Kendall Smith has been the director of Denver’s Underground Music Showcase for six years now. And in that time, the event has grown from a few local bands playing a few local venues to a 16-venue, 168-band, 280-volunteer production. So how did someone with a background in corporate finance enter the Denver music scene and manage to create one of the best regional music events around?
When I ask, Smith just smiles, “I got lucky.”
After graduating from the University of Northern Texas, Smith joined the corporate ranks, where he worked in finance and accounting. After 20+ years in that game, he left in 2009 to “ride my bicycle for a year and think about what to do next”.
Enter The UMS.
“I’d volunteered for couple o years [at UMS]. When Ricardo left, he recommended me as his successor. As part of my interview with the CEO of the Denver Post, I was asked to put a plan together for the next year. I relied on what I knew. I presented the plan as a comparative financial statement. This allowed me to walk a room full of people with little familiarity with the operations of the festival through the changes needed to bring it into the Denver Post Community Foundation.”
But taking over and successfully building the biggest independent music festival in the region wasn’t something that always allowed Smith to rely on his background in finance.
“There were plenty of learning curves,” Smith told me, “But I brought a strong team together, and when you do that, it is a little easier to get up those curves.”
Smith and his team have arguably climbed those learning curves to the top of the music festival mountain. With thousands of artists vying for a spot on the lineup every summer, over 280 volunteers begging to join the team, and 25 sponsors backing the showcase, The UMS has certainly built itself into a Colorado music scene staple.
So what is Smith’s vision for the future of the event?
“I want us to continue to help grow the local music scene here in Colorado, and I want this to become a destination event as well. That’s one reason we have started the city-specific day parties.” he added.
Essentially, The UMS has branched out to surrounding music markets and partnered with them for a few shows at the festival. These cities (which this year include Fort Collins, CO, Sante Fe, NM, and Boise, ID) bring in some of their talented local acts, and they share the stage with Colorado bands, giving all artists involved the chance to connect and chat about the industry in their state. Some bands have gone on to tour with the artists they met through this partnership, trading hometown shows and putting bills together across multiple music markets. Simultaneously, it’s allowed other regions to really showcase their scene, creating the kind of community that one might have found in the earlier SXSW days.
“Playing The UMS means that you’re promised a set that starts on time, a room that sounds good, promotion from our team, and a crowd. And with all of that comes great community- artists are talking and playing together, and other people in the industry are connecting and having a good time.”
And so, after clearly seeing Smith's passion for this live event, I had to ask, was Smith ever a performer himself? Maybe before his corporate days?
“No!” he laughs. “I couldn’t be up there myself, but I love watching artists when they’re really in the moment. I grew up going to shows in Texas’ Golden Triangle (between Denton, Dallas, and Forth Worth), so my love for live music grew there. It didn’t matter if we had to drive 40 miles for a good show, that’s just what you did and it was always worth the time.”
So whether you’re walking down the block to get to The UMS, or you’re driving in from somewhere else in Colorado or beyond; whether you’re coming for the local or the national acts on the lineup; whether you’re working in the corporate world or the music industry; whether you’re an artist who loves to play, or a spectator who just enjoys good, live music, there’s a place for you at The UMS. And this year’s event is only a few weeks away (July 28-31)! Get your tickets here, read up on volunteer info here, and keep up with special announcements from Kendall and his team on The UMS Facebook page.
PS: Wondering about the full lineup for The UMS this year? Here it is! It’s a killer one, folks. Stay tuned for our updates as we're covering the fest! See you there!
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per The UMS and The Denver Post. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.