When in festivals, don't do as the festival-goer's do. It can really be a testament of the human spirit if you are able to pace yourself and survive a multi-day festival. Even the single-day festivals, like the Westword Music Showcase, can take down the most stout-at-heart music lover among us. There is something about the excitement and the non-stop action that can be intoxicating, and you have to listen to the voice of reason that says, "There is a greater purpose in store for you, my son; don't lose hope now." I am possibly making this out to be more than it is, but for me surviving a four-day festival is a journey. Let me take you on my journey.
The second day of UMS started with a whimper; alas, my ear drums aren't what they used to be. I was sad to have missed two acts that I was really hoping to catch: the Maykit and Big Freedia. Slow and steady wins the race, as some might choose to point out; festivals are all about endurance and I was trying a new approach that would hopefully allow me to slowly take in as much music as I could, without "losing" the experience if you will.
The Driftwood Singers were playing at Gary Lee's and were the first band of the evening that I was able to catch on Friday. I am so glad I was able to catch this couple, a "deja-vu" feeling compared to the duo I had seen the night before during the same timeslot (Shovels & Rope). A man and a woman dressed impeccably (leather boots and lace for the missus and a sharp vest and straw hat for the mister), upon first glance I thought I was looking at what might be the star actors of a new horror movie. The two talk innocently enough, but there is something about them, more than just their clothing, that imparts the look of timelessness, just like an old black-and-white photo; it would not surprise me if the two were actually long dead singing ghosts traversing the country for eternity. Their songs aren't exactly happy ditties, either; once during the night, singer Pearl Charles mentions, "This song is about my parents divorce," and at another point her counterpart Kris Hutson conceded that he liked to write love songs and death songs. A little creepy, but full of inviting melodies and handsome singing, the Driftwood Singers were a cool act to catch and a great way to kick off Friday night. I just wouldn't invite them home to crash on my couch or anything. Just in case.
There were a few bands playing at the same time that my roommate wanted to see, so I followed her north down Broadway and ended up at 3 Kings to catch Hindershot. By the time we got to the venue they were already a few songs into their set. Knowing the sets were not terribly long I decided to forego the trip across the street to the Hi-Dive for Maynard with my more adventurous counterparts so I could see what these guys are all about. I know that the group has been covered for this blog before, but I'd never seen them. I like that even though the stage was full of band members, I was able to hear every note and every instrument clearly and that nothing was lost in muddled sound. The songs were catchy and the group attracted quite a crowd. I was surprised to see a man dancing with a baseball bat, and thought it nothing more than some type of UMS hi-jinx. As I moved around the crowded stage I began to notice all the candy on the floor and then the remnants of a piñata. I missed the piñata! The half-Mexican inside of me felt ashamed that I wasn't aware of the piñata in my proximity, and I would have very much like to have seen it being burst open by the dancing man's baseball bat.
Miss America is a Nathaniel Rateliff project that sounds like a Nathaniel Rateliff project. He is joined by the same people that make up the core "band" or however you would refer to those near and dear to the singer. They are good, but I kind of get lost on what is the distinguishing characteristics between Miss America, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel; and so, I'm a horrible Denver resident. I have gotten the distinct notion that anyone living in this city loves Rateliff, and to not know of his work and enthusiastically support it is akin to being an American and not loving apple pie. With good reason: the man can sing and his songs are fucking good/kind of intense. And so, the quaint, auto-mechanic themed joint known as Gary Lee's was filled to the brim with Denver devotees eager to see the man, the myth, the Denver legend known as Nathaniel Rateliff, along with his friends Joseph Pope III, James Han, Julie Davis and Patrick Meese. Standing room was limited, and wanting to see more action I went outside to the glass garage door to get a good gander at the tinkering and humming of all the unique parts that make up Miss America.
It was time to leave and seek out more music, but the choices were endless and I looked at the Friday night schedule while scratching my head and slowly meandered back into the heart of the UMS commotion. It was a good thing that there was a kareoke truck parked along the side of the road to distract me while I made up my mind. I had noticed this contraption the other night, but now that there was someone truly killing it (murdering kareoke, I mean it was dead and gone) on the truck, I remained by the curb, in between 3 Kings and the table of volunteers registering drunk people to vote, to see what this guy had to say. I was quickly convinced to make a decision, and I chose the more interesting of the band names I saw on the roster and just went with it.
Horse Thief was a really nice surprise. This band was playing at the 404 Wheel Club, which was one of the most outlying venues of the weekend. For anyone that happened down that way on this particular night, your trip would have been rewarded with a free beer at a headshop midway between Walgreens and the Wheel Club. Genius idea, by the way.
This band took their catchy, indie rhythms and added a lot of sweeping, cymbal-crashing, guitar-strumming energy. There were a decent group of people collecting outside the Wheel Club, and being hypnotized into the stage area because the music was magnetic. Singer Cameron Neal was completely obscured by hair, yet you could still see his eyes looking hard out into nothing as he paced across the stage and climbed onto amps. There were no breaks and the band looked to their fearless leader as they continued rush ever onwards like a runaway train, except they were a runaway thief on a stolen horse (perhaps). There was a lot of commotion going on towards the end of the performance as the alcohol finally started to overpower the soothing loud noise of four guys from Oklahoma. This was enough for me, as the day had rang it's silent death knell and so concluded the second day of my UMS experience.
The third day began with Gauntlet Hair who were on the mainstage in the parking lot of Goodwill. Again, I was not out the door as quick as I could have been; but I was ready to make it through the evening. And the sun was out and we all know that heat and dehydration will get you tuckered out faster than anything else. Saying my "hello's" and getting lost in the crowded masses, trying to find an open spot of asphalt to park for a few, I overheard Andy R. mention that this was their last show in Denver. This isn't true, they have a farewell show at Larimer Lounge set for August 25; but the way the remark was so casual and devoid of any emotion made my ears perk immediately. I know these guys have been in the process of moving to New York for a while, and that's probably going to help propel their career to the lofty heights, and they deserve as much. It just seems like they're "over it" and the indifferent remark made this all too clear. Gauntlet Hair is awesome and I will definitely be at their farewell show; I hope those dudes find what they're looking for.
While the time flew by, it was all too suddenly nearing the 9:00 hour, and having little-to-no substantive nourishment that evening it was time to make a choice. There were food vendors everywhere: the Mexican truck next to the dumpling cart next to the tapas stand; there was barbecue food outside of Gary Lee's and there were delicious sweet potato fries at Sputnik; there was Go Fish and there was the Hornet. But the time was right for Famous Pizza, the South Broadway staple that seems to emanate the most pizza smells at the drunkest hour. Grabbing a slice and running to the next performance was so convenient and perfect for any festival-goer's needs. Easily one of my favorite acts of the weekend; not that I need to justify myself, but let me just add that I was very hungry and I'm a big pizza fan.
Filled with delicious, greasy cheese, it was soon time to go and see the Overcasters at the Hi-Dive. Undoubtedly the thought of many a UMS-er at the same moment; as me and a few friends approached the mammoth line out from of the venue we quickly ascertained that the Hi-Dive was at-capacity and couldn't allow more people in the door until more people went out the door. The music started wafting out to the street as I scratched my head and thought about "Plan B." Better to wander around and get a good spot for The Kissing Party, I decided, and proceeded to slowly meander down the crowded sidewalks which might as well have been "at-capacity," too. I would recommend always giving yourself time to do nothing at a music festival: that's when you find the cool stuff you may have missed otherwise.
And thusly, while walking by 3 Kings I overheard a song that sounded familiar but I couldn't think of where I had heard it from or what I was listening to: an opportunity was presented. It turns out what I was listening to was "Cold Feet" by Lost Lander, and I still am not sure where I've heard this song from before but it's good. These two good-looking kids put on a great show. Taking folk-pop melodies and adding solid vocals that combined range with harmony, Lost Lander's performance sounded really professionally arranged for just two people. Well, it turns out that these two are indeed professionals (Portland professionals, to be exact) and their last album was produced by Brent Knopf of Menomena. I'm glad I randomly caught these guys after being turned away from another venue, it was like instant festival karma.
Their attitude was fun, but their demeanor was serious; dressed in black and sunglasses a la the Kills, Diedre Sage and Gregg Dolan tossed out carnations and tiny tambourines with "the Kissing Party" scribbled on them. There was dancing, and there was a cheerleader; I'm pretty sure I saw this same cheerleader at Ben Kweller's Bluebird show back in May. The lights were dimmed and the crowded bar room of the Skylark Lounge became the shaking dance floor any UMS band would have dreamed of.
And the night wore on, as the small cadre I had around me found ourselves at Compound Basix to see Class Actress perform at 11:00 PM. This venue is located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and South Broadway on the small strip where you can find a gay bar or two, and conveniently pick up your ball-gag leather mask and a bottle for the after party. While I am not a stranger to the male revue a few doors down, I had never been to Compound Basix. My first impression was not a good one; the bar was packed, the girls room was an impenetrable fortress and there was no hopes of hydration. The main room has a fancy fluorescent tube-light display that reminded me of neon peacock feathers, and had it not been for the immense crowd and low lights I would have been able to notice the large expanse and second bar area that could have made for a more pleasant evening.
Feeling a little bewildered, I slinked to the front of the room where I ran into Peter who was running around SoBro all weekend getting some choice footage of the festival events. The film crew were literally everywhere at once, I caught glimpses of them here and there but it was almost as if I was seeing their Back-to-the-Future personas because it was physically impossible that they were able to cover the ground they did. Class Actress is one keyboard/sound-effects dude and the beautiful Elizabeth Harper; as happened many times during the weekend, the crowd vehemently objected to their set being cut short by the pre-set timeslots. The electro-pop jams were perfect in Compound Basix. Sure, no one could move but we couldn't help to try and dance along, it was impossible not to.
After mistakenly traveling to Delite in hopes of seeing Total Ghost but I got the times wrong and Atomic Mama was full-swing into their set. Given the option to hang around the open garage door which was attracting quite the crowd, I decided that the 7-hour stretch of music and festival what-have-you's had worn on me enough that a Total Ghost performance just wasn't in the cards. Good thing that those two dudes will most likely be around playing another show soon; they are my favorite fake German synth duo in the Denver Metro Area.
The final day of UMS started with a bang at the ripe old hour of 7:00 PM; so much music in so little time can really take it out of a girl. The final day of the festival was scheduled to be end things with a bang as main headliner Atlas Sound, as well as Denver favorites Paper Bird and Nathaniel Rateliff, but the real bang came from the on-again-off-again lightening threatening to halt all main stage activity. A light shower sprinkled over the South Broadway area in the early in the day, making for an atypical sticky afternoon. Things had cooled off nicely as the wind and clouds rolled in that evening. There were small families gathering in the credit union parking lot outside of the fenced off area of the main stage, most likely coming from the surrounding Baker neighborhood.
Pacific Pride was playing at Compound Basix, and I was looking forward to seeing them play ever since I ran into the Rob, my old roommate, and Trevor, my old coworker, outside of Lost Lake when they were setting up for a gig. I didn't get to catch them that night, so I figured this was a great opportunity. Getting to see Compound Basix in the light of day after my somewhat dispirited episode the night before was unexpectedly refreshing. I came to find out how accommodating that large area inside was now that it wasn't pitch black, and with a small back patio to boot this place was a great venue for shows. I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot, Compound Basix; I take back everything I said before, it wasn't your fault. Pacific Pride was fun; girls were dancing, boys were dancing and a blow-up Goldfish was being passed around.
Paper Bird is like Denver's singing telegram or the singing introductory credits to any movie that would feature and star Denver, Colorado. It was very fitting to have them play back-to-back with Rateliff, whom all could easily qualify as Denver rock royalty. It was fun to see them play, and hear Sarah Anderson slightly modify "Colorado" with what I think was a Cookie Monster impression; I'm just guessing by the reaction of all the kids running around by the credit union fence. Speaking of which, it's so entertaining to see little kids get excited about music; they are the masters of "dance like no one is watching." And let me tell you, little children love the shit out of some Paper Bird.
Before Rateliff and crew made their appearance, I thought I'd go check out some of The Morning Clouds set over at the Hi-Dive. I hadn't gotten a chance to see a performance at the Hi-Dive all weekend, so why not. Not knowing much about the band, they started off well enough with poppy tunes and melodic male vocals. But then things just started going downhill; there was possibly 20-odd people watching the music, but there was nowhere to stand without being in the way. Tables and chairs were being moved about from merch areas, the previous band was loading their equipment in their van out front, and then a film crew snaked through the crowd of which one hanger on turned to me and said,"Excuse me, we're shooting a TV show here." It was fairly preposterous (what TV show?) and too distracting; sorry Morning Clouds, maybe next time.
Myself and a few folks heard that Nathaniel Rateliff's set had been temporarily postponed due to lightning, so we mosied across the street for some Science Partner. I love that group, and have the fondest memories of accidentally hearing them for the first time when I showed up at the Larimer Lounge for what I thought was a show but turned out to be a private birthday party. And they open-armed invited me to this birthday party without so much as asking what my name was; that was cool. So Science Partner will always remind me of crashing birthday parties. They played to a packed house, and as we stood outside watching through the open garage door, we were joined by a few intoxicated individuals which may or may not have been traveling hobos. Missing teeth, missing shoes, barely able to speak coherently; maybe they were just hardcore UMS-ers and had been sleeping in the Goodwill lot through the weekend. The door guy came over to the rowdy bunch a few times to ask them to stop touching the drummer, but for the most part these guys made air guitar and head-banging gestures in a harmless fashion that only enhanced the auditory experience for us sidewalk watchers.
Standing outside, I ran into my old friend Kody who happened to be playing in a band called Hills and Hollows scheduled to play after Science Partner; wanting to catch part of Nathaniel Rateliff, I decided to wander back across the street to see what was afoot. Even though Nathaniel Rateliff's set was postponed by lightening, the band wrapped up at the same time they were scheduled to which meant that they played for twenty minutes. I guess the Denver Post was on a tight schedule; or on they were like me and kind of feeling festivaled out, so didn't feel the need to prolong things more than necessary. I barely had enough time to stand in the bathroom line and be privy to a drunken debate between four men in blonde wigs about government responsibility and STD's before Rateliff and crew said, "Goodnight!" Back to Delite we went to catch the five-piece Hills and Hollows, and this weird bunny dude with the Vitamin Water. The band was good; honestly, by this point my hearing had kind of made everything sound like beans in a tin can, so I think they probably sounded better than what I could hear. The group did put on a good show for being one of the last performers of the weekend, and were competing with the same timeslot as Atlas Sound.
Atlas Sound was the lullaby that put the baby to sleep. This baby, right here. Singer Bradford Cox exclaimed that he had much more than forty minutes in him, and would play for the rest of the night if anyone had an attic they wanted to invite him to. I wordlessly invited him to the attic of my mind as I drifted off into a sweet sleep that night, dreaming about all the great UMS music I was able to hear before my journey was over.