seattle and Portland! It’s happening right here!” Made me smile. — Eryc Eyl, DJ and former heyreverb.com contributor