Whether you're new to Colorado Springs or just now becoming interested in the local music scene, the number and variety of artists performing in clubs and releasing albums can be intimidating.
That's a big part of the reason for the Summer 2011 launch of the Indy Music Awards, an annual poll in which readers vote for their favorite local musicians in more than a dozen genres. Winners then go on to perform on multiple stages at the Indy Music Festival in the first week of September.
The following profiles of 2013's first-place winners add up to an overview of the Springs music scene. As of this writing, all are still gigging here in town, and you can keep up with them in the Indy's weekly Reverb column as well as our Playing Around listings.
Black P: With his decade-long recording career, Black Pegasus — aka Black P, aka Rob Houston — is still the most established artist on the local rap scene. He's taken the top solo hip-hop artist award twice in three years, and recently released his seventh album, YMP. Collaborators have included Krizz Kaliko and Dizzy Wright, whose guest spot on Black P's "Silly of Me" single and video helped earn it more than 100,000 YouTube hits.
El Toro de la Muerte: While the majority of Colorado Springs bands can be found playing local clubs several times a month, El Toro de la Muerte's gigs are infrequent enough to achieve event status. The two-time indie-rock winners have also been selective when it comes to recorded output. What would have been El Toro's first album was scrapped, making 2011's seven-track Dancer These Days CD their official debut. El Toro have since been holed up at Allneonlike — a local warehouse they've converted into their studio — and are planning to release a full-length album this summer. Based on the "SnowCaps" demo they recently uploaded to their SoundCloud page, this could be the recording that brings them national attention.
Tony Exum Jr.: Colorado Springs may not be known for its "urban contemporary jazz-funk with a dash of R&B songwriting craft," as two-time solo jazz award winner Tony Exum Jr. has described his music. But it can seem that way when the top-flight saxophonist hits the stage with his band. Exum cites an eclectic array of personal influences, ranging from jazz crossover artist George Duke to hip-hop legend J Dilla.
Goya: The winners of last year's "people's choice" award, Goya have cultivated their local popularity by playing genuinely weird sets that can include anything from Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" to CeeLo's "Fuck You." The band grew out of Sanguine Addiction and Last Supper, two high-decibel hard-rock bands that have earned considerable followings of their own.
Grass It Up: When it comes to bluegrass and country music, Grass It Up have proven unbeatable, sweeping this IMA category all three years. Their most recent release was Alabama Tory, an album that pays tribute to pioneering artists like Earl Scruggs while name-checking the Southern state where co-founders Shannon Carr and (Indy employee) David Jeffrey performed together for more than a decade. One of the hardest-gigging bands in town, Grass It Up specializes in three-part harmonies, fast picking, and well-crafted originals that sound right at home alongside their covers of early country and bluegrass classics.
The Haunted Windchimes: When they started out as a Pueblo-based trio, the Haunted Windchimes' combined ages added up to less than the age of some of the songs they revered and covered during shows. The three-time IMA winners have since expanded to a five-piece and appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. Yet the overall impression of old souls in young bodies still lingers, especially with the inclusion of songs like Leadbelly's "Pick a Bale of Cotton" in their live sets.
Brandon Lee: Two-time DJ category winner Brandon Lee may incorporate rock and Motown tracks into his live mixes, but his overall sound has an undeniable modern dance-music appeal. He's also a strident proponent of the two-turntables-and-a-microphone school of deejaying, an art that tends to be lost among stadium acts like Skrillex and Deadmau5. When not playing clubs or releasing mixtapes, Lee spends time scouring Beatport and other websites that feature cutting-edge dance music. Much to his credit, he also abandoned dubstep more than a year ago.
Jake Loggins: A blues-rock prodigy who briefly "retired" from music after the birth of his first child, Jake Loggins is a 2½-time winner in the blues category, having tied in 2013 with Grant Sabin. While he's had a fervent club following for years, Loggins remains as self-deprecating as he is talented. So far he's only released one album, 2011's Have a Nice Day, a collection of original songs that showcase songwriting talents often overlooked in a barroom setting. Since last summer's IMA awards, he's continued fronting the Jake Loggins Band and participating in the more democratically inclined local band Justus League.
Malakai: One of the few local artists who have won Indy Music Awards three years in a row, Colorado Springs' Malakai make it a point to avoid gimmicks and trends in favor of hardcore, heartfelt heavy metal, complete with guttural vocals and intricate guitar riffs. They've been at it for more than a decade, and remain the undisputed leaders of the local metal scene.
Mango fan Django: Grab an accordion and a head-scarf, and it's not that hard for an indie band to climb aboard the gypsy revivalist bandwagon. But to do it right, you need chops, which is one of the reasons why acoustic instrumentalists Mango fan Django are three-time jazz winners and have maintained their local following for some 15 years. They've also recorded seven albums filled with intricate arrangements and an ensemble sound that doesn't require vintage costumery to get its point across.
The Martini Shot: Cover bands come and go, but not The Martini Shot. After 13 years in clubs on Tejon Street and beyond, the band's repertoire ranges from covers of '80s one-hit-wonders— anyone out there remember a-ha's "Take On Me"? — to a ska version of perennial folk tune "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," as well as songs by Weezer, a variety of funk covers and a handful of high-energy originals.
Jason Miller: Americana winner Jason Miller has seen some serious downs and ups in recent years, from the destruction of his house in the 2013 Black Forest Fire to this March's release of the J.Miller Band's One More High, One More Low, which is far and away the talented local singer-songwriter's best album to date. In between, Miller has played countless solo shows, but performing and recording with his bandmates, he says, has taken his music to the next level.
Charlie Milo: If Charlie Milo had an equivalent in the outside world, it would have to be Primus' Les Claypool, who undoubtedly shares the local bassist-singer-songwriter's love for funk and for avant-jazz pioneers like George Clinton and Frank Zappa. The winner in last year's amalgamated R&B/funk/soul category, the incurably eclectic Milo performs solo, as well as with emcees, deejays and a number of local bands. The Charlie Milo Trio's 2014 CD, The Very Best Reason to Reason, features tracks like "Orange Rainwater" and "Pink Drapes" that wouldn't sound out of place next to Zappa's "Yellow Snow" or Clinton's "Paint the White House Black."
Murder Hat: With their combination of punk-pop and ska-core, Murder Hat won last year's punk rock IMA, dethroning the Nobodys, the legendary Springs band that's been together four times as long. The trio released EPs in 2009 and 2010, followed by 2012's full-length debut These Are the Days. Having performed for barflies from Denver to Pueblo, Murder Hat's Damon Thomas says the band has played more shows for a couple of friends than sold-out venues. But snagging the top spot in one of the most popular IMA categories suggests they're doing something right.
The ReMINDers: In less than four years, conscious hip-hop duo the ReMINDers have gone from playing an Independent Records in-store for a couple dozen friends and family members to performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Emcees Aja Black and Antoine "Samir" Zamundu released their second album, Born Champions, in 2012, and have taken home first-place hip-hop (duo or group) awards for two years running. The ReMINDers also played two sold-out nights with Brother Ali at First Avenue, the legendary Minneapolis venue where Prince and the Time famously battled in the film Purple Rain.
Grant Sabin: As an alt-blues singer-songwriter — if there is such a thing — Grant Sabin started playing out at age 13. Even then, he possessed a gravelly voice that sounded like he'd been smoking three packs a day in the womb. After an obligatory Robert Johnson phase, the dobro-wielding Sabin went on to develop the idiosyncratic style that can be found on Anthromusicology, his first album for the Haunted Windchimes' Blank Tape label. The CD took first in last year's album category, while Sabin, now 21, tied with Jake Loggins for the top slot in the blues category.
Chuck Snow: Inspired by artists ranging from Dust Bowl folksinger Woody Guthrie to Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg, Chuck Snow has expressed his more rock inclinations in bands like the Autono, the Lazy Spacemen, and the Lo-Fi Cowboys. But just one listen to his poignant "Whichever Way the Wind Blows," written, recorded and released in the midst of the Waldo Canyon Fire, is all it takes to understand why this talented Colorado Springs native won last year's singer-songwriter award.