Thanks to the ongoing consolidation of record labels, the adjective "indie" can at this point signify just about any contemporary act that falls short of arena status. Indie-rock, indie-folk and indie-rap abounds, and encompasses the majority of touring acts that come through Colorado Springs. Sure, the Broadmoor World Arena will occasionally bring in an Elton John or Def Leppard, but they're more likely to book Disney on Ice and Rock & Worship shows.
But what's perhaps most unusual for a city this size is the wide range of local talent that can be found on any given night in bars, cafés and other "intimate" venues around town. Here's a sampling of the Springs' destination spots where you can catch some of the best local and touring acts. (For addresses/maps, more music venues and local and out-of-town shows, check out Music at csindy.com.)
The winner of the Indy's "Best Of" readers' poll since the venue's inception in October 2005, the Black Sheep brings in the most touring acts of any club in town. Artists like Father John Misty and Fitz & The Tantrums have all played here on their way up the career ladder, while acts like Tech N9Ne can be counted on to pay a visit during national tours. The Black Sheep also books the most indie-rock of any local spot, enough pop reggae acts to keep the stoner crowd happy, and a high percentage of local rock and hip-hop musicians' CD release shows.
Located in a former elementary school, this performance space is your best bet when it comes to largely acoustic acts from the indie-folk end of the spectrum. This is the place to find NPR favorites like the Stray Birds, Saint Motel and Anais Mitchell, as well as local favorites ranging from quirky songwriter Dear Rabbit to Americana-inclined Haunted Windchimes offshoot, River Arkansas.
Housed in Colorado Springs' answer to the Hollywood Dome, Stargazers leans more toward '60s and '70s-identified artists like Savoy Brown and Loudon Wainwright III, Celtic and gypsy-pop acts, and high-profile blues-rockers like Tab Benoit. The venue also does a thriving business in touring tribute bands, with acts paying homage to Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Depeche Mode and, of course, John Denver.
As befits the performance hall that hosts the Colorado Springs Philharmonic (csphilharmonic.org), the Pikes Peak Center has the best acoustics in town as well as the most comfortable seating. All of which makes it perfect for a demographic that skews a bit older, with its mix of stand-up comedians, touring revues like Stomp, and legacy artists like Jackson Browne, Todd Rundgren and Chicago. But scan the schedule closely and you'll often find relatively contemporary artists like Wilco and Puscifer slipped into the mix.
Colorado Springs boasts enough high-quality outdoor festivals to keep the average music fan from feeling a need to go to Denver. The most ambitious is the MeadowGrass Music Festival, which takes place during Memorial Day weekend up in La Foret. Past headliners have included Elephant Revival, Blue Rodeo and Kristin Hersh, but you'll also discover new favorites throughout its three-day schedule of Americana, folk, bluegrass and roots music. Blues Under the Bridge, meanwhile, is a one-day-only (but no less stellar) event that's played hosts to genre heavyweights like Koko Taylor and Bettye LaVette, while Colorado College's Llamapalooza is a more cutting-edge alternative that books acts like Flying Lotus when they're still largely unknown.
For those who want a taste of MeadowGrass on a more regular basis, Front Range is a destination spot for bluegrass, zydeco and all things Americana. Music takes place on a covered outdoor patio, and virtually all acts are guaranteed to inspire enthusiastic drinking and dancing.
Jazz talents in Colorado Springs aren't so much homegrown as they are flown in, thanks to the top-flight talent that comprises the Air Force Academy band. Among the best is bassist and bandleader Colin Trusedell, whose projects range from traditional jazz to less-charted terrain with his Quartet of Jazz Death. He also books the recently reopened Motif, which currently features a full schedule of local jazz acts and hopes to begin attracting national acts in the near future.
If you're looking to see bands in a bar that feels like a bar, the Triple Nickel fills the bill. Owner J.J. Grueter co-founded Colorado Springs punk legends The Nobodys, and you can count on his venue to book high-decibel heroes like The Supersuckers.
What was once the more rockabilly-inclined Rocket Room got a major makeover seven years ago, and has since become a relatively posh venue without losing its friendly neighborhood bar vibe. The venue boasts a weekly schedule of touring acts like Frenchy & the Punk and other bands that tend to fly below the radar and seem happy to do so.