Whitacre

Photo by Kori Hazel

It’s impossible not to root for Denver’s Whitacre. The folk-rock band manages to be as life-affirming as they are tribulation telling, able to touch on very real and very human aspects of life in a way that in turn brings people together. Kicking off the outdoor Knockout Stage on a blisteringly hot final day of UMS was not an easy set to stand through, but that’s what made Whitacre’s performance so special. Seeing the uncontainable joy across the faces of all five members, and watching lead singer Paul Whitacre connect with each member of that audience made the performance feel important — a precious but fleeting moment that we all had the privilege of experiencing together. Watching it play out, and watching that same joy radiating from complete strangers made the set all the more worthwhile. It embodied everything UMS stands for. – Kori Hazel 

Earthgang

Photo by Kori Hazel

Of all the headliners at this year’s Underground Music Showcase, none were as triumphant as Earthgang. Drawing a significant crowd to the Odyssey Stage Sunday night, Earthgang had the entire lot jumping. People were craning their necks and grasping onto the rails trying to catch a glimpse of the Atlanta duo, who for their part threw down the gauntlet in their high octane set. Capturing the crowd in such a unanimous fashion made Earthgang, hands down, one of the most exciting sets of the weekend.  – Kori Hazel

SIXXXD

UMS

Photo by Kori Hazel

UMS did DJ SIXXXD a disservice offering up only 30 minutes during the Moon Magnet Day Party, however within that small time frame, she turned it out. Playing a set of jungle and house music, SIXXXD had the Import Mechanics garage up in arms creating a dance party that quite literally stopped people in their tracks. When the abrupt end came, the confused faces told the story of a performance that ended far too soon — a tell-tale sign of a phenomenal set. – Kori Hazel 

Zach Maxwell

Photo by Karson Halloway

Synesthesia’s Cosmic Ball pop-up at 3 Kings produced some of the best sets of the weekend — Zach Maxwell’s, in particular, was one of them. Singeing the audience with a healthy dose of soul and funk, Maxwell had no shortage of gravitas propelling his set in the steamy venue. Melting faces with fiery guitar solos and singing his heart out, Maxwell turned the dial on a scorching set,  making one hell of a first impression as a newcomer the festival. – Kori Hazel 

Adiel Mitchell

UMS

Photo by Kori Hazel

Adiel Mitchell is a performer’s performer bar none. With an enviable ability to control a room, Mitchell did just that when he took over the Irish Rover Sunday night. Backed by Levi Double U, Mitchell ran the show like he himself was the headlining act, displaying confidence and control over his abilities in a way that screamed star power. Even going so far as to hit the street midway through his performance, surprising onlookers and bystanders with his nearly acapella voice at the point, Mitchell much like Maxwell upped the ante for the weekends’ shows. – Kori Hazel 

Erin Stereo

Although the Green Room was an underground oasis, you wouldn’t have been able to tell when Erin Stereo ripped the top off the place during her “balls to the wall”  DJ set. Blazing through an absolutely savage set of songs, many were caught off guard by the nearly non-stop thrill ride Erin Stereo’s stint at the pop-up proved to be. In fact, her set alone may have rendered every fan and swamp cooler useless in the hot underbelly, as people were dancing like their lives depended on it. – Kori Hazel 

Retrofette

Photo by Heather Fairchild

Disco funk outfit Retrofette was also a part of the Cosmic Ball, and it was absolutely filthy. Closing out the intergalactic funk festivities, Retrofette uncapped the sweatiest dance party of the weekend. Pulling in a crowd that extended far into the back of 3 Kings Tavern, Retrofette held that crowd and refused to shake it loose, rather, shaking them out until all inhibitions frothed over in what can only be described as dance floor anarchy. Already late into the night on Saturday, the second wind kept coming back again and again through their set refusing to die out until the band left the stage with turtlenecks clinging to their skin. – Kori Hazel 

Heavy Diamond Ring

Photo by Brittany Werges

This was the inaugural UMS performance for Heavy Diamond Ring. They lived up to the hype brought by their predecessors — several members of the band used to comprise the local outfit Paper Bird. Heavy Diamond Ring rocked smooth harmonies, sported tambourines and toe tapped to every drum line and key progression the band threw out at the crowd. Entertaining, charming and polished, Heavy Diamond Ring came up winning. – Camila Biddulph

Tuxedo

UMS

Photo by Kyle Cooper

Tuxedo ended the three-day event with the kind of high-energy performance necessary to tie up the weekend right. The duo, comprised of Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, know how to keep a crowd entertained having, between the two, decades of experience in the music industry. The vocals were great, the band was tight, and Hawthorne danced the night away, almost too well. The orchestration of the performance felt a bit off-putting during a festival advertised as “underground,” but maybe that peak at the mainstream is exactly enough to entice the curious without isolating the key audience. Either way, Tuxedo exceeded expectations and the duo lands itself firmly on our list of UMS’ best. – Camila Biddulph

Silver & Gold

Skylark was one of those one-off venues that took a second to find and sucked you in for hours once you did. Adding to the enchantment was Silver & Gold, the Colorado band hailing from Greeley, making an appearance after midnight on Friday night. The energy of the band was infectious, with the bassist, Brandon Vela, sporting all smiles during the set. The crowning moment was their cover of “Hang Me Up To Dry,” during which the entire crowd sang along, libations high, voices yelling out into the night. – Camila Biddulph

Corsicana

There is something quite endearing about Ben Pisano’s stage presence – something which can largely be attributed to his charm. However, it’s his hauntingly smooth vocals, the driving force behind Corsicana, that keep you longing for more. UMS attendees had two opportunities to see Corsicana this weekend, but the acoustic set Sunday afternoon was something quite magical. Baere Brewing was nearly full as fans piled in for the set, and Pisano surpassed everyone’s expectations. His soft, yet powerful voice floated over the crowd, captivating everyone lucky enough to catch this hidden gem of a set. – Mariah Hansen

 

Knuckle Pups

Photo by Karson Halloway

Denver band Knuckle Pups is the kind of band that makes you want to spend your summer nights at a backyard barbeque singing with your friends. Nothing proves that more than how they started their UMS set Friday night – kicking off with a sing-along to the Ghostbusters theme. Throughout the evening it was clear that Knuckle Pups came out to have a good time, and fans were happy to join in the fun. – Mariah Hansen 

Zealot

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to discover that you’re a werewolf, then Zealot’s music is exactly what you need. Adorned in flowers and with horns on their head, Zealot tells the story of monsters – and indie rock is their medium. With lyrics about everything from the devil to quantum physics, it should come as no surprise that their UMS set was nothing short of fantastical. Zealot drew a surprisingly large crowd for a band who has yet to release either an EP or an album. However, Zealot’s high energy performance and ability to engage with the audience makes it clear that this is one group that will soon be a Denver favorite. – Mariah Hansen 

Covenhoven

As the sun started to set on Friday night, Covenhoven took the Knockout Stage – a great way to reset from a hot first day of UMS before continuing on to the night ahead. A six-piece band – complete with violin, cello, and banjo – joined Joel van Horne to play an intimate set that kept the audience engaged with a complex, layered sound and story after story with every song. No one could help themselves from moving with the music, just letting the band guide them easily into the night. Playing what he estimated to be his 10th UMS, van Horne clearly loves performing to his hometown crowds, and his fans gave that love right back. – Tiara Stephan 

DRAMA

Photo by Brittany Werges

UMS can be exhausting. Between the summer heat, the blaring music and the sweltering humidity of jammed pack venues, the three-day showcase can take a toll. Fortunately, there are often moments of reprieve that keep your UMS tank full. For us, DRAMA’s Saturday performance (and some Redbull) not only brought us back to life, it changed our entire outlook. Kicking off at 6:20 p.m., right after the peak of the day’s heat, the clouds gathered right as the crowd did. DRAMA’s frontwoman Lluvia Rosa Vela immediately apologized — explaining her first name (which means rain in Spanish) must have summoned it. This — paired with the fact DRAMA’s music has been described as the soundtrack to your breakup —could have easily turned into a wet blanket. But instead, Vela and Na’el Shehade (the second half of the duo) embodied everything that was good about that afternoon shower. Soothing and radiant  — Vela was all smiles as she wrapped herself in Shehade’s mood-altering R&B beats. Her silky voice never wavered as she beamed ear to ear as a woman unburdened. Digging into their new single, fittingly titled “Give No Fucks,” the crowd followed suit. Capped with a rainbow and a bubble wand, DRAMA brought everything but. — Brittany Werges

Patrick Dethlefs

Though the temperature inside South Broadway Christian Church was less of a respite from the outside heat as many wished it would be, Patrick Dethlefs’ performance was captivating enough that none of that mattered. Playing with a full band, the atmosphere in the church was light as Dethlefs and drummer Mark Anderson bantered back and forth between songs. Most of the humor was church-related as the musicians confessed that they had never performed in a venue like this before. Regardless of the new environment around them, the group played a tight set, keeping audience members toe-tapping and head-nodding throughout every song. Dethlefs closed out the performance solo, the band members leaving the stage, letting him simply sing along with his guitar. It was a sweet and simple way to end the set, but effective, leaving the audience members wanting, just wishing he could stay on stage for a little longer. – Tiara Stephan 

Empress Of

Lorely Rodriguez has been making her way into the national music spotlight since 2012 under the moniker Empress Of, and this past weekend Rodriguez was one of the national acts invited to crash Denver’s UMS. She played to a large crowd at the Showcase Stage and kept everyone dancing the second she started her set. She clearly enjoyed herself, showcasing her impressive vocals in front of an energetic audience. The set was as carefree fun as it was infectious, starting with Rodriguez herself and spreading to every corner of the outdoor stage. The 45 minute time-slot felt almost too short for the amount of energy Rodriguez produced with her electro-pop sound. Empress Of left everyone hoping she’ll soon come back to Denver again, and the next time she does pay us a visit, it’s clear she’ll be welcomed back with open arms. – Tiara Stephan 

Marshall Poole

Photo by Coy Jennings

If you stepped into the back room of Denver Drumz and Music Saturday evening then you were lucky enough to catch the Idaho band, Marshall Poole. Their groovy clothes and psychedelic bass waves were reminiscent vessels that recollected classic bands of past decades. The background keys alongside a versatile guitar that changed from piercing to sublime every song, highlighted the shape-shifting sound of the heavy-rock and indie psychedelia influence of the members. They’re a band worth seeing, but even more so, they’re a band you have to listen to if you like rock’n’roll. – Andrew Venegas

Emma Mayes and the Hip

There was a sharp contrast in the venue and artists vibe on Sunday night. It was dark, damp and
musty in the Three Kings Tavern, while clusters of people were staggered around the open floor — that is, until they heard the rhythmic sound of Emma Mayes and the Hip hijacking the attention of the audience. The energy arose and those who felt the rhythm couldn’t help but sway their bodies and tap their feet to the harmonious trio of singers leading the jazzy, soulful inspired R&B group. Allusions to a different Denver music scene could be familiarized by way of poppy snare drum beats and a flaring trumpet that called back to the good old days of brass bands. – Andrew Venegas 

Coastal Wives

Photo by Karson Halloway

It could have been the late Saturday night slot and the booze or it could have just been the quality of Coastal Wives, but down at The Irish Rover Pub, the crowd was lively despite the small space they encompassed. Couples danced, individuals rocked, it was obvious the band was self-aware of their presence and the effect it had at the venue. They matched the energy that was given to them and raised the stakes with each new song. From the first pluck of the guitar to the last hit of the drums, Coastal Wives knew what the crowd needed and supplied it tenfold. – Andrew Venegas 

Tessa Violet

Photo Courtesy of Tessa Violet on Facebook

Anyone who’s been to a music festival knows that getting the attention of a gazing and bystanding audience is no easy feat. Indie-pop singer Tessa Violet was able to grab the audience’s attention and then some during her performance at the Showcase Stage at Goodwill on Sunday. Violet and her band had the crowd engaged in a successful call and response during her unnamed song about “existential” boredom, and singing and grooving along to her popular song “Crush.” Despite a brief sound outage — which Violet and her bassist handled comically — Violet’s set was one of the most fun this year at UMS. – Jessica Rendall 

Ghost Tapes

Although their sound was a little big for the relatively small bar at Skylark Lounge, the “modern soul” group fit perfectly with the retro feel of the venue. Ghost Tapes were high-energy, sultry, smooth and everything in between. Singer Ishka Phoenix — whose prowess as a singer is reminiscent of No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani — called to the stage collaborators Cassidy Bacon and Kaitlin “Kdubbs” Williams to complete a seamless performance of jazz, funk and soul. Ghost Tapes dipped us back into a different decade, and we were OK with it. – Jessica Rendall 

Slow Caves

Photo by Kyle Cooper

Indie-rock group Slow Caves are old souls in the industry and in their genre, with talent and a catalog of music that stretches beyond their twenty-something years. Their performance at UMS showed us nothing less. On Sunday, the local band gave a set complete with music from their debut album, Falling, and a dedication to their childhood dog. The group also performed at 3 Kings Tavern and the Irish Rover Pub on Saturday, making several appearances throughout the three-day festival. The weekend was hot, but Slow Caves slowed it down and kept us cool. – Jessica Rendall 

Freq Day Party

Freq Boutique, a monthly modular synth meet-up organized by local synthesizer manufacturer WMD, hosted their own stage at UMS this year. Held at Hi-Dive, the gritty bar hosted a myriad of producers that all performed on their massive modular rigs. Each act carried their boxes and flat boards wired with hardware up to the table placed on the dance floor and performed live, often improvised, sets. Nasty Nachos, aka Alex Anderson, MC’d between each act, which varied from atmospheric ambient to trance-y techno, space-y electro, and melodic yet brooding house. Sine Mountain, Vino Valo, and Atonal Stimulant were amongst those that performed, and the founder of WMD himself, William Masterson, delivered a warm, acid-rinsed set as well. – Padideh Aghanoury

Y La Bamba

Photo by Kyle Cooper

The Portland-based folk musician Luz Elena Mendoza, who goes by the stage name Y La Bamba, performed at the Knockout stage on Sunday evening. Her performance featured a full live band, with Denver-based musician and technician at WMD Julia Mendiolea on back up vocals and keys. Mendoza sang in Spanish for nearly her entire set save for one or two songs, and her powerful, bassy voice reverberated off the neighboring houses and between the alleys. She added an original flair to her performance that differentiates her from the traditional sound of folk-rock — playing fast rather than slow, rocking out at times, and incorporating a bluesy improvisational jam from the band in a majority of the songs performed. As the vibrant sun slowly sank behind the Rockies, Y La Bamba wrapped up their set on a fast, grooving beat that left the crowd thirsty for more. – Padideh Aghanoury

Smirk

Smirk played in Skylark following the Glassss Records day party that occupied the cozy, ’50s-style diner Sunday afternoon. A jazz trio comprised of Luke Maxson on keys, Ryan Bannigan on drums and Alex Goldberg on bass, Smirk delivered a cool, smooth set in a style that felt very reminiscent of Roy Ayers (minus the vibraphone). The muted, chromatic keynotes bounced off the black and white tiling and filled the sun-filled room with warm harmonics. Listeners sat in svelt booths and soaked in the music, while more energized fans danced around the retro bar. Smirk closed out their set with a very well-known blues standard but delivered an original take that truly makes them stand out in a festival teeming with talented musicians. – Padideh Aghanoury

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