What: Underground Music Showcase
Where: Denver's Baker neighborhood; see schedule for venues
Cost: single-day pass $24, four-day pass $35
More info: theums.com
In front of a crowd of Colorado music press gathered in the Museum of Outdoor Arts last week, Paper Bird's Esme Patterson, Eldren's Josh Lee and The Epilogues' Chris Heckman gave the room a taste of the music to come at this year's Underground Music Showcase.
If that was a taste, then The UMS is a feast. Every year the lineup and the names on it get bigger, and though many bands come in from out of town, it's a display of homegrown talent. The three Denver musicians performed as a preview to the festival, and the festival itself is a preview of this music scene's future.
The UMS Event Direct Kendall Smith and Open Air Program Director Mike Flanagan (the radio station is sponsoring the festival) said as much when they welcomed the press that night, and in an email, Smith echoed the sentiment.
"This event is a true community event for this region's music scene," he said. "By stretching the event over four days, it allows the many artists who converge on UMS to attend their colleague's shows. I believe that feeling of mutual support and pride in one's art pervades the entire event and creates a vibe unlike any other event in Denver. It truly must be experienced to be understood."
This Thursday through Sunday, Denver's Baker neighborhood -- specifically the bar- and venue-packed stretch of South Broadway -- will be taken over by more than 350 bands, about 320 of which are local. Among the most notable out-of-towners are grunge veterans Mudhoney, indie pop duo Cults, beachy indie rockers Bleached and garage-rock group The Fresh and Onlys.
Denver musician Yonnas Abraham (who also goes by "Yo") has performed at UMS since 2009, and he's involved with two acts on the lineup this year -- hip-hop group BLKHRTS and hip-hop rock group The Pirate Signal. He's watched the event develop a certain artistic gravity.
"It seems like it's sort of got a vibe of musical importance," he said.
Comparing the event to another music festival in Denver, the Westword Music Showcase, Yo said the Westword event is more of a party -- which he doesn't mind, he's quick to note -- whereas UMS's organizers aspire to the artist-focused spirit of the well-known music showcase in Austin, Texas.
"It seems like they're in the process of building something like South by Southwest," Yo said. "Westword is more like (California music festival) Coachella."
With hundreds of local acts, it's hard to know where to start in previewing them or who to see when the time comes, and the time will come, again and again, where festival-goers are faced with tough choices. Unlike SXSW, where bands play multiple times, you've only got one shot at each band.
Then again, it's not uncommon that local musicians are in more than one band. The guys of School Knights, for instance, will be all over the place.
"Our guitar player, Morris, is in three different metal bands now: Blood Incantation and Stillborn Fawn, both of those are playing at UMS, and he's touring with a band from Chicago," Michael Stein of School Knights explained. "Everyone in School Knights but me is in a surf rock band called The Octaves. There's Pacific Pride and The Matildas.
"Everyone is playing the UMS at least three times. I'm only in one right now, and that's the one I can't talk about."
Like any festival, it's about balancing shows from bands you love with ones you've never heard of. We'll try to do just that as we cover the UMS for SecondStoryGarage.com. Below are the shows we plan to check out, and why you might want to drop in, too.
Patti Fiasco , 8 p.m., Gary Lee's Motor Club and Grub: This Fort Collins by way of Wyoming band, fronted by Alysia Kraft and her killer pipes, is like a shot of whiskey.
Speedy Ortiz , 9 p.m. at the hi-dive: The young and fast-rising Speedy Ortiz has lyrics like the angry smart kid in class and a sound like a younger, femme-fronted Dinosaur Jr.
BLKHRTS , 11 p.m. at Blue Ice: Dark hip-hop from a Denver band that includes Yonnas Abraham
Fat Tony , 12 a.m. at Blue Ice: If this Houston rapper isn't on your radar yet, put him there now.
School Knights , 6 p.m. at the Main Stage: Ever-changing noise pop/rockers School Knights are playing their last show, and they've promised to play the most party-ready stuff in their catalogue.
Esme Patterson , 7 p.m. at Three Lions: The Denver resident came to local prominence with indie folk group Paper Bird; now she has a solo project.
Bleached , 8 p.m. at the Main Stage: Jessica and Jennifer Clavin are bringing the beach vibes (with an aggressive garage edge) with them from L.A.
Mudhoney , 9 p.m. at the Main Stage: The band helped define the Seattle grunge sound of the early 1990s, and they're still working on it.
The Epilogues , 6 p.m. at the Main Stage: Synth-charged indie rock is this Denver band's game and they play it well. If the success continues at its current rate, they'll be playing even bigger stages very soon.
The Pirate Signal , 7 p.m. at Blue Ice: Featuring members of BLKHRTS, which plays the UMS on Thursday, the crew rides an indie rock ship with goth sails and a hip-hop rudder.
Cults , 9 p.m. at the Main Stage: Look no further for sweet and charming indie pop-rock.
Mancub , 9 p.m. at Blue Ice: This show will be the last for Alex Anderson's electronic noise-pop project.
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake , 11 p.m. at the hi-dive: This Denver mainstay gets tagged with words like "sinister" and "macabre." Oh, and "Best Indie Rock," by Westword.
SHEL , 4 p.m. at the Main Stage: An all-female quartet from Fort Collins that is attracting attention for its mesmerizing harmonies and idiosyncratic covers -- check out their cover of Zep's "The Battle of Evermore."
Birds of a Feather , 5 p.m. at Hornet: Want to get a song stuck in your head? Listen to Birds of a Feather's "Daughter."
The Yawpers , 5 p.m. at Irish Rover: If you can't have some raunchy, alt-country rocking fun at a Yawpers show, you might not have a pulse.
Eldren , 6 p.m. at Illegal Pete's: It's difficult to classify the kind of rock Eldren plays, so we'll use the band's words: "psychedelic dream-rock super-pop soundgasm."
Fiction is Fun , 6 p.m. at Irish Rover: Try to find a similarly ragtag, loose and fun group of indie folkers as this Denver group. Go ahead, try.
In The Whale , 8 p.m. at the hi-dive: Contrary to what the duo is always saying, In The Whale does not suck. They rock very, very hard.
Rob Drabkin , 8 p.m. at South Broadway Christian Church: Good hair and good vibes. Drabkin always delivers soulful and pretty music.
Born in the Flood , 9 p.m. at the Main Stage: Recently reunited, the band is a vehicle for Nathaniel Rateliff, who's among Colorado's most talented performing songwriters.