How the underground became the biggest show in Denver: an oral history of the UMS

Ricardo Baca: I told him, “If you give this up, it will change forever.” Esmé Patterson, musician: It’s a real main artery of the music scene in Denver.

Bless this mess it's UMS. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Bless this mess it’s UMS. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kendall Smith: Imagine standing on a 65-year-old’s back porch trying to explain Big Freedia’s performance the night before, while A Place to Bury Strangers launches into their set — one of the loudest bands ever — and he’s asking me, “Why don’t you go over and turn that down?”

John Moore: We’ve always been cognizant about those issues, but there’s only so much you can do. It is a music festival.

Kendall Smith: There are angry people all the time. You know, nothing is for everybody.

Marty Levine, president, Broadway Merchants association: I think we have some merchants that are not on the happy side.

Loretta Koehler, Baker Historic Neighborhood Association board member, 18-year resident: Initially it was small enough that it was easy to get around and it was pretty fun. And then it got so big.

Esmé Patterson, musician: My favorite metaphor for it is that it’s a real main artery of the music scene in Denver. I’ve been lucky enough to play it over the course of many years, and watching the festival develop has been like watching Denver develop. It started out very underground and now it’s more above ground, it seems, getting bigger and bigger and more exciting. It’s sort of a microcosm for Denver in general.

John Moore: As we sit here 16 years later, I sit there and go, you know, this is the perfect location to do this conversation, because my memories are coming here a couple of days before the UMS and Rick would have tarps and spray paint and we would just be spray-painting signs that say “UMS is for lovers” and we’d get paint all over ourselves making these banners.

Ricardo Baca: It’s the night before the event starts, and that’s how we started.