UMS is going virtual this year. What does that mean for local musicians, venues and businesses?

“It’s insane how COVID has impacted our industry. But that’s not gonna stop us.”

Aldous Harding performs at the Hi-Dive during the 2017 UMS. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aldous Harding performs at the Hi-Dive during the 2017 UMS. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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For the last 20 years, Underground Music Showcase has transformed South Broadway into a lively, open-air independent music festival. This year, because of COVID-19, it will look a bit different.

Rather than cancel UMS, the festival’s coordinators have re-imagined it as an “Underground Music Something,” a digital, three-hour live-streamed festival and fundraiser in partnership with the Colorado Music Relief Fund.

“UMSomething” will feature a series of live performances and music videos from Colorado acts like TheyCallHimAP, Turvy Organ, Wes Watkins, Wildermiss, and YaSi, all shot by the Denver production company Futuristic Films at classic UMS venues like hi-dive.  The live-stream will also include prize giveaways, raffles and a retro telethon fundraiser hosted by Colorado comedians Christie Buchele and Sam Tallent. And, to create a more fun and immersive experience for viewers, UMS will be delivering “party packs” of pre-ordered beer or cocktail kits to fans.

Casey Berry, the owner of Two Parts, has been working to ensure that the digital event preserves UMS’s energy. He’s hoping it will play out like a day at the festival, when you could walk down Broadway, stumble into a small venue and discover a new artist.

“It’s gritty. It’s kind of unexpected, ” he said. “And there’s a lot of really unique surprises along the way.”

This is Two Part’s third year hosting UMS. Over the last two years, the company has worked to build strong relationships with local artists, as well as with the businesses and venues on Broadway. Last spring, Barry’s team started laying the foundation for the festival’s twentieth year, and was planning to go bigger than ever before.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“It’s insane how COVID has impacted our industry,” Berry said. “But that’s not gonna stop us.”

The event will serve not only as a way to keep the UMS tradition alive, but a way to channel revenue back into the music community. All funds raised during the live stream will benefit the Colorado Music Relief Fund, which supports Colorado musicians and professionals in the music industry who’ve been affected by COVID-19.

CMRF’s founder Chris Tetzeli said he started the fund after realizing how challenging it would be for music industry professionals to recover, now that they can’t perform live.

“There’s no ‘Plan B’ for these people,” Tetzeli said. “These are people who dedicate their lives to making magic happen on a nightly basis. They don’t make a lot of money. But they get so much reward in their lives from putting on these events. And that’s what they do it for.”

Tetzeli says he’s grateful to the Two Parts team for stepping in and offering CMRF support. He said that offer has come during a time when things have been looking even worse for the music community, as COVID-19 cases spike nationwide and restrictions on public gatherings tighten.

“That inspires us at CMRF to get more motivated,” Tetzeli said. “To keep pushing our mission forward and raising funds to help the people in our community.”

CMRF has offered to donate $1,000 to 150 bands, each of which either features in UMSomething or has worked with UMS in the past. In return, any profits raised during the fundraiser will go right back to CMRF.

The restrictions on live performances have also posed challenges for the local businesses that typically benefit from festivals and concerts. In the past, UMS weekend has drawn thousands of visitors into the restaurants, shops and bars along South Broadway, a boost that would have been particularly welcome now that so many businesses are struggling in the wake of COVID.

“It’s our busiest weekend of the summer, if not the year,” said Sean Workman, a managing partner at The Hornet. “It’s a huge loss for us.”

The Hornet has served as a venue for UMS, hosting small live events that attracted large crowds. Without live events, Workman worried about the future of both performers and performance spaces.

“It’s just sad,” Workman said.  “We’re all connected. There’s a big trickle-down effect. ”

Matt Megyesi, who co-owns Mutiny Information Cafe, said that even businesses that are unaffiliated with UMS benefited from the festival. In years past, Mutiny hosted an alternative party during UMS weekend that drew even more visitors to the neighborhood.

“For some places,” Megyesi said, “it was the time where they would make their money back, where they’d go into the black, much like retail spaces would go into the black for Christmas.”

He worries that without the profit boost from UMS, businesses that are struggling — like hi-dive, a former UMS venue that has been unable to stay open since the city’s initial shutdown — won’t have that chance to recover.

But Casey Berry said he’s been thinking about UMS’s relationship with its venues, taking their needs into account while planning UMSomething.

“They’ve been the backbone of this festival,” Berry said. “We can’t leave them hanging.”

Two Parts is planning to incorporate former venues like the hi-dive and Goodwill into the event as much as possible, using them as sets for the show’s music videos and virtual performances.

“Without music venues, there’s no place for artists to play,” Berry said. “I can’t imagine a world without live music and artists being a major part of our lives. So we’ve got to really step up and help everybody out.”

UMSomething will be available to stream on UMS’s website Saturday, July 25, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Here’s the full list of artists:

YaSi

Wildermiss

Wes Watkins

Turvy Organ

TheyCallHimAP

The Still Tide

The Milk Blossoms

Ramakhandra

Neoma

Los Mocochetes

Float Like a Buffalo

Bud Bronson & The Good Timers

This story has been updated; Skylark Lounge is no longer hosting bands for UMSomething.

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