THRILLS

Wednesday August 30 Now and Zen: "I am a synthetic pessimist, not the real thing." So writes author, traveler and martial arts enthusiast Mark Salzman in his wry, pot-drenched, coming-of-age memoir Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia. Salzman, whose book is written in the droll tradition of autobiographers Spalding Gray (see Saturday) and Russell Baker, will invite readers into an adolescent world ruled by his fascination with Zen Buddhism, kung fu and marijuana when he reads tonight at 7:30 at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th St. For details call 436-1070.

Guitar town: Guitar junkies could do worse. A bill co-headlined by Carlos Santana and Jeff Beck promises more licks per measure than an entire generation of Eric Clapton wannabes. Santana should continue in his spiritually charged style, backed by a Latin rhythm section and vocalist Curtis Salgado, while the stage-shy Beck, out of hiding, ought to thrill his audience with patented power-blues riffs and possibly some rockabilly, in the style of the "Pride of Norfolk," Gene Vincent. Put country-blues throwback Keb' Mo' in the 6:30 p.m. opening spot and the evening promises to be positively twangin'. Santana and Beck get the ax at Fiddler's Green, 6350 Greenwood Plaza Blvd; for tickets, $17.50 and $22.50, call 830-TIXS.

Thursday August 31 Polo, anyone?: One of the area's flashiest residents, drummer Ginger Baker--the red-maned, stringbean powerhouse behind the '60s trio Cream who has since developed into a fine jazz improviser--is a man of many interests. And it's his aim to share two of them by throwing a series of Polo/Jazz Affairs out in Parker, where he keeps his own perky fleet of polo ponies. The last evening of the series begins with a polo match tonight at 5:30, followed by a performance by Baker's crack ensemble of local players--guitarist Jerry Hahn, trumpeter Ron Miles and bassist Artie Moore. It all takes place at Salisbury Equestrian Park on Hotsenbacker Road, Parker. (To get there, turn right on West Main from Parker Road south, then left on Hotsenbacker, or turn left on Stroh Road from Parker Road north and right on Hotsenbacker.) Admission is easy--five bucks a carload at the gate; call 840-1159.

Friday September 1 The one-two Poncho: When it comes to percolatin', few do it better than el conguero supremo, Latin jazzman Poncho Sanchez--a Texas-born madman with big, fast, callused hands and plenty of inspiration. Sanchez, who got his start back in 1975 with vibe player Cal Tjader, has recorded a new album dedicated to the late mallet man; Soul Sauce, due out this month, features reworked versions of Tjader favorites. And could anything but love motivate Sanchez to name his sons after personal heroes like Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria? Clearly, salsa--along with all its rhythmic cousins--is in his blood, and it's soon to be in yours, too. Sanchez brings his big band to the Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax, tonight at 8; for tickets, $15 in advance ($17 day of show), call 322-2308.

Treasure chest: Improve yourself before you party--kick off the Labor Day weekend with a little culture and beauty. It's a hot night, after all, for galleries around town. Wearable ornamentation is the focus of Brilliant Stories: American Narrative Jewelry, now on view at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, 1701 Wazee St. Featured are adornments sporting miniaturized storytelling details, all the careful, gorgeous work of 25 national jewelry makers. A public reception, in conjunction with the monthly LoDo First Friday event, will be held from 7 to 8; the show continues through September 22. Call 294-5207. Shadowy, half-noticed figures dominate dark new paintings by Jeff Bertoncino, on exhibit beginning tonight at the Mackey Gallery along with Linda Ingraham's photo-sculptural works. Attend an opening reception from 7 to 10 this evening, or catch the show through September 30. Call 455-1157 for details.

Saturday September 2 Honky-tonk masquerade: Texas grows its unsung legends big, just like everything else, and there are few unsung Texas legends bigger than Joe Ely, the kind of country rocker they always drag out as a stock example of a no-stops honky-tonker. Ely streamlines roots music like no other, mixing up Tex-Mex, blues, rockabilly and class material from the pens of pals Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock. He'll do just that tonight at Herman's Hideaway, 1578 S. Broadway. For additional information call 777-5840.

Song of the Self: Performance artists, at least the good ones, have a remarkable ability to make their lives--which are possibly no less mundane than anyone else's--seem utterly fascinating, funny and remarkable. And no one does it better than monologue specialist Spalding Gray, who returns to the Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Road in Boulder, to charm what promises to be a standing-room-only house. His latest piece, Gray on Gray, or Everything Reminds Me of Something, covers Gray's latest true topics--a meeting with the Dalai Lama, a virtual-reality conference attended with Tim Leary, learning to ski--but it ends with a twist: During the second half of the performance, he'll select questions written by audience members before the show and improvise replies, however roundabout. Tickets for the 8 p.m. event range from $20 to $25; call 440-7666 or 830-TIXS to reserve yours.

Incredible edibles: Eat, eat and be merry...eating. That's the credo at this year's--and every year's--Festival of Mountain and Plain...A Taste of Colorado, the annual summer's-end pigout at Civic Center Park, 14th and Bannock streets. Beginning today and running through Monday night, the Taste's ever-expanding girth will swell to include everything from barbecue to baklava. Is it just your imagination, or does this crowd seem closer together than the usual festival throngs? Under the circumstances (we recommend you avoid standing on scales for at least two weeks after the debauch), probably the latter. The free main-stage music, from the likes of Eddie Money, the Guess Who, Jefferson Starship, Billy Pilgrim, Moonpools & Caterpillars and Willy Porter, along with countless local acts on secondary stages, will at least help you dance off some of the calories (try the Hillbilly Hellcats, 11:15 a.m. Friday, on the Coors Light Modern Rock Stage, or Tico Tico, 5:45 p.m. Sunday, on the Mile High Variety Stage). Hours are 11 to 11 today through Sunday, and 11 to 9 Monday; call 478-7878 for additional information.

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