If you happened to venture out to Herman’s Hideaway in the 1980s, you might have caught Big Head Todd & The Monsters before their big break with Giant Records. Similarly, if you had found your way to the Meadowlark on “open mic night” around 2010, you might have caught The Lumineers debuting their new song, “Ho Hey.” Over the years, Colorado’s been the proving ground for acts ranging from Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident, which started out in the mountain bars of Crested Butte and Telluride, to Dianne Reeves and Charles Burrell, her uncle, who played late-night gigs at El Chapultepec. And members of The Fray wrote songs while they were attending the University of Colorado Denver.
Here are just a few examples of Colorado-based music makers.
Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire is considered one of the greatest pop-funk bands of all time. From its origins in the 1970s, when Denver’s Philip Bailey, Andre Woolfolk and Larry Dunn (all graduates of East High School) joined the act, to its continued success touring the world with Bailey leading the band after Maurice White passed away, EW&F has won nine Grammys and recorded some of the biggest hits that continue in rotation on pop and soul radio stations today. Known for its costumes, dancing, positive vibes and incredible vocals (Bailey has a five-octave range), EW&F brought funk to the forefront of pop music with songs like “Sweetback’s Theme,” “Shining Star,” “Devotion,” “That’s the Way of the World” and “September.”
One of the hottest acts to come out of the folk-rock tradition of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The Band with Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm is The Lumineers. Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites began playing together in their hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey, then moved to New York in what proved to be a frustrating attempt to carve a niche in the Brooklyn music scene. The two came to Colorado in 2010 and began playing “open mics” and “basket houses” for tips. As their focus and songwriting moved towards the emerging Americana sound and radio format, they added Neyla Pekarek on cello. With songs like “Ho Hey,” from the band’s first widely successful album, to hits like “Ophelia,” from the second album, Cleopatra, The Lumineers earned two Grammy nominations, five Billboard award nominations and both Song of the Year and Group of the Year from the Americana Music and Awards organization. And The Lumineers have only just begun. At the 2018 induction of 97.3 KBCO, The Lumineers debuted their new lineup and new songs for an upcoming third album.
OneRepublic may be the most successful pop band to come out of Colorado. It formed in Colorado Springs in 2002 with lead vocalist and songwriter Ryan Tedder, guitarist Zach Filkins, guitarist Drew Brown, bassist and cellist Brent Kutzle, and drummer Eddie Fisher. This was one of the first acts to exploit the power of social media to build an online following: In 2006, OneRepublic released its first single, “Apologize,” through the MySpace platform; it went to #1 on the MySpace chart and helped the band secure a 2007 release of its first album, Dreaming Out Loud. The musicians remixed “Apologize,” and it went to #1 in sixteen countries and was nominated for a Grammy. The second album, Waking Up, reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart; the third album, Native, became the band’s biggest-selling album and reached top ten on the American charts. OneRepublic has sold more than 10 million albums so far, and the act continues to evolve. In 2016 and 2017 it moved away from the album/touring model and focused on releasing singles through the internet; future plans include a more traditional album release and international tour.
India.Arie, who was born in Denver, has sold over 3.3 million albums in the United States alone; around the globe, she has sold over 10 million records. She has also won four Grammys and accumulated 21 nominations. The first of eight albums, Acoustic Soul, came out in 2001 and the latest album, Worthy, was released in February 2019 to critical raves and worldwide radio and internet airplay. India.Arie is one the most successful and prolific artists to come from Denver.
The band’s members are natives of Boulder, and took the group’s name from Colorado’s original area code. The band’s hits include “Don’t Trust Me,” “Want” and “My First Kiss.”
This electronic act may have “Carolina” in its name, but the members hail from Denver. Since 2007, they have released nine EPs and four albums, all in the electronic dance music genre. Although the group has gone through various members over the years, David Schmitt remains a constant.
Most people know Flobots for its 2007 hit “Handlebars,” which was played on modern rock stations around the country. Over the years, the band has proven incredibly successful at merging rock and hip-hop… and it all began in Denver.
If you want to learn more about the history of Colorado music and musicians, or see who’s playing where, Colorado Music Hall of Fame has stories and lists of upcoming events.