Denver’s Westword Music Showcase Tolls a Bell for Normality in the Music-Centric City

 Evan Dale // Sep 24, 2021 

The Mile High City has always had an intersectional sort of luxury built on a central location and a long list of venues ranging from the cozy and charming to the modern and moving, that have made the city an overwhelmingly underrated hub for live music, for years. Just like the cattle trails, trains, and interstates that have historically crisscrossed from coast-to-coast, comfortably bow-tying at Denver’s mid-country hearth, bands and artists on tour, too, find themselves always passing through. In Denver, you can catch the pop stars and the up-and-comers – the bluegrass and the bass, the hip-hop, and the heavy metal – and, depending on when it is on an artist’s respective rise – and when it is on the calender during Colorado’s packed concert schedule – you can catch some of the most exciting or some of the most established artists at any number of intimate venues, old and new. When Westword Magazine – one of Denver’s most time-honored culture publications – pairs with the Mission Ballroom – one of the city’s newest and most state-of-the-art venues – a time honored tradition – the Westword Music Showcase – takes on a new and necessary identity, still oh, so rooted in Denver’s own cultural ubiquity when it comes to live music in particular.


From the very beginning, this year’s festivities felt different, and that’s a good thing. 2020’s Westword Music Showcase did not occur for reasons surely anyone reading can calculate. In years prior, the festival has been held at various locales in a pair of other neighborhoods: LoDo (Lower Downtown) and The Golden Triangle (an area sort of South on the city’s diagonal Speer Boulevard defined by the museums and booming construction of an art district turned densely populated – and densely trafficked – hodgepodge. In 2021, however, the Westword Music Showcase found itself rightfully in RiNo (River North), where an explosive – yet undeniably double-edged – growth spurt has made it culturally one of the city’s most interesting and contested intersections. But music can heal – as can art – and that’s especially true when so much of it is local. For local, by local.


Day one of the two-part festival was a celebration of Denver; a celebration of RiNo; and a celebration of the intersectional nature that Denver and RiNo in particular find themselves trying to balance. With dozens of local acts taking the stage at 10 different venues that are, true to Denver’s id, both old and new, both cozy and modern, both charming and moving, the festival led off on a local note. And it did so by putting forth even more than the staging of musicianship. In accompaniment of a day-long string of shows across the RiNo neighborhood in established venues and kitted out bar hotspots, Westword partnered with the RiNo Art District organization to add five new murals by local artists across the neighborhood, granting space in the process for festival attendees to watch the artworks take shape in real time; granting space for the many that call home to the neighborhood to appreciate and ponder beneath the works for years to come. Street performers, open houses at galleries, and a vibrant cultural buzz that the city hadn’t felt since before Covid took its grip on the very industries at the heart of the Showcase, rounded out the innermost character of the event, which is in and of itself, a microcosmic look into the character of Denver at large.


Day two of the two-part festival was a celebration for Denver. Folding in an eclectic line-up of acclaimed and international musicians for mainstaging performances in and outside of the Mission Ballroom – RiNo’s newest and most prestigious grand venue – Westword satisfied the palettes – and brought something new in the process – to everyone’s musical sensitivities. Norwegian producer of positive vibes, Matoma; Minnesota Indie Band, Hippo Campus; Eight-string bass lord and Neo-Funk Master, Thundercat; and Pop-centric American Modern Rock Group, Young the Giant joined a number of local musicians to jam as the afternoon turned to the night at a series of stages outside the Mission Ballroom, itself. Once nighttime took hold and the brusque chill of late Summer at elevation caught everyone’s attention, the party moved indoors where KDJ, Duke Dumont, and Kaytranada brought the house, and subsequently, brought the house down, rounding out a wide-ranging list of diverse musicianship in a way that from a further focal point, really speaks to the diverse nature of Denver’s listening preferences.


The Mile High City is having – perhaps more than ever before – a cultural moment of intersectional growth, where as one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, it has at times been hard to define what it is that Denver really is, and what it is that Denver is really becoming. And yet, if the Westword Music Showcase showed us all one thing, it’s that even in the face of immense adversity, Denver’s true strength lies where it has always lied: in that same intersectionality. The city is a melting pot of cultures from across the United States and increasingly, from across the world. With different backgrounds and different cultures, comes also the opportunities for a wide range of things like art and music – things that the Westword Music Showcase puts immediately into focus. More than a year removed from any sort of consistent exhibitions of just what it is that Denver’s cultural growth has to show for it, and the Westowrd Music Showcase tolled the bells of normality for the art and music centric city, ever on the move. Maybe all of us just simply needed to move – and groove – as well.

Check out our photo galleries from the festival here:

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