In 1995, several Westworders wondered what we could do to raise the profile of local music in Denver. From these musings arose the concept of a Westword-sponsored local music festival, at which the width and breadth of Colorado music could be put on display.
It was not a new notion; other organizations had put on bashes of this type, but many of them had failed to attract audiences as large as the bands deserved. For the most part, these predecessors were either daylong spectacles at single locations or concerts at original-music venues that were so far from each other that it was difficult to hear all the music on tap without racking up a pile of speeding tickets. The latter approach compared unfavorably with the setup utilized each March by the planners of the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. But then again, these organizers had a geographical advantage: Austin’s Sixth Street is lined with clubs so close to each other that patrons wearing SXSW wristbands can walk from one room to the next in a matter of seconds, thereby making it possible for them to see dozens of acts in a single night. If only Denver had an area like that. As it turned out, Denver did. By 1995, the Coors Field-inspired boom in lower downtown had resulted in a proliferation of nightspots within blocks of each other. If we could gain the cooperation of a handful of these joints, the result would be a mini-SXSW–except that the focus would not be on combos from across the country or around the globe, but on Colorado’s finest.
Thus, the Westword Music Awards Showcase was born. Next came the decision about how to choose the acts that would be part of the project. A committee of nominators from the music community–promoters, club owners, bookers, radio professionals and so on—was assembled and asked to jot down their favorites in several different categories. Their picks were added up and the top five vote-getters in each category were placed on ballots in order to determine the favorite acts in each bracket. In that way, the people who mattered most–music fans themselves–would be able to have the final word. For the inaugural event, we wound up with 55 nominees in 11 different groupings, and 30 of those played at 6 LoDo venues. No one involved in the Showcase–not Westword staffers, not the business owners, not the musicians–had the slightest idea how many people would turn out on the early October night in question. However, thousands did. Lower downtown was filled with everyone from rabid local-music fanciers and assorted groupies to nightlife novices and celebrities like the Colorado Rockies’ Andres Galarraga, all of whom discovered that there’s a lot more to Denver music than John Denver.