How to UMS: a guide to UMS-ing successfully and really hard

The big music festival on South Broadway is back.
6 min. read
Bless this mess it’s UMS. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hello, and welcome to the 18th annual Hunger Games.

The days to come will challenge your mind, body and soul — and maybe your liver, too. The Underground Music Showcase is the real deal: three days and nights of more than 300 performances across more than 15 stages. And, OK, there won't be any teen-on-teen violence, but I did once get "accidentally" punched in the face and my friend got a black eye from a flying turkey leg.

Consider this your survival guide. (And if I've freaked you out, please know that I once brought someone's parents to the UMS and they enjoyed it unharmed and also that I'm a little dramatic.)

An afternoon drizzles breaks into a full-on deluge at the Underground Music Showcase's main stage, July 31, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The basics:

When: 5:20 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 12:20 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday. Here's the full schedule.

How much: Weekend passes are $75, a four-pack of passes is $200 and single-day passes are $40. They're all available here.

Where: Main Stage at Goodwill, Sesh Stage at Fourth Avenue and Broadway, Imagination Stage at the Import Warehouse, Moe’s Original BBQ, Banded Oak Brewing, Baere Brewing Company, Punch Bowl Social, The Hornet, Blue Ice Lounge, South Broadway Christian Church, Metropolis Coffee, Sputnik, Hi-Dive, The Irish Rover, 3 Kings, Ross-Broadway Branch Library, Skylark Lounge, Gary Lee’s Motor Club & Grub, Illegal Pete's and The Denver Distillery. Here's a handy map.

Who: Here's the whole honkin' lineup in interactive form and in poster form...

What's new:

Denver events agency Two Parts bought the UMS from the Denver Post Community Foundation earlier this year. The festival is back down to three days from four and they've mixed it up in the indoor stage department and added more outdoor stages. They're also bringing the main stage back to the Goodwill. (It was briefly moved down to the former Kmart parking lot.)

New outdoor stages include the Sesh Stage — the new home of Denver beer festival Sesh Fest. It'll be in the Fentress Architects satellite parking lot just off 4th Avenue and Broadway.

“Sesh Fest is one of our favorite events of the summer, and we've always dreamed of going bigger with the festival. When we took over UMS, it was a no-brainer to bring the festival into the fold as Sesh Stage,” Casey Berry, founder of Two Parts, said in a press release. “The beauty of Sesh Fest was that it was about hanging with friends and discovering new breweries — rather than nerding out over super rare beer. We’ll carry this vibe into UMS with an area where guests can chill, imbibe with easily drinkable craft beers and discover incredible music in our summer oasis.”

The other new stage — the Imagination Stage — is in partnership with 303 Magazine that will feature immersive art and music experiences. In conjunction, they're offering a new experience called The Underground a "unique festival experience that will alert attendees about surprise happenings surrounding UMS, including surprise sets, giveaway opportunities and pop-up parties."

The history:

It all started with one question, founder John Moore told me for an oral history last year: "Who are the underground bands in Denver?"

"That first year there was no, like, greater plan of creating a festival," he said. "And for its early years I felt like we were — it was like we were putting up a live mirror to history."

What started in 2001 as an underground music poll in the Denver Post grew into a one-night showcase, then, in the hands of former Post music critic Ricardo Baca, it started to evolve into what we know today — a multi-day, multi-venue local music festival with a handful of national-caliber headliners.

Jessica Rodriguez and the Deltas perform at the 2014 UMS. July 25, 2014. (Photo: John Moore)

It didn't happen without growing pains. Eventually the Post took it out of Baca's hands for fear of the appearance of a conflict of interest — a move Baca said is "to this day one of the most destructive, awful, awful moments of my life." He convinced them to turn control over to a trusted festival volunteer, Kendall Smith (now working his magic on Denverite events), who along with Will Dupree navigated the conflicts inherent in a sprawling, noisy, boozy neighborhood festival and built a strong relationship with the neighborhoods along South Broadway.

And at the heart of it all has always been the Denver music scene.

Read the entire oral history of the UMS here.

Colfax Speed Queen plays 3 Kings Tavern. Underground Music Showcase, July 27, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Pro tips:

  • Hydrate.
  • Sunscreen is your friend, and you should take all your friends to the UMS.
  • Wear comfortable shoes — ones tested and proved suitable for all-day standing, walking and dancing.
  • The Hornet usually has the strongest air conditioning.
  • The Sputnik grilled cheese will save your life and change your life.
  • South Broadway Christian Church has the chillest shows with plenty of seating.
  • It's OK to take an hour off the middle of the day!
  • Some local recommendations, after a quick spin through the lineup: Church Fire, Wildermiss, Ray Reed, The Velveteers, Panther Martin, MILKY.WAV, Chloe Tang, CRL CRRLL.
  • More specific recommendations: If you want to get really rowdy, go for Colfax Speed Queen, Zebroids, Wheelchair Sports Camp, Los Mocochetes or Bud Bronson and the Good Timers.
  • Hydrate!
  • If you're a very large person in a mosh pit, please consider not do-si-do-ing at a high speed with your arm cocked like you're going to punch someone. You will probably end up punching someone.

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