Kickin’ it old-school at the 2018 UMS

Erin Roberts of Porlolo at the 2017 Underground Music Showcase. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

In honor of one of the largest indie music festivals in the Rocky Mountain region turning 18, we offer you bands to watch that are also ‘of a certain age.’

The Underground Music Showcase is old enough to vote. Denver’s largest ongoing gathering of lovable gutter bands circling just out of reach of widespread fame and notoriety is now … an adult. (Which is a far cry from being a grown-up!)  But if the fest that was born as a small, one-night-only showcase of weird local bands is now 18 years old, then what does that make those of us who started it?

Answer: OK, old. (But still not grown up.)

The Underground Music Showcase was started as a Denver Post passion project in 2001 as a live show to complement an annual special section on Colorado’s underknown underground music scene.

But with ongoing financial difficulties and staff cutbacks at The Post casting doubt on the future of the UMS, the event was purchased in January by boutique events producer Two Parts. It returns this weekend (July 27-29) as a slightly slimmer, three-day affair at more than 20 venues stretching along South Broadway from Moe’s at 5th Avenue north, all the way down to Illegal Pete’s just north of Alameda Avenue. There will be a record four outdoor stages this year. Go to The UMS website for all the details.

Going retro: More on the origin of The Underground Music Showcase

The 2018 UMS features more than 350 bands, which can be a lot for newbies (and oldies) to navigate. In honor of The UMS’ rite of passage into, if not maturity, then certainly “draft eligibility” status, today we spotlight some of the bands on the 2018 lineup that are at least 10 years old — including the return of one of the very first UMS bands: Mr. Pacman will be playing an unofficial kickoff set tonight (Thursday) at Syntax Physic Opera.

(Some band descriptions provided by the UMS):  

Mr. Pacman

So The UMS started when I transferred from The Denver Post sports department to cover entertainment in 2001. When I was asked what part of the local arts scene I wanted to cover, I immediately said: “Local bands.” But because I had spent many years working as a vampire on nights and weekends, I was out of touch. So I conducted a poll of local music experts, asking the question: “What are the bands most deserving of more mainstream recognition?” Then I thought: “Why not print the results?” Then I thought: “Why not have a live event to go along with that poll’s release, so readers can see them for themselves?” So four of the top-10 bands were invited to perform on the same bill, and the Bluebird Theater provided the venue. (Over the years, that poll produced headliners ranging from Sixteen Horsepower to DeVotchKa to Dressy Bessy to Born in the Flood, a.k.a. Nathaniel Rateliffe). Anyway, one of the bands on that first bill was Mr. Pacman, a video-game rock band whose members included Jim Compton, who played the Commodore 64 as a superhero named Silver Ghost. Westword’s Laura Bond once described Mr. Pacman as “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers electronic-punk spectacle.” It was a spectacle, all right. My plan all along was to take all the money we collected at the door ($5 each) and split it four ways between the bands. I remember handing each band a wad of cash on the sidewalk outside of the Bluebird, jumping in my Volkswagen and starting to drive off when one of the Pacmen chased me down the street and stopped my car, saying I surely had paid too much. I hadn’t. Four ways, equal split. We never took a penny for our trouble. Many of the bands in those early years said The UMS was the most money they were ever paid for playing a live gig. In any event, Mr. Pacman (Compton, Avery Rains and Darren Cheek) will be playing an unofficial UMS launch set at 9 p.m tonight, along with Moon Pussy, Cyclo-Sonic and Robot Peanut Butter & The Shooting Stars. It’s a beautiful full circle. What Compton told The Post’s Ricardo Baca in 2005 is still true in 2018: “New kids are going to see shows every year, and they’re getting excited because everything’s new to them. And it’s that constant influx of new blood that keeps the scene fresh.” Mr. Pacman will be the first band to play tonight. Perhaps in a concession to time, says CPR OpenAir radio personality (and Compton wife) Alicia Sweeney: “Because they are so old, they asked if they could open!”



  • Formed 2002
  • Denver
  • 11 p.m., Friday, July 27, Illegal Pete’s
  • Noon, Saturday, July 28, 3 Kings Tavern

Back in the day, Erin Roberts was a mild-mannered co-host of KVCU Radio 1190’s “Local Shakedown” show, and each year she and co-Shakedowner Nick Groke would host a special countdown of The Denver Post’s annual Top 20 local bands as a kickoff to UMS weekend. But Roberts soon realized her own performance ambitions as Porlolo, a labor of love she told Westword is an ongoing expression of “belligerent optimism.” Roberts is a powerful songwriting force, cranking out grungy, sometimes twangy, often pure pop hits. Roberts is a thoughtful and playful songwriter who in performance is supported by pretty much anyone who has ever been anyone in the local music scene. Her philosophy: “Be cool, find yourself, find your people, be true to what you are, have parties, jump around, care less while caring better.”


Roger Green

  • Formed in 2004 (birth formation date not available)
  • Denver
  • 1 p.m., Saturday, July 28
  • Baere Brewing Company

You theatre peeps should look up Roger Green if for no other reason than to hear his gorgeous variation on “Somewhere” from West Side Story. As guitarist for The Czars from 1997-2005, Green wrote and produced two full-length albums for Bella Union Records – a UK label founded by former members of the Cocteau Twins. The Czars toured Europe frequently, landing support slots for larger acts such as 16 Horsepower, David Gray and The Flaming Lips. After The Czars split up, Green released “What Would This Be For?” – a split CD with Porlolo. In 2006, Green composed and conducted a large work for musicians employing 25 typewriters, which was commissioned by the Belmar Lab of Art and Ideas. In 2014, he composed music for visual artist and dancer Nick Cave’s piece “Heard.” Westword’s Tom Murphy once wrote of Green: “He has strong compositional skills, balanced by a fascination with a broad range of sonic atmospheres and textures, each expressing a depth of mood.”



  • Formed in 2001
  • Atlanta
  • 8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28
  • Main Stage at Goodwill
  • Watch on YouTube

Deerhunter is an experimental noise rock band fronted by the compellingly odd singer Bradford Cox, whose style blends vocal experimentation along the lines of Meredith Monk or Yoko Ono with a more direct and punky howl inspired by the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Cox is also a striking on-stage presence: the exceedingly skinny 6-foot-4 lead singer has Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that gives him abnormally long and spindly limbs. Cox often exaggerates his otherworldly look by performing in Victorian-style party frocks and engaging in Iggy Pop-style acts of ritual self-abasement while his bandmates churn out an aggressive mix of industrial-grind guitars and fractured dance rhythms that often recalls earlier Georgia art punks like the Method Actors and Pylon.


Kalyn Heffernan of Wheelchair Sports Camp at the 2012 Underground Music Showcase. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Wheelchair Sports Camp

  • Formed in 1997
  • Denver
  • Midnight, Saturday, July 28 (so technically, early Sunday)
  • Gary Lee’s Motor Club
  • Watch on YouTube

Kalyn Heffernan is an educator at Youth On Record and a self-described “freedom fighter for the little ones.” She made national news recently when she was charged with trespassing for leading a 58-hour sit-in at Senator Cory Gardner’s office. On stage, Heffernan combines humor, playfulness, radical political perspectives, compassion and undeniable musical chops, making Wheelchair Sports Camp unlike any other hip-hop act around. The band is a combination of live and electronic instruments that bring a more noisy, jazzy, experimental, sound to the hip-hop. The band unknowingly started in the summer of 1997 when Kalyn moved home from California and was invited to attend and corrupt the 14th annual week-long Colorado Jr. Wheelchair Sports Camp. The band focuses on playing concerts that connect with marginalized disabled Coloradans, often playing in prisons and on tribal lands. “If there were ever a moment for a queer, disabled rapper with a love for pot, jokes, and revolution to be a star, the moment is now,” The Village Voice wrote of “Denver’s biggest smallest band.”


Git Some

  • Formed in 2003
  • Denver
  • 1 a.m. Saturday, July 28 (so technically, early Sunday)
  • The Hi-Dive
  • Listen on Bandcamp

Hardcore, rock ‘n roll, big-beat punk. Their live show is a testament to the catharsis that is Git Some. Emerging from underneath loud-as-(bleep) blasts of noise, driving, angular punk rock thrusts the listener unexpectedly from all directions. A schizoid, heavily bearded vocalist takes the reigns of the ever-accelerating, ever-destined to perish in flame rock n roll vehicle: guitar, bass and drums. Peals of feedback disseminate to relinquish a big beat: an intense rock, punk and hardcore sound that while completely their own, gives the listener subtle clues as to their derivative roots.


Cloud Cult

  • Formed in 1995
  • Duluth, Minn.
  • 5:20 p.m. Sunday, July 29
  • Main Stage at Goodwill
  • Listen on YouTube

Cloud Cult began as Craig Minowa’s solo studio project, and over the course of 10 studio albums, the band has grown with an evolving lineup of musicians who play gorgeous, organic sets marked in performance by the simultaneous creation of live paintings that are then auctioned off for charities. They’ve declined major record label deals in favor of staying independent. Rolling Stone ranks Cloud Cult in the Top 10 greenest bands.



  • Formed in 1989
  • Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 29
  • Main Stage at Goodwill
  • Watch on YouTube

Perhaps no band was more emblematic of the true spirit of American indie rock during the 1990s than Superchunk. Following the D.I.Y. ethic to the letter, the band members operated solely by their own rules, ignoring all passing trends by sticking to their trademark sound — typified by the buzzing guitars and high, impassioned vocals of frontman Mac McCaughan — and rejecting all major-label advances in favor of the unlimited freedom afforded by owning their own company, the highly successful Merge Records. Although Superchunk’s resistance to the overtures of the music industry may have deprived them of the wider audience their work deserved, perhaps their greatest legacy remains their unwavering dedication to the indie tradition, a model that other up-and-coming bands often strive to emulate.

John Moore is a former Denver Post reporter and editor who founded The Underground Music Showcase in 2001 and The Denver Actors Fund in 2013. He was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Our full gallery of photos from the 2017 Underground Music Showcase

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