Wednesday August 24 Mambo king: Denver's best-kept secret this week may very well be the two nights of outdoor performances being put on by Tito Puente & His Latin Allstars at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Puente, a master timbalero and bona fide living legend, has been making incredible music--Latin jazz, salsa, cha-cha and mambo--for over forty years. And there's no sign of a let-up. Try to keep up with him tonight or tomorrow night at 7:15; tickets are $14 ($11 DBG members). The gardens are located at 1005 York St.; for details call 777-7372.

Thursday August 25 Buckle up: The world these days is a dangerous and confusing place if you're a twentysomething slacker (or whatever it is they're calling that generation this week). That's why you need Brad Roberts and the Crash Test Dummies, whose popular and hummable tune "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" (never mind trying to pronounce it) offers a few X-planations. The Dummies will appear tonight at Red Rocks for a concert beginning at 6, when Colorado's own Subdudes open with a set of their New Orleansish folk pop. For tickets, $20.90, call 830-2525 or 290-TIXS.

Friday August 26 Cream of the crop: Boulder is hosting alternative programmers from radio stations across the country at this week's Gavin A3 Convention, a shindig where everyone attends workshops and hears a lot of live music. Most of it isn't open to the public, but they'll share a rich helping of the music with the rest of us during a trio of concerts being held this weekend at the Fox Theatre and showcasing a varied docket of artists from Lyle Lovett to the Dave Matthews Band. The bad news is that two of these shows are already sold out; the good news is that tickets can still be had for an exceptional one, starting tonight at 8 and featuring superb songwriters Nanci Griffith, Jules Shear, Jeffrey Gaines and Freedy Johnston. Griffith is such a supporter of good songwriting that she made an album in its honor, while Shear is the pop genius responsible for early Unplugged shows on MTV; Gaines and Johnston are up-and-comers both deserving of note. Tickets are $15.75; call 290-TIXS. The Fox is located at 1135 13th St. in Boulder.

Foreign exchange: A struggling product of pre-glasnost Russia, the Hermitage Group has managed to preserve a visionary artistic style and philosophy (looked down on by the Communist regime) for over 25 years. The group's eight painters, based in St. Petersburg and led until 1988 by late founder Grigory Yakovlevich Dlugach, work in a style based on concepts and methods gleaned from both the Old Masters and the Modernists, and favoring representational subjects, such as still lifes, figures and landscapes. The group, now allowed to practice freely, has opened a school in St. Petersburg but is taking its ideas on the road here in the United States. The artists will be present for an exhibition and sale of their works at Saks Galleries, 3019 E. 2nd Ave. in Cherry Creek North, opening tonight from 5 to 8 and continuing tomorrow with demonstrations by the artists, who will set up their easels throughout the area from noon until 3 p.m. For additional information call the gallery at 333-4144.

Take a seat: If you're the sort who thinks about the chair you're sitting in, you may just want to check out the CHAIRity Ball, a unique reception and silent auction of wacky hand-painted chairs created by local artists. Take one home and you can make a bold statement without ever getting up off your duff. Proceeds from the sale of the functional artworks, taking place from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Genre Artisan's Center, 2301 Champa St., will benefit the Gathering Place, a refuge for homeless women and children. Call 298-7417 for details.

Saturday August 27 High Tex-Mex: It's one of those hand-me-down, father-to-son family affairs. In the case of Santiago Jimenez Jr., that means the rousing accordion-driven conjunto music--part polka and part folk norteno--pioneered by his grandfather Patricio and father Don Santiago. The younger brother of Flaco Jimenez, also a virtuoso on the squeeze box, Santiago is a traditionalist who will bring a trio, including the necessary bajo sexto and upright bass, to the Denver Civic Theater, 721 Santa Fe Dr., for an 8 p.m. concert sponsored by the Swallow Hill Music Association. Tickets are $12 ($10 Swallow Hill members); call 777-1003 for yours.

Peculiaroso: In some ways, Leo Kottke hasn't changed. He still trots out his oldest, most locomotin' tunes on stage and they're still astounding after all these years (Kottke's first eye-opening record on Takoma, 6 and 12 String Guitar, came out in 1969 and turned acoustic music right on its ear), but his newer tunes are less raw and percussive, more thoughtful and mature. Have no fear, though--a show by Kottke will always be peppered with laconic stories and brimming with innovative musicianship. He brings the whole package to Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Rd. in Boulder, tonight at 8. Admission ranges from $17 to $22; to reserve a seat call 440-7666 or 290-TIXS.

Good for what ales ya: Two of the best things about lower downtown Denver are the burgeoning brewpubs and magnificent Coors Field--so why not have a great event that celebrates both? Hence the LoDo BrewFest, a fledgling happening today and tomorrow on Wynkoop St. between 18th and 19th. There, you'll be able to not only sample an overflow of lagers, ales, stouts and other microbrews from nearly forty Colorado brewers, but you'll also learn a little bit about the craft and history of beer. But before you get started, you may want to keep your sea legs long enough to tour the nearby ballfield (still under construction but really beginning to look like something). Guides will be provided. Event hours are 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. each day; admission is $3 in advance ($5 at the gate), and $1 tokens will buy 6-ounce tastes. Bring a designated driver--free nonalcoholic beverages will be available--and don't forget your ID. For information call 698-HOPS.

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