More than 350 bands from Colorado and beyond took over South Broadway in celebration of the area’s thriving, eclectic music scene.
Now in its 18th year, the new-look Underground Music Showcase remains Denver’s largest homegrown, indie-music festival, featuring 350 performances over three days at 20 venues along an eight-block stretch of South Broadway in the Baker neighborhood.
The 2018 UMS, the first since the event was purchased by Two Parts from The Denver Post, was condensed to three days from four, but featured more outdoor stages (four) than ever before, and more interactive ways for what appeared to have been a record crowd to participate.
The UMS began in 2001 as a one-night showcase for Colorado bands more deserving of mainstream recognition and has since grown into a South by Southwest-type gathering for the Rocky Mountain region that celebrates independent music and comedy.
The 2018 gathering featured iconic headliners such as Cloud Cult and Digable Planets, as well as established and nascent local bands and singer/songwriters covering genres ranging from rock to hip hop to country. The lineup spanned 30-year-old North Carolina alt-rockers Superchunk, which performed its first-ever set with new bassist Peter Hughes in Denver; to The Dead & The Daylily, a new local “dream folk” outfit that played its first set as a band anywhere on Sunday in a church at The UMS.
Followers of the Denver theatre scene may have picked up on some crossover, as there is every year. One of Saturday’s highlights: Neyla Pekarek of The Lumineers and actor Brian Cronan of BDT Stage performed songs from Pekarek’s concept album Rattlesnake Kate, about a Greeley legend who reportedly fought off 140 migrating rattlesnakes on her farm to save her 3-year-old son in 1925. She then famously made a dress from their skins. DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman has commissioned Pekarek to develop the album into a fully staged musical.
For years the party, which is marked by pop-up-sets, food trucks, surprise appearances, a comedy stage, interviews, podcasts and audience games, went by the simple slogan: “The UMS is Love.” That became a literal mantra in 2018 when one young man proposed to his girlfriend on the main stage during Cloud Cult’s Sunday afternoon headliner set.
That move was perfectly in line with the eco-friendly Minnesota band’s pro-love platform. (Founder Craig Minowa is backed by his wife, Connie, among seven others). Much of Cloud Cult’s ongoing message of recovery and hope is informed by the Minowas’ loss of their 2-year-old son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 2002. For years, every Cloud Cult concert has been complemented by the making of an on-stage painting during every live set for auction, a program that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for local and national charities over the past 15 years.
Minowa summed up what Cloud Cult — and The UMS — is all about when he finished the band’s 40-minute set with a gentle entreaty for the crowd : “Go out and be good people.”
All photos by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Senior Arts Journalist John Moore, who founded The UMS in 2001.