Thursday September 1 Hand-picked for you: The world's most inventive banjo picker says he was first inspired to play jazz when he heard Chick Corea's "Spain" and realized that Corea's short, quick notes could translate easily to his own instrument. That's probably why Bela Fleck & the Flecktones still play that tune--and do it justice. Fleck, the New Grass Revivalist-gone-fusionoid, leads as innovative a trio as exists anywhere, rounded out by the extraordinary Wooten brothers, Victor and Roy (who prefers to be known as Futureman) respectively on bass and drumitar (an appropriately futuristic getup that looks like a guitar but sounds like a drum set). They'll put on two of their typically diverse shows tonight and tomorrow at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1005 York St. Tickets to either 7:15 performance are $14 ($11 DBG members); call 777-7372.
Orthodox behavior: Bernard Mendoza's fascinating series of photographs of Orthodox Jewish communities in the United States, From Generation to Generation, opens today at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in conjunction with the annual observance of the High Holy Days. Mendoza, who spent years documenting Hasidic customs and culture, was inspired by photographer Roman Vishniac's pre-World War II depictions of vanished European Jews. The exhibit, which includes two platinum and eighteen gelatin silver prints, can be seen through September 30. NCAR is located at the west end of Table Mesa Dr. in Boulder; admission to the facility is free. For information call 497-1000.
Friday September 2 Guitar au Gatton: Built like a fireplug, the chubby-fingered Danny Gatton doesn't look like a firebrand guitarist. He looks like a T-shirted mechanic, and in a way he is--a guitar mechanic. When Gatton starts to play, it's all over: The smoky room gets hotter, and everyone in it starts to sweat. Everyone except Gatton, that is--he's cool as a cucumber. The music coming out of this unsung madman's instrument is an uncanny mixture of roadhouse rockabilly, swing jazz and something far more daring, with a frenetic energy not unlike that of Ornette Coleman's every-man-for-himself harmolodics. That means Gatton needs to have a crackerjack band, and he does--a Las Vegas-y, pompadoured frontman, a beat virtuoso on bass and a drummer who never misses. You can observe this spectacle tonight at Herman's Hideaway, 1578 S. Broadway. To purchase tickets, $13.50 in advance ($14.50 day of show), call 290-TIXS.
The chow must go on: Denver traditionally celebrates Labor Day weekend on a full stomach, thanks to the Festival of Mountain and Plain...A Taste of Colorado, an annual event held in Civic Center Park. The four days are marked by hours of free entertainment, arts and crafts, a Virtual Voyage, special performances and a carnival for kids, plus sporting events to test your mettle. But the crowning glory is still surely the food and drink--ethnic, unusual, earthy, gourmet, cold and wet or just plain great--served up by more than fifty of Colorado's favorite restaurants. And once everyone is sated, each day will be topped off with performances by the likes of Chuck Mangione, Dan Seals, The Judybats, Material Issue and Kansas. The festival opens at 11 a.m. daily, today through Monday; gates close each evening at 9:30 (8:30 Monday). For additional information call 634-4060.
Saturday September 3 Take the high road: A slice of history that will appeal to everyone, not just train nerds, will be dished out over the weekend during the Fraser Valley Railroad Days Festival, an event commemorating the opening of the Moffat line ninety years ago and taking place today through Monday at West Portal Station in Winter Park. There will be railroad collectibles, model-train traders, photo displays and special presentations for serious locomotive nuts, with hayrides, fire-engine rides, a barbecue and a square dance for the whole family. And thrill-seekers of any age will get what they want during an awesome tour of the historical "over the hill" route over Rollins Pass, replaced in 1927 by the Moffat Tunnel. Festival hours run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day; for details call 892-0961.
Gray matter: No one engages an audience quicker than monologue magician Spalding Gray, a rare performer who spins his own life into an entertaining artform. Gray, who has yakked his way through a number of performance pieces, including the Jonathan Demme film Swimming to Cambodia and the video-friendly Monster in a Box, now re-enacts his experience with eye surgery and marriage in Gray's Anatomy, his latest piece, on stage tonight at 8 at Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Rd. in Boulder. To reserve tickets, ranging from $20 to $25, call the Chautauqua box office at 440-7666 or dial Ticketmaster at 290-TIXS.
Sunday September 4 Rasta mountain high: It would come as no surprise if every Jamaican on the planet turned out to be in Colorado this week, where two major fests will be ringing with riddim today. Close to home, there's Reggae on the Rocks, a daylong Red Rocks mesmerizer beginning at 2 p.m. and featuring an all-star lineup of Burning Spear, Pato Banton, Big Mountain, Inner Circle, Yellowman and Morgan Heritage. Tickets are $25; call 290-TIXS. A little farther afoot--all the way up in Snowmass Village--there's the One World Music Festival, a more global event manned by not only Jamaican, but also African, Haitian and funky all-American musical artists. The festival, which began on Saturday, continues today with acts including Benin popster Angelique Kidjo, roots mainstays Toots and the Maytals and the reggae wave of the future, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers; it all wraps up tomorrow with Boukman Eksperyans, Manu DiBango and soul godfather Mr. James Brown. Tickets are $30 daily or $80 for all three days; gates open at 9:30 a.m. Call 1-303-728-6660 for ticket and lodging information.