Denver has an incredible amount of culture. It really is a mile-high lifestyle here in one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and there’s a lot to be said about the music and arts scene that’s been growing alongside the population throughout the past decade. Of course, there’s Red Rocks and the iconic Comedy Works, one of the pinnacle destinations for stand-up comedians across the country. What really makes Denver so admirable though, is the local music and arts scene. There are literally thousands of admired musicians and visual artists scattered across the metropolitan area, and every year that number grows. With dozens of new festivals popping up around the city post-lockdown, it can be difficult to stand out in the sea of expansive lineups and big-budget performances. Thankfully, Denver’s newest festival experience, the Animas Music and Arts Carnival, is shaping up to be a unique and exciting experience that will celebrate local creators in an authentic way. The self-described “carnival” will take place on October 22nd and 23rd at the new River venue in RiNo, and promises a strange, spooky experience that will dive deep into Denver’s music and arts culture.
Animas has been a long time coming. Alexandria Rowan, the primary force behind the event, has been planning this festival for the better part of 2021. The festival was actually supposed to take place in August, but Rowan’s vision was too grand and multifaceted for the original venue to accommodate. So instead of sacrificing her creative vision, she decided to postpone the event until she discovered the perfect space. She eventually found everything she was looking for in the new River music venue located in Denver’s River North Arts District – popularly known as RiNo. “What we loved about [River] was their commitment to the independent arts community,” Rowan explained.
“For every single piece of art within their venue, a hundred percent of the commission goes to the artists. We loved hearing that because it shows that small businesses and small venues can have a relationship with the arts communities and with this small creative community in a way that is symbiotic so we can all rise up and grow together. That’s the main mission behind Animas.”
The Animas Music and Arts Carnival is more than a music festival. It’s a multifaceted, two-day creative endeavor with tons of surreal and exciting activities. From an AR scavenger hunt to silent discos and fire twirlers, there’s a lot going on. Rowan needed a venue that would be open to the strange and experimental nature of the festival. More importantly, she needed a venue that was more concerned about supporting the independent arts community than they were adhering to the traditional motifs of a festival experience. Animas and River share a mutual respect for the independent arts community and an appreciation for the less corporate approach to festival planning.
“When working with the independent community, you don’t want to have to go around all this red tape just to deliver something magical and meaningful to an audience. River just enabled that to do that.”
Animas’s sponsors and partnerships were also carefully chosen to match the spooky, psychedelic vibe of the carnival experience. For example, Full Body Sounds – a Boulder-based music technology company – will be bringing an interactive sound sculpture to the festival, and it’s as strange as it sounds. Basically, Full Body Sound uses TENS technology, which is traditionally used for pain management and physical therapy, to electrically stimulate muscles to the beat of whatever music you’re listening to. This allows you to literally feel the music throughout your body. Even better, this technology works in a group setting just by linking your hands with a neighbor.
All the extra stuff is great, but what about the music? Staying true to their focus on the local community, Animas’s lineup features a strong representation of Denver’s electronic scene. Headliners include Psymbionic and jackLNDN, but the majority of the roster is made up of impressive up-and-coming DJs and producers like AZTEK and Freddy Rule. There’s a healthy mix of deep-house, bass music and ambient deep-dub sounds from all corners of the electronic world, a perfect cocktail for Denver’s “bass capital of the world” status.
Each artist represents Denver’s collective sonic vibe but more importantly, Animas will showcase the rare collaborative spirit and experimental nature of our city’s creative culture, something Rowan was sure to emphasize.
“I love that Denver’s music community is not afraid to experiment and go outside of the box. that was the first thing that I noticed [about Denver] when I really got embedded into the bass and electronic scene. Artists just want to play the music that they love, not so much music that they think people want to hear, and people in Denver are really receptive to that. It’s such a lovely symbiotic relationship between the music community and people that appreciate music in Denver.”
While that sentiment has always been true of Denver’s music scene, this synergetic culture is more important in the post-pandemic world than ever before. We need live music to feed our souls and feed our economy. The stability of Denver’s residents, from small business owners to live performers to blue-collar workers, is often intertwined with the city’s vibrant live music scene. Without it, our economy and demographics might look a lot different. That’s why it’s so important for us to support the local creative community in whatever way we can. It’s good for them, it’s good for your neighbor and it’s good for the city.
Although the live music business has struggled to stay afloat throughout the past 18 months, it’s also important to fight back against the narrative that our creative industry is helpless in the face of adversity. There’s a lot of talk about the “new normal” in a post-pandemic world. For the music industry, this (hopefully) means giving a bigger cut to the performers and supporting local venues.
“It’s like when there’s a wildfire and flowers grow out of all of that death and decay. I just want the local community to know that we don’t have to wait for government programs. We don’t have to wait for handouts or big corporations to create these spaces. It’s something that we can do ourselves. Platforms like Patreon show that we don’t need to have thousands of followers to create something meaningful in our city and your community. Just by the support of locals and your friends and family, it creates this gravity that people can really pick up on because it’s coming from a genuine place of just wanting to see our city grow for the better.”
The music industry is infamous for the slimy and unethical nature of gatekeepers and executives. Thankfully, Denver’s scene is constantly challenging these traditions, and people like Rowan are deconstructing that nasty narrative by organizing events and festivals that represent the more positive side of the business. The Animas Music and Arts Carnival not only represents the spirit of Denver – but the festival also aims to contribute to a new post-pandemic music industry focused on creativity, collaboration and compassion.