Defining Emerging/Up-and-Coming/Breakout is a bitch.  We all don’t know about the same bands/artists.  We all may think of the terms in different standards.  What is emerging? Up-and-Coming?  Breakout?  Should it be local or national?  That’s what made doing this post so much fun.  How would a handful of professionals in the scene see things?

I sent out invitations to a considerable statewide list of radio music directors, program directors, and djs; print publication editors and writers; talent buyers, marketing managers and more.  These are the ones who responded.  I’m honored … absolutely honored …

Brian Johnson (publisher/editor Marquee Magazine, Boulder)
Greta Cornett (marketing Fox/Boulder Theater, founder FOCOMA, musician)
Kiernan Maletsky (music editor, Westword)
Randall Frazer (booking/Walnut Room/The Toad Tavern. Producer-engineer/Helmut Room).
Scott Foley (music/program coordinator, on air host, KRFC )
Tim Wenger (editor/Colorado Music Buzz, booking/Herman’s Hideaway)

For my part, I considered what I saw via the monthly spins chart I publish, and what acts I witnessed at the various events I’m involved with in any capacity.  I could not number them.  Each stands on its own as being among my top picks for emerging/up-and-coming/breakout bands of 2014.  Actually, I took editing discretion and made everyone’s lists alphabetical.

CHRIS “K” / goat (The Colorado Sound)

Ark Life:  was there really any doubt?  Serendipity happens twice with the emergence of this act, comprised of East Coast/DC + Denver, as happened with the NYC/Denver fusion that launched the Lumineers to Grammy status.  For the guys who say “there ain’t been no good music since _________” (the height of late 60s and early 70s earth-rock).

In the Whale: for me to say they are not among the top breakout bands of the year would be me denying the obvious fact that they are, just to dig deeper.  I can’t seem to do that with these guys.  They’ve earned the recognition, and the appropriate acclaim.

The Motet: so the obvious question – how does a band that has been around for almost two decades qualify for one of my top Emerging/Up-and-Coming/Breakout bands of 2014?   Because it became a band with this year’s self-titled release, and not just a cobbled collection of national quality pro-level players.  This was the release that moved the band up the ladder a few steps nationally, in the jamband-funk world.  oh yeah .. .and selling out Red Rocks?  HUGE!

Pandas & People:  for me, the most surprising new entry in 2014.  They were first introduced to me by Radio 94.9 (iHeartMedia) program director Doc Jarnigan.   Definitely emerging at a local/regional NoCO level for now, there’s still more than enough depth on their debut to last several more months at radio along with a new single on SpokesBUZZ Vol. V: Band Together compilation.  A few more high-profile shows regionally and they could be one of the most talked about “new bands” of 2015.

You Me & Apollo: biggest bummer of the year for me was the announcement of their demise.  Brent Cowley wins my Best Male Vocal Performance award with his effort on Sweet Honey.  We may have heard the last of the band, but not unlike Nathaniel Rateliff’s ascension in the scene, we very well may not have heard the last of Brent’s voice.  That is if he returns from his guitar-on-back sojourn to South America.  Sweet Honey ranks among my Best Record and Best Album/EP of the year picks.


BRIAN JOHNSON (Marquee Magazine)

Ark Life – Cute indie rock doesn’t usually have a ton of staying power, but Denver’s Ark Life are simply adorable to watch live and their Greater Than Collective debut The Dream of You and Me, holds up spin after spin, after spin. Their songs are superbly constructed and well thought out, but played with a nonchalance that is neither alienating, nor pompous.

Dragondeer – 2014 was a big year for these three guys who fall somewhere between a slick indie-hipster vibe and a bunch of hippies. They cover Dead songs, but with a swampy bluesy feel and with slicked hair and plastic sunglasses. They won a spot at Telluride Blues and Brews this year and their debut EP Don’t That Feel Good is an excellent listen.

Euforquestra – The Colorado transplants got several major gigs this year, and they capitalized accordingly on them. From summer festival spots, to headlining shows and teaming up with some of Colorado’s other jammers, the band took each opportunity provided to them and knocked it out of the park, over and over. They’ve been able to develop and continually build momentum and that’s the definition of a break out band.

In The Whale – They’ve been around for a few years now, but 2014 was certainly their year. They made the most out of opening for Presidents of the United States of America, Guster and Jane’s Addiction and they put out another killer rock and roll EP. But to me their “coming out party,” if you will, was watching them crush Old Town during Bohemian Nights. The stage in Old Town is usually kind of a side stage, but during their afternoon set, they packed it solid and had one of the most raucous live crowds I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen Rage Against The Machine live.

Strange Americans – They didn’t blow up this year, but they certainly got their pot to a rolling boil and have managed to hold it there and keep it rolling. Straight ahead, working class American rock and roll that goes well with industrial beer is a refreshing spin in our craft-beer saturated world.


GRETA CORNETT (Fox/Boulder Theater)

The Burroughs – This band wowed musicians and crowds alike with their stage presence, songwriting, and full on show.  They are a band that you want to see live because they are exciting and they do what most bands forget to do or try not to do: they entertain.  I put them on this list because they did make an impression in 2014, in the sense that they were one of the most talked about bands as a new band that just kind of appeared in our scene. Poof* where’d they come from?  With some amazing UNC jazz students filling in their lineup, I’m curious to see what the future holds for them since they have already had a lineup change due to graduation.

In the Whale – They get my vote for the local band that made the biggest splash nationally.  They really made a name for themselves this year on a national level by touring with some heavy hitters: Guttermouth, Agent Orange and most notably being picked up by Jane’s Addiction.  They are currently one of the Top 10 in Hometown for the Holidays, which I predict they will win and will push them into 2015 on a big bang.  I’m truly excited to see what they do next.

Michael Kirkpatrick / Cary Morin – The tie! Both of these musicians have been around forever and yes I can see people ask how they are they a “breakout” when they’ve been around for so long.  Michael won the Troubadour contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and was able to show case his musicianship and his stage presence.   Cary represented the Colorado Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge.  He also solidified his place in a band with the Young Ancients who made a big impression in 2014.

The Nadalands.  The songwriting has been there and with the addition of the full band this year, I think they are poised to do some big things in 2015.  Not only did I enjoy watching them grow and evolve in 2014, but I pick them as someone to watch and keep our eyes on the next few years.

Slow Caves – I feel like this line up of musicians has also been around (think the Rewards, etc.) but in 2014 they finally found the sound they were looking for.  Not only have they matured as musicians, but their songwriting has also found its voice.  It’s cohesive, strong, and it really showcases the musical talent in the band.  It’s a huge nod that You Me and Apollo picked them as an opener for their farewell show and perhaps in some weird way symbolizes the passing of the torch.



Ark Life is practically cheating, given the pedigree involved. But they put out the best hang out record of the year, Denver or otherwise, in my opinion. The contributions of these dudes to the scene here cannot be easily measured.

Esme Patterson broke so far out of Denver she just straight up moved away, to Portland. We’ll still count it as the work of a Coloradan; she does, after all. The story here is well-known: just a brilliant concept for the new 10″, the hits with Shakey Graves, the European record deal.

Land Lines have been around for a while, but this felt like the year everyone figured out how great they are. Your favorite band’s favorite band.

Trev Rich made some strides in a hip-hop scene that still doesn’t have many huge success stories. He was the first local to play Summer Jam in a while, getting some coveted attention from 107.5 in the process. He worked with some big names from other parts of the country and put in an incredible installment in the 32 Bar Controversy.

Trout Steak Revival won the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition, earning them a spot on the main stage in 2015 and played some big shows at places like the Aggie.


RANDALL FRAZIER (Walnut Room/The Toad Tavern/Helmut Room Recording)

bluebook: Ok, not really a new band, but their new material is really beautiful. Just swimming in atmosphere and sincerity.

Champion Loves You: Chip Tunes played on a modded out gameboy and electronic drum kit. Really original stuff with great lyrics

Church Fire: Fun, Synthy and pretty freakin’ weird. I love them.

The Drood: Great atmospheric band from Boulder/Lafayette.

Roo And The Howl: Excellent psychedelic blues/rock from Colorado Springs. Perfect dreamy vocals, and a guitar player that just absolutely destroys it.



Ark Life – Jesse Elliott takes leave of These United States for Denver, where he assembles an ad hoc band of local music vets and releases a debut that places Ark Life immediately atop the list of Colorado Bands That Matter.

Esme Patterson – The first time I saw Paper Bird, I knew Esme needed more room on the stage.  It wasn’t only her Woman To Woman EP that finally garnered her that attention.  Esme’s tour with Shakey Graves has introduced her to a whole new audience.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake – While some of these acts sound like Colorado, Denver’s Snake Rattle Rattle Snake still sounds like nobody else on the national scene.  Their dark, tribal rhythms manage to be both accessible and exotic, and frontperson Hayley Helmericks comes across like a Siouxsie for the New Millennium.

Tennis – Glad to have Alaina and Patrick back in our state following a stint in Nashville.  While previous releases connected nationally, Ritual In Repeat has been hailed as the sound of a band that has grown gracefully into their groove.

You Me & Apollo – No other band took as significant a step into the national consciousness.  Blogs embraced them as the Next Big Thing, and the Fort Collins band was perched on the proverbial brink of fulfilling that prophecy.  And then they broke up (“pulled a Churchill”).


TIM WENGER (Colorado Music Buzz/Herman’s Hideaway)

In The Whale – In The Whale has toured with everyone from Jane’s Addiction to Guttermouth this year, while consistently dropping new releases. They’ve got enough of a mainstream indie rock sound to attract [edit: iHeartMedia] radio listeners as well as underground music fans.

Petals of Spain – Have been working with Grammy-winning producer Frank Filipetti on a new EP which will drop in the spring, and are shopping the songs out for movie and TV contracts as well. These guys are already very established in Denver and about to break nationally with these new recordings.

The Potato Pirates – just finished an East Coast tour with punk legends Leftover Crack, and dropped their third full length album Raised Better Than This back in October on a label called Warbird Entertainment. Solid dudes that have been at it for a while. I’ll plug them any chance I get.

Victory Heights – I worked with these guys at the Snowboard on the Block Festival a few months back, and I didn’t even realize they were from Denver until we were hanging out at the bar after the show talking. They had just returned from their summer tour and seem to be getting very popular with the young nu-wave metal/emo type kids.

Wiredogs – What these guys need is to get an opening slot on a tour package with a punk or alternative band that has a strong social message. Their songs are like battle-cries, very heartfelt and honest. They have built a great name in Denver and with the SpokesBUZZ deal should be able to break out a bit into more new markets over the next year.

Author: goat

I've been on the air in Northern Colorado since 1978. The Colorado Playlist is broadcast on 30 FM frequencies in the state. I am also a musician, talent buyer and business consultant. Email me at

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