For those of you from the Mile High City who didn't have the chance to make it out to SXSW this year, rest assured, our plethora of talented bands left Austin (and myself) completely and utterly speechless. It's safe to say that Denver absolutely destroyed SXSW. In addition to the various performances that our beloved bands delivered at a multitude of venues all over the city, the most impressive event for Denver, and by far my favorite night of the conference, occurred at Illegal Pete's First Annual Starving Artists Showcase on Friday night.
As we packed into the steamy hot venue (Peckerheads on 6th Street), I was surprised to see so many unfamiliar faces. Amongst the gaggle of Colorado friends that came to support their hometown heroes, was a mass of eager, fresh-faced, soon-to-be fans. Whether the newbies came to horde the free beer and food, or truly in search of hearing great music, they were elegantly seduced by the overwhelming talent of the Denver music scene and stayed until the end. At one point the line to get into the bar was down the street and around the corner, with bouncers only letting one person in as one person came out. The two room venue- each with it's own stage- was a dynamite location to host the event. The scene was set for a perfect evening of showcasing Denver talent- and perfect it was.
Air Dubai took the stage first and started the night off just right. Heads swiveled away from whiskey shots and hazy conversations as the dynamic hip hop outfit blasted one great tune after the next. The crowd, still swelling as people continually shuffled in, migrated towards the stage to better absorb the music. When the short set ended, disappointment swept the room- but not for long. The sweet sounds of Take To The Oars came drifting over from the second stage and fans eagerly traveled to the room next door to take it all in. The energetic musicians illuminated the night with their poised and polished rock, causing feet to tap and heads to bounce. Whispers of "These guys are awesome!" could be heard all around and all eyes were on the band. As their last note faded into the darkness, cheers erupted. But the fun was just beginning.
The invigorated crowd, radiant with joy, hungrily searched for more first-class music; and they were not disappointed by the wonderfully sleek indie pop rock of Fierce Bad Rabbit on the first stage. Looking confident and dapper in their fancy attire, the band from Fort Collins delivered a non-stop, upbeat performance that commanded the audience's full attention. That is, until their set ended and The Knew struck up a beat on the second stage. The gifted, nonchalant musicians offered up a set of heavier, southern rock-influenced songs that brushed smiles across the faces of everyone within earshot, despite the heat caused by mass amounts of human bodies and little to no air conditioning.
As that set concluded, fans were greeted by the delightfully cheery sounds of The Heyday blasting from the first stage. Movement became more difficult as people continued to pour into the venue, but crowdedness did not prevent the fans from bopping along to the slick, sprightly pop tunes that reigned down upon their ears. Next up on the second stage was American Tomahawk. The intricate, thoughtful sounds of the indie rock band seemed to mesmerize the crowd into a trancelike state of bliss.
Luckily the audience snapped themselves out of it in time to claw their way back to the first stage and get positioned for The Photo Atlas. This is when the night began to reach an all-time high. With Peckerheads at capacity, there was not enough room for all the fans to be in one room, so people who weren't aggressive enough got stuck listening to the music from the room next door- but it didn't stop them from dancing. The Photo Atlas simply electrified the audience with their well-crafted indie dance punk. Bodies smashed against one another and sweat dripped down faces as the crowd shimmied to the beat and shouted out the all lyrics. The musicians moved, played, and performed in perfect harmony with each other, displaying unparalleled smoothness and fervent precision. It was obvious they were feeding off the electricity of the fans and when their set ended, I don't know who was smiling more, the band or the audience.
Just when it seemed that everyone had reached a state of absolute euphoria and there wasn't possibly any more happiness that could be endured, The Epilogues started up on the second stage. Feet were shuffling and bodies were scuffling as the entire building tried to grapple their way over to catch a glimpse. Lights flashing and guitars blaring, The Epilogues jumped right into an immaculate set of carefully chosen songs. The passionate urgency with which the band played engulfed the jubilant crowd. Arms, sticky with perspiration, reached out in earnest towards the stage while voices, hoarse from cheering, rose up to join together in song. A heightened sense of elation filled the room as pristine melodies and meaningful lyrics resounded off of every wall. As the last song concluded, and the wild cheers subsided, you could sense the fans wanted more.
Though the pinnacle of the night had been reached, it still wasn't over yet. Gatsby's American Dream (the only non-Colorado band) performed their hearts out back on the first stage. Then Denver favorites Cobraconda brought down the house with their spirited raps and engaging beats. Even though the free beer was gone, the crowd stuck around to get a little taste of the Denver hip hop scene.
I have been to a lot of shows in Denver and seen a lot of local bands play. Never in my existence, however, have I felt energy as incredible as I did that night in Austin. Our city is home to the most talented bands, true, but it is also home to the greatest people. The camaraderie, support, and respect that every musician in every band displays towards one another is the most unique and incredible thing I have witnessed. Not only are the artists bonded by music, they are bonded by friendship; and the strength of these bonds is impossible to find anywhere else. My heart nearly exploded with pride for Denver, its musicians, and its people that night as the Colorado showcase was executed with complete success. Congratulations to everyone who made that night so magical and thank you for showing SXSW that Denver music absolutely cannot be rivaled.