Denver event produced by Rocky Mountains alt-weekly is known for propelling local bands into mainstream success.
Ten years after hitting the streets of Denver, alt-weekly Westword created an annual showcase to celebrate locals artists and national touring musicians who had helped make Colorado an important live music stop over.
While the alt weekly industry has been significantly downsized in the last two decades, Westword Music Showcase has held its own in the crowded festival landscape, turning 25 this year with a lineup that includes electro-pop duo Chvrches, artist-producer Jai Wolf and "River" singer Bishop Briggs.
Alternative newspapers in towns like L.A. and New York once dominated the local music scene, with clubs and venues paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to advertise upcoming shows and keep fans in the loop. But many large titles have been sold off by Voice Media Group, which has shifted from a legacy media company to a digital marketing and publishing firm, operating a smaller portfolio of titles.
Besides Westword, Voice Media Group owns the Phoenix New Times, Houston Press, Dallas Observer, Miami New Times and South Florida's Broward New Times. Scott Tobias is chief executive at VMG and was previously chief operating officer for Village Voice Media Holdings when he joined managing editor Christine Brennan and finance v.p. Jeff Mars to buy the company from its original owners in 2012.
Voice Media Group eventually went from 13 titles to six, Tobias explains, telling Billboard that they "did eventually divest some of the properties," including the Village Voice (2015) and the LA Weekly (2017).
"The speed of business in the digital realm made big papers like that in our model very hard to sustain economically," he tells Billboard, saying his company has shifted in a digital marketing model, launching their agency V Digital Services.
"We've gone back into a lot of the markets that we left in print and now we have a full service suite underneath that umbrella," Tobias tells Billboard. "We still do great digital business, and we have great events in those markets, too. And that model still exists with the papers we have left, including our flagship Westword."
Two-and-a-half decades after launching the Westword Music Showcase, Tobias says the event is still "a celebration of local music that connects our readers, artists, advertisers and our sponsors. These events really remain vibrant for us and are an important part of what we do."
"Thanks to this event, bands that have played our local stages have emerged to be major national talents," Tobias tells Billboard, who says this year's festival will feature 75 to 100 local bands. "We've doubled down on the lineup to give the city everything we could possibly give it."