The 2013 Denver Music Summit took place this past weekend at two downtown Denver venues. By championing the mantra “National in scope and local in focus,” Summit organizers Bryce Merrill of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) and Lisa Gedgaudas of Create Denver realized their vision of a unique three-day gathering of musical minds through informative panels, collaborative performances, and an overall sense of fun. The word “Denver” might have been in the event’s title, and the local acts were undoubtedly among the biggest draws of the weekend. But the Summit’s mission never felt contained to just Denver or Colorado: The addition of renowned national artists and musical trend-setters like Eric D. Johnson and Flaming Lips manager Scott Booker provided insight from all parts of the musical landscape.
The sold-out Friday night Mercury Café show set the attendance bar high. Summit goers included industry professionals, musicians, and members of the general public. The event opened with remarks from Merrill and Gedgaudas. OpenAir’s Corey Jones then introduced the evening’s entertainment.
The opening performance featured seven musicians including local favorites like Ian Cooke and Chimney Choir along with Head and the Heart frontman Josiah Johnson and Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station. The performers had only three hours to prepare, and the result was not without its hitches: A few more hours of rehearsal certainly would have helped bring the music to life. The acoustic show was highlighted by the offerings of cellist Cooke and guitarist Johnson but the chatter from the audience overwhelmed the quieter, more feeble tracks. Conversely, the following performances from Ark Life and Wisconsin act PHOX were rowdy, deafening tremors from the noisy back crowd. Local band Ark Life’s rendition of the Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line,” accompanied by the seven prior performers, was Friday night’s high point.
Saturday and Sunday at the McNichols Building offered panels and workshops for aspiring musicians, with topics ranging from the art of marketing, to avoiding the pitfalls of touring. Saturday night brought memorably stellar and consistently hilarious real-life stories about life as a touring musician by five musicians and one band manager. Highlights included Scott Booker narrating the genesis and ultimate success of Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne’s “Space Bubble,” (a giant, plastic pod which the performer bounces around the audience in during his stage shows) and Yonnas Abraham of BLKHRTS describing shopping for outrageous clothes in Los Angeles with rapper Kool Keith. Doomtree contributor Dessa’s heart-tugging account of her relationship with her younger brother and their road adventures throughout the years was equally compelling. David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards), and a particularly moving performance from Will Johnson followed thee stories.
Sunday concluded the Summit with an acoustic show by an array of local and national singer-songwriters including Joe Pug, Esme Patterson, Eric D. Johnson, Laura Burhenn, and Gregory Alan Isakov. OpenAir host Alisha Sweeney mined each musician for insight into his or her creative process in between songs. Each musician played three songs solo. Though each artist works in a distinct way, there was a surprising amount of overlap and mutual interest between the five song-smiths’ approaches, from Zen Buddhism, to writing at home versus on the road. This show was a remarkable finale to the weekend’s thinking and festivities.