Summer Sonics 2024

Heat up your sun-soaked playlist with these Colorado acts

Denver collective DOGTAGS shares their favorite summertime jams. Credit: Jackson Davis

Kick out the jams — summer is back, baby! When it comes to live music during the hot months, there are few better places to be than Colorado. Acts from far and wide pass through our little slice of paradise like clockwork, tearing the roof off one legendary venue after another. 

But it’s not just touring bands making noise on the Front Range this season. There’s plenty of home cooking on the menu, too. That’s why we’re back with another sampler of summer’s sonic bounty, asking local artists to reflect on what these longer days and louder nights look and sound like to them.

Courtesy: Cheap Perfume

Cheap Perfume

Nine years into their reign at the top of the local punk scene, femme-punk mainstays Cheap Perfume are climbing to new heights this summer. They’re fresh off their first tour and gearing up for an August opening slot for Riot Grrrl legends Bikini Kill in Salt Lake City. 

The energy at a Cheap Perfume show is electric. The band’s unrepentant lyrics make for an environment that’s as inclusive as it is rambunctious. Take the opening verse of “Slut Game Strong,” a mid-tempo punk number that thumbs its nose at the patriarchy: “Boys don’t like girls who swear / well I don’t really fucking care,” vocalist Stephanie Bryne sneers. “Cross your legs, don’t speak too loudly / I’ll speak my mind and I’ll do it proudly.”

“One thing I love about people who come to our shows — they’re really aware, they know that there are a lot of issues that need to be talked about,” says guitarist Jane No. “But they also just want to get rowdy and care for each other.”

Cheap Perfume’s music is best experienced through speakers that shake the floors at a sweaty summer gig. You’re in the mosh pit or watching from the sides, reveling in the ruckus. 

“People are wanting to let loose and not think about all the stresses of life under capitalism,” No says. “They just want to get out and have a good time.” Lauren Hill

Cheap Perfume’s Summer Sonics
“No Men” by Cheap Perfume 
“Hello Hello Hello” by Remi Wolf
“Chevrolet Van” by The Nude Party
“Entropy” by Beach Bunny

. . .

ON THE BILL: Cheap Perfume with The Mañanas, Beach Fossils and more at Underground Music Showcase. Fri.-Sun., July 26-28, South Broadway, Denver. $90+

Credit: Jo Babb


The story of the band Barbara is one of renewal and rediscovery. The indie-rock trio met as burnt-out music students at the University of Denver, each having fallen out of love with their respective classical instruments and yearning to relight the spark. They started concurrently learning bass, drums and guitar, and wrote enough songs to fill their first LP, Escape Artist

“It truly has been a healing experience, rekindling our love for music and finding a safe space to try things none of us ever had before,” says guitarist and lead singer Camilla Vaitaitis. 

Nearly two years after the release of their debut, Barbara has no plans of slowing down. The band is set to record their second album amid a busy lineup of festivals and a late-summer Southwest tour, with the goal of expanding beyond their current psychedelic grunge sound while staying true to the band’s ethos of love, connection and friendship. Lauren Hill

Barbara’s Summer Sonics
“For Good Measure” by Barbara
“Still Life (Connan Mockasin Remix)” by The Horrors
“I Want a Break Thru” by The Hykkers
“Sun-Kissed (feat. Moe Isaac)” by Nitty Scott

. . .

ON THE BILL: Wax Jackets with Barbara. 7 p.m. Sunday, June 16, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer St., Denver. $25

Credit: Jo Babb

Alexa Wildish

It was the snow-choked dead of winter when Alexa Wildish rolled into her new foothills home in Lyons. The frosty scene was a new one for the Southern California native — stunning, to be sure, but colored with an icy shade of uncertainty.

“I remember someone telling me, ‘Wait ’til the summer to make your judgment on whether or not you should stay here,’” the 35-year-old musician recalls. “I took a trip to Chicago, and when I got back you could see bits of spring coming up, the start of summer, and I just felt overwhelmed by the beauty.”

The scenery wasn’t the only beautiful thing Wildish found that summer. She was soon barreled over by the rugged romance of Planet Bluegrass, the thrumming heart of Boulder County roots music where the emerging artist would win the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival songwriting competition a few years later in 2019.

But her star wasn’t done rising. Last fall, the Colorado transplant made a dazzling run to the playoff round of NBC’s The Voice, after delivering a soulful blind-audition knockout with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” that snagged a coveted four-chair turn from judges Gwen Stefani, John Legend, Reba McEntire and her eventual coach: Niall Horan of One Direction fame.

With that life-changing moment in the rearview and more good things on the horizon — like an upcoming cover album set for release this year, following an outdoor performance at Boulder’s inaugural Flatiron Sounds Music Festival in June — Wildish says she’ll be soaking up the sun and songs in her adopted home on the Front Range this season. 

“Summer in Lyons is such a special place to be: music festivals, cool people coming through town, jamming all the time,” she says. “To me it feels like an energy of bigness and power. When I’m in my summertime vibes, it gives me courage to keep going and do really big things.” Jezy J. Gray

Alexa Wildish’s Summer Sonics
“Court and Spark”by Joni Mitchell 
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac 
“Carrie & Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens
“The Well” by Alexa Wildish

. . .

ON THE BILL: Alexa Wildish with Clay Street Unit, Jake Leg and more at Flatiron Sounds Festival. 1-7 p.m. Sunday, June 16, Chautauqua Park, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder. Free 

Courtesy: The Mañanas

The Mañanas

It’s been a full year since The Mañanas released their debut LP, 3000. Since then, they have continued to cement themselves as a fixture of Denver’s music landscape. Most of the band hails from Ecuador and started playing music together shortly after moving to the Front Range in 2020. Their first EP, Cheers, swiftly followed.

In many ways, the band acts as an ode to the old, the new and the in-between. Their live shows are a straightforward celebration of their surf-garage-rock sound. Peppered into the set are various ’60s covers of tried-and-true classics like 3000 banger “La Plaga” and tracks by legends like James Brown. 

Beyond their diverse influences, The Mañanas fill a gap in a demographically monotonous music scene in a city whose population is one-third Hispanic. 

“We’re just trying to make moves as a band of color,” says lead vocalist and guitarist Brandon Unpingco. “So we do want to make an impact in the scene when it comes to that.”

The Mañanas’ sound conjures images of sunlight sifting through leaves on a sweltering July afternoon. The drinks are cold, the music is loud and life feels like a timeless coming-of-age movie. That kind of summer energy is easy to enjoy. Lauren Hill

The Mañanas’ Summer Sonics
“OJ Sand” by The Mañanas
“You Ought to be With Me” by Al Green
“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield
“Satisfacción” by Los Apson

. . .

The Mañanas with Beach Fossils, Tkay Maidza and more at Underground Music Showcase
. Fri.-Sun., July 26-28, South Broadway, Denver. $90+

Jess Nelson Media,LLC. Credit: Jess Nelson Media

Clay Street Unit 

A lot can happen in a week — just ask guitarist and vocalist Sam Walker. In the summer of 2020, he met a banjo player named Jack Cline in Denver. Over the course of the next week, they booked their first gig and chose their band name: Clay Street Unit, an homage to the street where their paths first crossed. 

It’s fitting that the band’s lineup — now six deep, with Scottie Bolin on mandolin and vocals, Jack Kotarba on bass, Brad Larrison on pedal steel and Brendan Lamb on drums — was born in the summer months. There’s something of the sultry season in their country-fusion sound, blending the high-energy strings of Appalachia and the warm embrace of Southern comfort classics.

When asked about their summertime inspirations, Walker cites the tropical soft-rock of the late Jimmy Buffett, the pop-forward twang of ’90s country and a trio of bluegrass legends: Doc Watson, Tony Rice and Larry Sparks.

“Anything that somehow meets that balance of energized but also relaxed,” Walker says. 

Clay Street Unit’s entire catalog is fitting for summer, but two songs stick out in particular. “1200 Miles,” a lap steel-forward country ballad, is “about traveling across the country and remembering that where you are at this point in time is where you’re supposed to be,” says Walker. 

“Weight of the World,” a banjo-heavy track, paints an awestruck picture of the beautiful state we get to call home: moonlight dancing off winding creeks like a disco ball, and behemoth mountain ranges towering over stages where Clay Street Unit hone their craft — and we get to listen. Carter Ferryman

Clay Street Unit’s Summer Sonics
“Starting Over” by Chris Stapleton
Anything by Jimmy Buffett, Doc Watson, Tony Rice or Larry Sparks
“1200 Miles” and “Weight of the World” by Clay Street Unit

. . .

ON THE BILL: Clay Street Unit with Alexa Wildish, Jake Leg and more at Flatiron Sounds Festival. 1-7 p.m. Sunday, June 16, Chautauqua Park, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder. Free 


Credit: Ian Singh

It’s summer 2021, and on a second-floor bed in a sweltering farm-style house with no AC, guitarist Michael Merola and vocalist Regi Worles are building a song. Merola hits a chord progression. Worles’ eyes light up. The rest of the pieces soon fall together. 

Since that fateful day three years ago, the duo that would become DOGTAGS has staked claim as one of Denver’s most electrifying groups. Flexing a neo-Latin soul sound with flavors of jazz and bossa nova, Merola and Worles form the core of a rotating nine-person big band trafficking in even bigger rhythms. 

The collective may be local, but their sound spans worlds of influence. That much is clear when you ask the founding members of this summer-born ensemble to wax on their favorite hot-weather jams. 

“I love listening to Mexicana music when it gets warm out,” says Merola. “Everything from the swaying cumbias of Los Ángeles Azules to the dance-y corridos of Xavi and Eslabon Armado.” 

The pair cite Omar Apollo as a definitive artist of the season — he’s soundtracked all the summers they have been together for. But to hear Worles tell it, the season is about more than the perfect playlist.

“It’s a time to return to myself, fall in love with my friends, let myself just laugh and play and remember why I fell in love with music and art in the first place,” Worles says. 

As far as their own music goes, Merola and Worles say their upcoming song “Keepsake” makes for a serious summer bop. Like so much of their work, it’s a reminder of the shared moments in life, meant to be enjoyed on a park blanket with friends. Worles says it’s for letting “the emotions of the day become memories, letting them become sacred.” Carter Ferryman

Dogtags’ Summer Sonics
“Melt” by Kehlani
“El Amor de su Vida” by Grupo Frontera y Grupo Firme 
“Keepsake” by DOGTAGS 
Anything by Beyoncé, Clairo, Omar Apollo, Brockhampton, Los Angeles Azules, Xavi and Eslabon Armado

. . .

ON THE BILL: DOGTAGS with Thee Sacred Souls, Teddy Swims and more at Endless Sunshine Festival. 3 p.m. Saturday, June 29, Civic Center Park, 101 14th Ave., Denver. $100+


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