The 2013 Denver Music Summit took place this past weekend, and OpenAir was thrilled to be there. 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. Sure, the word “Denver” was right there in the event’s title, and the local acts were some of 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 the fabulous 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 show opened with remarks from Merrill and Gedgaudas. Then OpenAir host Corey Jones introduced the evening’s entertainment.
The opening performance featured seven musicians including local heroes 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 though the result was not without its occasional hitches, the subtle acoustic show was highlighted by the offerings from Cooke and Johnson. Conversely, the following performances from Ark Life and Wisconsin act PHOX were rowdy and deafened any tremors from the chatty back crowd. Ark Life bandleader Jesse Elliott was the unofficial Hero of the Summit, with countless performers and presenters crediting his charisma and passion for convincing them to attend. And his band’s rendition of the Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line,” accompanied by the seven prior performers, was among the weekend’s high points.
Saturday and Sunday at the McNichols Building offered panels and workshops to 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,” Yonnas Abraham of BLKHRTS describing shopping for outrageous clothes in Los Angeles with rapper Kool Keith, and Doomtree contributor Dessa providing a heart-tugging account of her relationship with her younger brother and their road adventures throughout the years. Also, should you ever run into Colorado singer Megan Burtt, be sure to ask her about the life and death of her inanimate friend “Henry.” David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards), and a particularly moving performance from Will Johnson followed.
Sunday concluded the Summit with a superb roundtable show from Joe Pug, Esme Patterson, Eric D. Johnson, Laura Burhenn, and Gregory Alan Isakov. Alisha Sweeney’s hosting skills brilliantly mined each musician for insight into his or her creative process in between songs. Each performer recounted his or her own personal writing techniques. Yet there was a surprising amount of overlap and mutual interest between the five song-smiths, from Zen Buddhism, to writing at home vs. on the road. Each artist played three songs solo. At the finale, the audience sprung to a standing ovation. It was a performance marked by intimacy and beauty throughout, and a fitting end to a remarkable weekend for local and national attendees.