Bug bites, bruised shins, hair sticking to the back of your neck and wishing for a cool dip in any body of water that’s available but you’ll settle for a cold drink until then; that was my memories of summer break as a kid, and it’s funny that I get to relive those same experiences in small doses as a grown adult. Summer is for music festivals. Music festivals are for memories. Summer, music and memories is a delicious combination for the young at heart or adventurous in spirit. The summer in Denver is typically mild compared to the hot, humid weather you might get in the Midwest and Southwestern regions neighboring Colorado. The rains are short and sparse and the nights cool down by 10, sometimes 20 degrees. And so, while every music festival can boast about what makes theirs so special, the magic that comes with a cool Denver night is not to be missed. And neither is UMS, which is Denver’s best kept secret. But why? Why don’t people come out to South Broadway and listen to the dozens upon dozens of excellent local and non-local acts that the Denver Post brings into town (twelve years running now), and come see the excellent comedy shows, and check out the niche dive bars and . . . be alive. The cost is a pittance for what you receive in return: Memories.
Shovels & Rope is a good time condensed into two small people with two big voices. Sincerely: wow. I mean they attracted a small mob within minutes of their set beginning and were in step with representing their upcoming album titled O, Be Joyful; the pair were all smiles and warmly engaged the crowd in between songs. Cary Ann Hearst has an amazing voice, as does Michael Trent, but the pair do not audibly duke it out on stage in battle to win the hearts of the crowd like you might expect from two people who used to be their own lead singers in separate bands. Hearst would mosey on over to the drum kit while Trent belted out a tune, and then they effortlessly switched places as Trent strapped on his harmonica while Hearst's voice rang loudly throughout Gary Lee's Motor Club. My favorite part of the act was when I went outside the glass garage door to take a picture of the two with the audience in the background, and a photographer asked if he could take a picture of me taking a picture. So meta!
Next up that evening was the 3 Kings Tavern and Mrs. Magician, whom I had seen a few months back with the Cults. Flying in from San Diego, CA, this relatively new group attracted quite a following in the roomy interior of 3 Kings and their loud, surf-rock inspired songs about the absence of God ("There is No God"), the metaphorical existence of Heaven ("Heaven") and the space in between. Singer Jacob Turnbloom's Hawaiian shirt was an excellent pairing to the band's tunes, and has inspired me to reconsider the "cool" Hawaiian shirt idea (they could be cool!). The misters of Mrs. Magician played a forty-five minute set even got the burly, bearded man beside me dancing. It's hard not to dance along to songs with pop-py refrains of "Fuck the world / fuck the kids" and Dick Dale-esque guitar riffs.
There was a stellar lineup at 3 Kings so I stayed put for three hours, and after Mrs. Magician was the great local treasure known as Bad Weather California. I've seen these dudes play a few times, and they never disappoint. The used every last minute of time available to them, and as the audience grew in size the Bad Weather guys responded with equal enthusiasm and energy.
It was very interesting to see the change in climate as Chris Adolf's chants of "Bad Weather California is street level music" at the end of their set segued into Dylan Baldi's refrain of "I need time to stay useless" with the Cloud Nothing's first song. The audience went from almost ballroom dancing to mosh dancing in zero to sixty. I was left holding my bruised shins and guarding my camera against flying beer as the Cloud Nothings proceeded to make all of us bleed from our ears and melt into puddles in the sweatbox that was 3 Kings. So far, that has been my favorite experience of the UMS; but it has been only the first night of four.