Summer in Boulder County carries a distinct set of visuals: a windows-down drive through the mountains, a picnic at the foot of the Flatirons, the winding route of a weekend hike or a stroll on Pearl Street among the tulips, just to name a few. And since every scene in your summer movie could use a soundtrack, what better way to make that score special than with Colorado artists? Here’s a rundown of some of our state’s most exciting creators, their stories, playlist “must-adds” for the coming months, and where you can catch them next.
Freestyling in high school led to writing and recording in college, and when Aurora rapper Devin Arnold, known musically as DNA Picasso, moved back to Denver in 2016, a creative spark had already turned into a flame. “After trial and failure, persistence, learning from my mistakes and a little bit of magic,” Arnold says, “I’m here today.”
The local music scene is better because of it. DNA Picasso’s newest album, The Color Blü, has garnered local acclaim for its cohesion, sharp lyricism and catchy hooks. Arnold combines veteran chops and bouncy summer anthems with ease and precision. And there’s no shortage of tracks that embody the summer sound.
Picture yourself at the tail end of a barbecue. The sun is setting, but it’s still blazing hot outside. You’re about to hop from the house with the grill to the one with the pool for a night swim. In the car, windows down, surrounded by friends, is when you toss on “PLZ,” DNA Picasso’s bright, glitchy collaboration with Malcolm Whyz3 and Soul Pesci. Warm like the weather, quick and clever in delivery, it’s a foolproof addition to the summer rotation.
DNA Picasso’s Summer Sonics:
- “PLZ” by DNA Picasso
- “Watermelon Sundae’’ by Dom Kennedy
- “Heatin Up” by Forty $even
- Anything by Blxst, a talented emcee hailing from Los Angeles
ON THE BILL: DNA Picasso with Christian Angelo, Malcolm Whyz3, Chris Cart3r, U.T.I.C.A. and Holiday. 7-midnight. Saturday, May 27, The Black Buzzard at Oskar Blues, 1624 Market St., Denver. $20
Denver and the Front Range at-large have no shortage of DIY music. Tuff Bluff, a no-holds-barred trio born in the depths of lockdown, lives and dies by their independence, and punk rock be damned if it hasn’t paid dividends for the local music scene. You want summer speed? Guitarist-vocalist Sara Fischer, bassist-vocalist Tom Dodd and drummer Ryan Heller have what you need. But summer is more than drinks outside and dry Colorado heat — it’s also about slowing down and reflecting.
“Not all days are sunny,” says Dodd. One day, all that’s on your mind is the excitement of hanging out with friends in nature, the world in the palm of your hand, but the next day you’re weighed down by the anxiety of living with the slow-moving disaster of climate change. Tuff Bluff wraps it all together in their music.
Close your eyes: It’s early summer dusk, and the air is pungent with ozone, wet pavement and dirt. There’s a warehouse party on the horizon — Flora de la Luna and Glueman are set to perform. Your step is quick and steady with a “shake off the bullshit cadence.” You cannot wait to meet up with your friends. Tuff Bluff’s “Shadow” is in your headphones, driving you forward.
Tuff Bluff’s Summer Sonics:
- Anything by Fake Fruit or SPELLS, two explosive rock groups from Denver
- “Constructive Summer” by The Hold Steady
- The Sidekicks, Dodd’s “quintessential summer band.”
ON THE BILL: OWTH with Single Mothers and Tuff Bluff. Time TBA. Sunday, June 25, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer St., Denver. Price TBA
Chris Cart3r will never forget calling in to the Time2Grind radio station to freestyle to the tune of “Let it Go” from Frozen and getting booed off the airwaves. It was a blow to the ego, but the experience didn’t stop him: He kept filling the pages of a notebook with lyrics — sharpening, polishing and transforming a dream into a reality.
In the past year, the picture has come into sharper focus for Cart3r. His versatile sound is made clear on FOREVER LOST, an EP just six songs in length, but containing a full day’s worth of game. His music is somewhere between the two coasts, pairing downtempo vibes with uptempo bars, sometimes within the same track.
“My musical style could really take you through an entire summer day,” says Cart3r. Imagine you’re starting off a perfect Saturday in June with a blunt and a cruise to the corner store. Indie 102.3 is playing his infectious single, “Lost.” Then comes the rooftop party — DJ Don P is spinning Cart3r’s summer 2023 release (stay tuned), and as the sun falls gently behind the mountains, “Dame Time” is the soundtrack for your ride back to the crib.
Chris Cart3r’s Summer Sonics:
- “PEP IN MY STEP” by Doe Boy
- “Ron Artest” by Babyface Ray
- “Nonstop” by Drake
- “The Thrill” by Wiz Khalifa
- “Cameras” by Jay Critch
- “Too Comfortable” by Future
- “Beach Front” by Chris Cart3r and GetItRogers
ON THE BILL: DNA Picasso with Christian Angelo, Malcolm Whyz3, Chris Cart3r, U.T.I.C.A. and Holiday. 7-midnight Saturday, May 27, The Black Buzzard at Oskar Blues, 1624 Market St., Denver. $20
For Denver pop artist Grace DeVine, it’s more than the music that makes summer special. It’s all the sounds synonymous with our hottest months. “The sound of a bluetooth speaker powering up, or the crack of a condensation-covered White Claw,” she says. “The hiss of a sunscreen bottle and a crowd roaring before a festival headliner.”
That being said, there are few things DeVine loves quite as much as a confident pop song that girls can listen to while getting ready for an unforgettable summer night with the squad. Fittingly, DeVine is in the business of making those.
DeVine wants you to imagine you’re on a roadtrip across the country with your best friend. Sunglasses on, shoes off. It’s hot, but not uncomfortable, especially with the A/C on and the windows down. You stick your head out the window — it’s you, the deafening wind, and “Mangoes,” DeVine’s dazzling soft-pop banger, beating like a heart through the car speakers.
Grace DeVine’s Summer Sonics:
- “Mangoes” by Grace DeVine
- “Orange and Foggy” by Little Trips
- Anything by Donna Summer, Fresh Fruit!, Neoma, Remi Wolf and Lorde, a lineup of pop, disco and indie bliss
ON THE BILL: Grace DeVine at The Dru Project Fundraiser. 4 p.m. Saturday, June 3, Left Hand Brewing Company, 1265 Boston Ave., Longmont
Music is more than a professional path for Denver hip-hop artist Cat Evans. “It’s the gas that fuels my resistance,” she says.
One of Denver’s most relentless emcees needs a soundtrack to her life, and the warm-weather season offers more than its fair share of inspiration. “Summer is a time to shine, to reveal personal development and engage new ways of visibility and transparency,” she says.
So it’s no surprise Evans’ summer go-to tracks are those that summon confident, freeing honest emotions: good kid, m.A.A.d. city-era Kendrick Lamar, “Girls Love Beyonce”-era Drake, Johnny Cash, Kanye West, Brandi Carslile. Like these artists, she moves with purpose on her records.
Evans’ perfect summer setting is intimate. It’s a freeing space. Strangers begin telling each other secrets — opening up, fueling a fire — “a desire to feel something other than everything we always feel,” Evans says. “Turn Me On,” her empowering, upbeat single from 2022, hums in the background; not as a song trapped in the corner on a portable speaker, but as a soundtrack for a profoundly honest moment.
Cat Evans’ Summer Sonics:
- “Turn Me On” by Cat Evans
- “Moonwalking in Calabasas (remix)” by DDG
- Anything by Frank Ocean or Tracy Chapman, two of music’s foremost songwriters
ON THE BILL: “I’ll be performing all summer long,” Evans says. “I never stop performing.
I will be doing more shows — stay tuned.”
Jam sessions in 2015 at drummer Shaun Goodwin’s house, tucked into the no-frills, neon-tinged hum of Colfax Avenue, would be the spark for Denver’s Love Gang. Goodwin, guitarist-vocalist Kameron Wentworth, bassist Conner Murphy and organist-flutist Leo Muñoz have carved a home for their brand of hard rock: lively, hot, perfect for summertime. Goodwin says their songs are “perfect jams for a greasy summer BBQ with the crew.”
Join Love Gang in painting a perfect summer picture: you’ve decided, on a whim, to pack up the van with friends and head on a summer getaway south of the border. Straight road, nothing but desert, the evening sky is turning purple, and it’s time to post up for the night. Among the sand and cacti, you’re sitting at a bonfire — beer is flowing, a bag of mushrooms has made its way around the circle, and of course, Love Gang’s bluesy tune, “Headed Down to Mexico,” blares through the van speakers behind you.
Love Gang’s Summer Sonics:
- “Headed Down to Mexico” by Love Gang
- “Invisible Hand” by Smokey Mirror
- Motörhead, Mountain, Free and James Gang, four bands who embodied the excitement of rock in the sixties and seventies
ON THE BILL: Smokey Mirror & Love Gang. 9 p.m. Thursday, June 1, The Crypt, 1618 E. 17th Ave., Denver. $12
Love Gang Tour Kickoff. Time TBA, Saturday, July 15, Hi-Dive, 7 S. Broadway, Denver. Price TBA