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The UMS is short on pricey headliners — that’s what makes it special


For all its noise and fury, The Underground Music Showcase has always been a friendly place.

Colorado’s biggest independent music festival, which returns Friday, July 28, through Sunday, July 30, is a feast for live-music fans, with 200 or so bands playing at a dozen indoor and outdoor South Broadway venues over three days and hundreds of shows.

But it’s also a community hang and summer reunion that in the past has hosted acts ranging from Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff and Tennis to indie rock royalty (Real Estate, Blonde Redhead) and trailblazers such as N3PTUNE — a wildly magnetic singer, dancer and rapper who is this year’s buzziest local artist.

Casey Berry, left, majority owner of The UMS, with Youth on Record executive director and co-owner Jami Duffy, outside the Hi-Dive at 7 S. Broadway. (Provided by The UMS)
Casey Berry, left, majority owner of The UMS, with Youth on Record executive director and co-owner Jami Duffy, outside the Hi-Dive at 7 S. Broadway. (Provided by The UMS)

No other Colorado festival gives a platform to so many honest-to-God locals, eschewing pricey headliners for diverse pop, indie rock, hip hop, folk, salsa and metal. The concept of community — so often touted by most events — is clear to see as 10,000 or so people line up each day to dance, laugh, party and commune under tents and inside local clubs and restaurants.

“Aside from one-off Taylor Swift shows, we’ve got the largest concert footprint in the state,” said Jami Duffy, executive director of the Denver nonprofit Youth on Record, which co-owns The UMS. “But I don’t think The UMS has cornered the market in a way that nobody else can compete. I think it’s that it’s expensive to do this, there’s a lot of unseen infrastructure, and things now cost as much as three times what they did (pre-pandemic).”

The UMS debuted as a single-day event in 2001 from former Denver Post music writer John Moore, celebrating marquee Denver bands such as DeVotchKa, Dressy Bessy and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. It quickly accelerated into a national-quality, South by Southwest-style festival thanks to rebranding and years of work by past Denver Post music critic Ricardo Baca and others who followed in his footsteps.

As it evolved from a shoestring, nonprofit fest into a major, annual cultural gathering, it has confronted many of the same issues over the years as other music festivals — including the Westword Music Showcase, which this year went on hiatus for only the second time since 1995 (the first being in 2020, due to to the pandemic). Westword editor Patty Calhoun said the hiatus was the result of a parking lot shortage; developments have  swallowed up every lot and vacant field where the alt-weekly could host a big music festival.

Fortunately, Youth on Record has both a claw-hold on South Broadway and access to nonprofit funding — grants, foundations, individual donations — that allows it to fill gaps and offer an ambitious program of young-artist development and industry conferences (Impact Days) that aligns with YOR’s own, parallel mission. The UMS, which is co-owned by event-producer Two Parts, last year paid out $200 per artist, and $400 per band, for a total of $100,000 pumped into the local music scene.

Roughly half of last year’s attendees were first-timers, according to a YOR survey, drawn to the hot pavement and sweaty bars by robust sober offerings and all-ages policies, expert seminars and workshops, newly free programming, and overt support for BIPOC, queer and disabled people. Eighty percent of its artists identified as coming from marginalized communities, according to a YOR Impact Report.

“It’s a festival that’s still all about discovery,” said Duffy, whose YOR staff booked the festival themselves this year. “You’re not going to see the same rotation of bands as at other festivals or any big, out-of-state headliners. But you are going to see the most exciting local artists on the same bill as (acclaimed national acts) Jamila Woods, Emnit Fenn, Crumb, AVIV and Seratones. We’ve hit a sweet spot.”

With ticket sales up 35% last year over the previous one, The UMS has doubled down on its accessibility plans. Parking and public transportation can be tricky for anyone, but a visit to its accessibility guide ( shows all the ways people can safely get there, how venues were rated by its accessibility team, how to get help from staffers when you need it, and lots of other detailed, safety-minded information.

Fans reach out during a performance from last year's UMS. This year's sober, all-ages and wellness offerings are set to grow the festival's young audience even more. (Provided by The UMS)
Fans reach out during a performance from last year’s UMS. This year’s sober, all-ages and wellness offerings are set to grow the festival’s young audience even more. (Provided by The UMS)

The festival and the hip, bustling culture along its South Broadway corridor — this year spanning West 5th Avenue to Alameda Avenue — have grown as one over the years, allowing The UMS to develop a character of semi-permanence. But in order to retain its youthful vigor and joy of discovery, Duffy has a suggestion: for every band you mark down to see on your schedule, find two more that you’ve never heard of.

“Go see your best friend’s band, but leave some room for others,” she said. “Because the ones you’ve never heard before will become your new favorites.”

If you go

The 2023 Underground Music Showcase takes place at multiple venues along South Broadway in Denver; 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, July 28, and 1 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, July 29, and Sunday, July 30. Tickets: $50 per day or $120 for weekend passes via

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