Umphrey’s McGee Lit Up Aspen's Belly Up For Three-Night Colorado Run

By: Cy Fontenot

After a two week break, the six-piece power band Umphrey’s McGee took a crowd of a few hundred people in Aspen CO, on an epic musical journey. They had the Belly Up, a notoriously intimate venue, dripping from the ceiling in good times at their Wednesday night show.  

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They started out the night by jamming their way into fan-favorite, “Resolution.” They then made their way into Umphrey’s classic, “In the Kitchen,” and left the crowd steaming with excitement as they closed out their first set with “Bridgeless.”

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Giving the room some time to breathe with intermission, Umphrey’s came out for their second set with guns blazin’ for “Phil’s Farm.” Just as things started to get really frothy, they hit us with “Booth Love, and then an OG Umphrey’s jam, “Nothing Too Fancy,” which left the crowd picking their faces up off the floor from the sweet jams.

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Taking it one step further, they played their brand new, ultra-heavy song, “Remind Me,” which did remind me that this is a band with a fire burning deep inside, a fire that will continue to produce the gnarliest of jams for decades to come.

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If you haven’t had the pleasure of catching Umphrey’s McGee live, check out their tour dates and new album, Its Not Us, here. They’ve got a three-night run of Red Rocks show coming up this July too, which you should grab your tickets for now.

-Cy

All photos per the author. All videos and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

School of Rock Meets Musical Fame: Life Growing Up at Denver School Of The Arts

By: Sierra Voss

I remember my first music photography gig well. I was shooting for BolderBeat at Denver’s local music festival, The UMS Showcase. It was a strange but exhilarating feeling being down in the audience, watching the shows through a camera lense. My life has been filled with music from a very young age, but I was used to being the one on stage. I spent the majority of my childhood- seven years- attending Denver School of the Arts (DSA) as a vocal major. This festival was my first time using a new artistic tool to capture a musical experience I knew so intimately.  

DSA is a public magnet arts high school and middle school that offers rigorous daily involvement in a specialized art form. When I attended the school as a vocal major, students took part in over an hour and a half of their art form (or major) every day. It was a specific type of education that differed greatly from my other friends high school and middle school experiences. Although I didn’t professionally pursue voice after high school, I found art was always an integral part of my life. It was something I felt made up my genetic composition, and was at the core of how I processed and expressed the world around me.  

My love for photography came after my love for singing, but as I grew older it took priority. It wasn’t until this past year that I had the idea to explore merging the two artistic expressions I loved so dearly. It was this decision that landed me at The UMS, ready to jump into the weekend's festivities.

As I looked at the lineup, I was floored by how many acts had members that went to my high school, DSA. I had no idea so many of my peers had stuck around town to build out their musical passions and careers. I had to wonder how DSA had shaped so many of these current artist’s paths, and was so intrigued about who they had all become within Denver’s music scene. So I sat down with numerous DSA Alumni to explore just that.

Jon Shockness- Kid Astronaut (former singer in Air Dubai)

From my own experience, Jon Shockness was no doubt the cool kid on the block in middle school. He practically melted every one of our moms’ and sisters’ hearts during our 2001 “Pop Show” performace when he sang “Ben” by Michael Jackson.

Jon performing at DSA’s “Peacejam Event” in 2009.

Jon performing at DSA’s “Peacejam Event” in 2009.

How did your time at DSA influence the artist you are today?

When I think about being a singer and my history with voice, I know a lot of it started with the training I got from DSA. Even today, I create some of my vocal tones from arias I sang for master classes in high school. I am definitely influenced by my time there. Being able to harmonize with other artists was definitely learned from DSA. Overall, my time at DSA inspired me to have a lot of respect for artists and different types of voices. It instilled in me a deep respect for my own voice on a deeper level that allowed me to really grow as an artist.

On the hard days, do you have a mantra that inspires you to continue your musical career?

Oh yeah. There was this thing one of my exes told me. She said, “You're always where you need to be.” I was going through a rough time and not sure why things weren't moving the way I wanted them to or thought they should. This was like 2012 before we got signed. Anytime I feel incomplete or like I'm in the wrong place, I remind myself that I'm where I need to be and usually allowing myself to accept my position creates growth.

Portrait of Jon 2017 per the author.

Portrait of Jon 2017 per the author.

Shane Franklin- Lead singer in hip-hop band SF1

The kid that was always, always playing drums on any and every surface he could find.

Shane playing drums for his college band in 2009 at Larimer Lounge.

Shane playing drums for his college band in 2009 at Larimer Lounge.

What did you love the most about DSA?

I remember we used to have teachers that would base writing prompts around our major, like, write an essay about how your major correlates with The Scarlet Letter. DSA really let us create a world shaped by our art form and what we loved.

How did your time at DSA influence the artist you are today?

Students were truly limitless at DSA in terms of collaborations and exploring different art forms. We were given opportunities to collaborate across majors. I remember drumming for the vocal department, tap dancing with the dance department, doing music for the cinema majors, and auditioning for musicals. It shaped me going out into this world as an artist. You can't just keep yourself in a box. That's why my music incorporates dance and theatrics. My time at DSA made me into the collaborative artist I am today.  

Do you think you could live life without music? What would you do instead?

Music is life. It's plan A. Plan B is execute plan A!

Portrait of Shane 2017 per the author.

Portrait of Shane 2017 per the author.

Julie Be- (Julie Almeria) also singer for project STéLOUSE

Julie was the girl who always got the best part in school-wide musicals, and rightfully so. I remember being in awe as I watched her in one stunning musical theater role after the next throughout my time at DSA.

 Julie starring in DSA’s production of  Aida .

 Julie starring in DSA’s production of Aida.

What differences do you notice working with DSA artists versus non DSA artists?

I think there are a lot of generous and nice artists in the music scene in Denver. I think that’s cool because those are the main characteristics I think of when I think of artists from DSA. I definitely think that there is a total sense of comradery between DSA artists though. Like, these are people that I especially want to see succeed. I think we fit very well into a scene that is already pretty generous, and I think we add a lot of good qualities too. DSA artists are just nice people, and nice people are sometimes rare in this world.  

What's your end goal? What if you don’t get there?

The end goal… that's a damn good question, and I ask myself that every day. When I was younger, I defined "success" as being famous, a household name, rich, etc. I doubt I'm alone in that… but now, I see success as being more about how I feel about the work that I am doing as opposed to how other people feel about it. I want to continue creating- releasing my own complete album is a bucket list item for me- and collaborating with other artists in ways that feel genuine to me. If I could do away with my day job and just make music for a living, I would be so freaking happy. Yeah, it would be cool to win a Grammy or to go on a world tour. Do I want those things? Absolutely! But to me, they're not the goal. If anything, they would be a by-product of the goal. At the end of the day, I want to arrive at a place where I can look back at my musical career and say, "I did what I wanted to do, and I did it with integrity".

Portrait of Julie 2017 per the author.

Portrait of Julie 2017 per the author.

Shilo Gold- (Shayna Goldstein)

I will never forget Shayna’s first-day-of-school-outfit in the 7th grade (think platform sneakers with fire flames going down the side and basketball shorts). Shayna has been many things to me throughout my life: a mentor and a fierce competitor, but above all else, my best friend.

Shayna singing in DSA’s Vocal Department’s 2007 “Pop Show."

Shayna singing in DSA’s Vocal Department’s 2007 “Pop Show."

What led you to start your music career in Los Angeles, and why did you decided to move back to Denver?

DSA gave me a certain strength that was bred from a really young age. It enabled me to really believe in myself. We were instilled with the ideas of what we could achieve, and were given a lot of power to invent ourselves as artists. I think it gave me the courage to move to Los Angeles and take on a bigger scene.

During my time in LA, I was missing a sense of authenticity. It felt so competitive and stiff. I left on tour and spent a year playing shows in 38 states. There was no doubt in my mind that Denver was where I wanted to end up.

Have you ever consider exploring a different career? What pulls you back to your artistry?

Pursuing a career as an artist is anything but easy or stable. Everyone has different tastes, and no matter how proud or passionate you are about what you are creating, it doesn't mean that it will be widely received. I have definitely questioned my ability to pursue my craft, and in turn, contemplated what other careers would look like for me. At the end of the day, I have realized that music is something deeply engraved in my bones. It is my journal, and the greatest gift I have to give. No matter what I do to pay the bills, or put food on the table, music is the reason I wake up in the morning and the way I make others feel like they are not alone. It's not that anything in particular keeps me dedicated to music, it's that I've done my share of exploring and have come to realize that no matter what path my life takes, writing and sharing music will always be a part of it.

Portrait of Shilo 2017 per the author.

Portrait of Shilo 2017 per the author.

Nic Hammerberg- Member of SYCDVK & Petals of Spain

Nic was basically my older brother growing up. He drove me to school everyday. We became obsessed with sharing new musical discoveries like Feist, Jack Johnson, G. Love and Special Sauce, and obviously the soundtracks from 'Garden State,' 'The O.C' and 'Grey's Anatomy.'

 Nic performing in DSA’s “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.” Photo by Edward Davidson 2005.

 Nic performing in DSA’s “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.” Photo by Edward Davidson 2005.

What connects all DSA students?

We are a special breed. We all have this connection, but how do you put your finger on it? It feels special to me. It's like if we all went to Hogwarts! You know- we have that bond! We are all from the Gryffindor house is what I am saying.

When I see other DSA artists performing around town, I just know so viscerally what they went through to get there. It's not to say that other people aren't as skilled, like muggles for example, they can be super great wizards too. But us magic folk are true wizards. We can just do anything that we set our minds to. We all studied our craft every day for basically all of high school and middle school. How could that be anything else but magical?

Do you have a song that you would say embodies your journey as an artist?

"Sleeping Lessons" by The Shins. That song has often been an inspiration in moments of sadness, and to really light a fire under my ass. There was something so different and mysterious about that song when I first heard it, lyrically and melodically, that acted as a psychedelic to me; opened my brain to new. There is new everywhere, and there is lots of opposition and challenges in discovering yourself. The lyrics are brilliant and provide a new support and resilience: "So enlist every ounce of your bright blood, and off with their heads…  You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise."

Portrait of Nic 2017 per the author.

Portrait of Nic 2017 per the author.

It became clear after interviewing my peers that growing up in an art school environment truly shaped who these artists are today. They confirmed my deep feelings and beliefs that students from DSA learn and refine skills that allow them to continually re-create themselves as artists. They collaborate with other singers, create an arts community, respect other forms of expression and bring to the table exceptional knowledge of music theory. DSA artists are truly an important part of Denver culture, and are creating a loving and collaborative music scene.

Other awesome DSA artists hidden among Denver’s music scene include: Wesley Watkins (founder of The Other Black and former trumpet player for Nathaniel Rateliff and Night Sweats and), Brittany Williams (of Brittany Williams & The Unstoppable Groove), Halle Spoor (who is currently recording her first album), and Khalil Arcady (Sur Ellz).  

These artists all perform frequently around town throughout the year. Keep an eye on their platforms for updates of future shows!

-Sierra

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Building Community Through Music: An Exclusive Interview With Levitt Pavilion's CEO Chris Zacher

By: Jura Daubenspeck

Last Thursday, November 10th, folks gathered at Ruby Hill Park to celebrate the groundbreaking of what will be Denver’s newest (free!) concert venue: Levitt Pavilion. The hour-long ceremony featured speeches by Mayor Michael Hancock, Parks and Recreation’s Executive Director Happy Haynes, a number of the city’s council members, as well as a serenade from the talented RL Cole, who later shared his thoughts on the concert spot with us. While listening to so many influential city leaders speak, it was hard not to leave feeling uplifted and optimistic about Denver’s cultural prowess in the national music scene.

Following the ceremony, we sat down with Chris Zacher, CEO/Executive Director of Levitt Pavilion, who shared his thoughts with us about the soon-to-be concert venue and its positive impact on the local community. Read on:

How long has the process leading up to the groundbreaking of Levitt Pavilion today taken?

Four and a half years; I began working on this project in July of 2012.

Where exactly is the Pavilion? Is it easy to find and access?

Levitt Pavilion Denver is being constructed in Ruby Hill Park, which is in Southwest Denver between Florida and Jewell, just off of Santa Fe.

Why did you pick this specific location?

Ruby Hill Park is the third largest park in Denver’s urban park system; it boasts 88 acres of greenspace. It also happens to be one of the most underutilized parks in that system. Many of Denver’s parks have reached critical mass when it comes to use, due in part to the massive population growth the region has seen since 2011. Efforts to bring amenities and awareness to Denver’s underutilized parks to relieve that strain have been underway for quite some time. Ruby Hill Park was the only park considered for this project. In 2009, Denver Parks and Recreation completed a master plan for Ruby Hill Park, engaging the community in the process. An outdoor performance space was one of the components that the surrounding neighborhoods asked for. The bowl in which Levitt Pavilion Denver will sit is roughly 2 ½ times the size and acreage of Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It offers a natural shape that is conducive for an amphitheatre. It’s just too good a site to pass up!

So exciting! When is the grand opening of the venue?

Friday, July 14, 2017.


Photos of the Denver Levitt Pavilion Groundbreaking Ceremony:

Photo Credit: Joel Rekiel


What would you say is the overall mission of the venue and its creators?

It is our mission to bridge cultural gaps and to find ways to heal schisms, erase divisions, and embrace differences in the communities we serve. We believe that nothing brings people together better than music; to truly build and revitalize communities around it, it has to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

What else makes Levitt Pavilion special and unique?

All venues are unique, or at least most are. It’s the programming that makes them special. Levitt Pavilion Denver is a family-friendly amphitheatre with no permanent fencing and no permanent seats. It’s designed to break down socioeconomic barriers and foster connections amongst people. [We will host] 50 free concerts a year; three a week every summer. It’s a place where local artists will be paid a fair wage. Hopefully this catches on.

How will the venue engage the community, including local businesses?

We are forming a Community Advisory Board to work with the impacted neighborhoods and the greater community. We will have sponsorship packages aimed at small businesses. Now, and in the future, we are engaging with local schools and nonprofits to form dynamic partnerships that will help bring awareness to and raise funding for issues our citizens face.

Similarly, how can community members & lovers of the arts get involved?

We need people to show up and we need people to volunteer. Organizations like this need volunteers or they fail. We put a majority of our revenue into the programming. In return we need volunteers to be advocates for us to help us raise money at the shows [and] to assist with tear-down and set-up of concerts. We also need discounted and pro-bono creative work from time to time.

The Denver Levitt Pavilion. Photo per Denver Levitt Pavilion.

The Denver Levitt Pavilion. Photo per Denver Levitt Pavilion.

What types of artists will perform here?

From local to national and international; [from] emerging artists to seasoned professionals. This is not a venue or programming that is being designed for one or two genres. We will work to book acts that the community wants, and to introduce them to acts that they don’t know about yet.

Will the same artists perform at all seven Levitt Pavilion locations throughout the country? Or will there be some variation?

Each Levitt programs their venue based on their individual communities’ desires. There is some crossover in the acts that are booked, and a national tour each summer that brings one artist to each of the venues, but each venue books their own shows.

Will artists be paid for their performance(s)?

Yes. We are striving to increase access to the arts. I think that when most people hear someone say that they are working to ‘increase access to the arts,’ they believe it’s related solely to the entry cost for patrons, but this is not necessary the case. Increasing access to the arts for patrons is the easier part; the harder part is making a concerted effort to do this for artists through fair pay for [their] art.

Will all events be free to the public?

Our organization will bring 50 free concerts to the venue each summer. There will also be admission-based events at the facility, but the majority of performances will be free.

What other types of events will be held at Levitt Pavilion?

Outside of the free concert series, we expect to produce 20 admission-based concerts in the venue each summer. Neighborhood leaders are discussing the possibility of a free film series. I would expect to see beer festivals, graduations, and some use in the winter in conjunction with the Ruby Hill Rail Yard. I would like to see dance, opera, and possibly a ‘Shakespeare In The Park’ as well. The possibilities are limitless. At the same time, we don’t want to over-program the venue or put strain on the park. That has happened in City Park, Civic Center Park, and Wash Park in the past. Denver Parks and Recreation have been working very hard to make certain that they are not putting strain on parks or the surrounding communities by over-programming. We need to be careful in making certain that there are plenty of rest days.

How do you plan to compete with for-profit venues in Denver?

We’re promoters, nonprofit promoters, but promoters. The legal structure of a business and the mission do not change that. We know what we can and cannot do in this market, and where our place is. Our belief is that through free family-friendly programming, we will be attracting many patrons who cannot regularly afford tickets to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, Pepsi Center, etc. We also believe that we will be attracting families across the region who are looking for a cultural outlet. The fact of the matter is that many people quit regularly attending live shows after the age of 35. What we’ve seen in other cities is that when a Levitt is present, people rediscover live music and the local venues benefit from us being there.

What are your future, long term plans for the venue and the company?

For the venue, I would like to see us continue to add elements that increase the user’s experience: additional concession stands, more parking, more bathrooms, another support building. For the company, we need to continue to work on our mission, and with our partners in the community. In the end, I’m not a long term planner. I look at everything in three year cycles and focus on them six months at a time.

When people leave Levitt Pavilion, how do you want them to feel?

Exhilarated, happy, included, inspired, loved, refreshed.

There’s no doubt Levitt Pavilion will be a cultural cornerstone for Denver’s music-lovers, but the venue will make some serious waves for local musicians and performers too. Though Denver will have to wait until next summer to experience the magic of Levitt Pavilion, the wait will certainly be well worth it. Denver artist RL Cole agreed:

As an entertainer and a member of a vibrant, blossoming arts community, I am delighted to have the Levitt Foundation oversee the Pavilion’s construction in Ruby Hill Park. Bigger stages mean bigger dreams and the envisioning of greater goals for performance musicians. Free entertainment programs create culturally diverse crowds, and a new level of relatability between audience and performer. As Denver begins to be represented as the cultural behemoth we always have known it to be, the Levitt Pavilion can be one of the people’s platforms for arts and entertainment that represents and showcases a multi-faceted and incredibly talented musical community. I urge and invite the members of all our communities to come and participate in future events.

We know we will be. For more information on Levitt Pavilion, go here.

-Jura

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.