Mile High music exchange

Jul 262011
Authors: Matt Miller

Denver –– A sweaty mass of tank tops and tight pants, moustaches and Ray Ban sunglasses packed into the Illiterate Gallery on South Broadway on July 23 to see Fort Collins band Jay J Matott and the Arctic.

They were one of about 11 bands from Fort Collins that drove the hour south to the Mile High City to perform in this year’s Underground Music Showcase.

Out on the street, music from the five-piece band mixed with the sounds of passing cars and groups of equally hip looking music lovers as they walked between another Fort Collins band, Cotton Keys, playing next door at Indie Ink.

From July 21 to 24 it was a scene of music, art, organic popsicles, sweat and Pabst Blue Ribbon as more than 300 bands took over venues, restaurants, bars and art galleries for the 11th annual Underground Music Showcase.

The night of the 23rd, a crowd formed outside of the High-Dive, one of UMS’ main venues. Inside, Bear Hands was playing to a filled-to-capacity audience, but outside, those left to hear only the muffled bass beats took out their frustration on a giant pinata hanging from a tree.

It was nothing but an unbridled display for a passion of music.

About 11,000 people took to the small stretch of South Broadway during the four-day festival to witness this chaotic expression of music love.

“I saw there were people from 13 to 70 years old,” said Jay J Matott, lead singer of Jay J Matott and the Arctic, who graduated from CSU in May. “There were families as well as the hip people.”

The arrays of people were drawn in by the diverse assortment of music. Along Broadway, groups swung from venue to venue tasting the collection of local music from punk, to indie, to rap, funk, bluegrass and even comedy.

“I saw a lot of world music, and a lot of different textures and talents,” Matott said.
UMS was an opportunity for Fort Collins musicians to step out of their local comfort zone and show Denver what is going on in the north region of the state.

“Fort Collins is like Denver’s hidden treasure,” Matott said. “A lot of people in Denver hear about our stuff and it only benefits UMS to bring Fort Collins bands down there.”

The festival has grown in recent years, from four bands on one stage and 300 attendees its first year, to 25 venues along South Broadway. UMS is also a completely non-profit event, with all profits going to the Denver Post Community Foundation.

This year, attendance rose to 11,000 from last year’s 9,000 concertgoers, said UMS Event Director Kendall Smith.

As a growing music showcase, Smith said in the future he would like to see UMS as a destination event.

“The UMS happens in Denver, but to me it represents the whole Rocky Mountain region,” Smith said.

In order to represent the whole Rocky Mountain region, Smith said it was important for Fort Collins bands to be involved with UMS. It is a way for them to share music with Denver artists who can’t make it up north to see concerts.

“With Fort Collins, that’s a thriving scene,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of talent up there.”

Smith described UMS as a sort of music convention where artists who know each other could get together.

And this type of mutual support was obvious as bands from different areas in Colorado meshed together in support of music.

At Delite on the final day of UMS, members from the upcoming Denver band Pedals of Spain watched a set from Galaxies. The band mixed into a crowd that included Mattot, to watch the Fort Collins native play.

As Dillion Groeneman, the one musician who made up Galaxies, pounded a room rattling beat on a drum, members of the band Candy Claws, also from his hometown, watched through the street window. They watched as balloons filled the room and soon the entire audience was joyfully swatting the colorful orbs back and forth.

On the 24th, Mattot shoved his way into the packed bar, the Hornet, to see Pedals of Spain. Bodies overflowed onto the street eager to watch four part harmonies, guitar solos, and jazz-trained trumpet player, Wesley Watkins ,dance around on a table, his head inches away from a fan. It was a set Mattot said was one of his favorites.

Even Fort Collins own Matthew Sage from the band Kick Majestic caught some other shows even though he was only in Denver for two hours.

For Kick Majestic, it was their first time playing at UMS, and they were shocked at being invited to play at such a large festival.

“It kind of blew my mind,” Sage said. “I’ve been to South By Southwest twice and it was like a mini version.”

Sage said that for Fort Collins musicians playing at UMS, exposure and mingling with the Denver community was key.

“Fort Collins, as much as it is comfortable, it’s also frustrating,” Sage said. “We never get to get out of Fort Collins.”

He said for his band and for others coming from outside Denver, UMS was the perfect way to test the waters of big city music.

“It’s nice to go to Denver and play for a new crowd that’s pretty receptive,” Sage said.
But, as beneficial as UMS is for Fort Collins bands, the scope of the festival works to showcase
the Colorado region as a musical powerhouse.

“It’s a good way for people to see what’s going on in middle America,” Sage said.

News Editor Matt Miller can be reached at

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