Just folks: Early mountain musicians of the southeastern United States improved upon traditional Scottish and Irish melodies armed with an arsenal of mandolins, guitars, dulcimers and autoharps. In the process, they created a completely indigenous musical strain--the forerunner to what we now know as bluegrass, folk and country music. Appalachian Strings, a theatrical history conceived and brought to the stage by the same team that previously traced the roots of African-American music in It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues, celebrates the evolution of that formative backcountry music with a mixture of oral history and tuneful exposition and a talented cast of musicians to keep things lively. Strings opens for previews tonight at 8 at the Stage Theatre, 14th and Curtis in the Plex, and continues Monday through Saturday, through June 8. Admission ranges from $21 to $33; for show times and tickets call 893-4100 or 830-TIXS.
Hall of fame: Primitivism and innocence fuel the works of painter Melinda K. Hall, whose solo exhibit opens this week at the Brigitte Schluger Gallery, 265 Detroit St., marking a regional first for the Santa Fe gallery regular. Whimsical images of animals and houses highlight the show, which will be featured at an opening reception tonight from 6 to 9 in conjunction with the Cherry Creek North area's spring gallery stroll. Hall's artwork remains in the gallery through June 1; call 329-3150 for information.
Different strokes: Tonight's a powerhouse evening for music fans in search of quality entertainment, courtesy of three very different yet exceptionally proficient musicians. Jazz reed player David Murray--a member of the World Saxophone Quartet, a prolific recording artist and a veteran of downtown Manhattan's free-jazz movement of the '70s--brings his genre-crossing trio to the Boulder Theater tonight at 8 for an evening of experimental, straightahead and virtuosic blowing. For tickets, $13 in advance ($15 day of show), call the theater, 2030 14th St., Boulder, at 786-7030. Denver concertgoers with a taste for things Celtic won't want to miss Patrick Street, a sort of Irish-music supergroup composed of former members of the Boxty Band, Planxty and De Dannan. The Green Linnet label signees perform at 8 at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax; for tickets, $15 ($12 Swallow Hill Music Association members), call 1-800-444-SEAT. And blues aficionados who like their music down and dirty will be lining up all weekend to hear a reigning matriarch belt it: Koko Taylor stomps, howls and moans her way into the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, tonight (and again tomorrow, back at the Bluebird). Admission to either 9 p.m. show is $15 ($16 day of show); call 830-TIXS to reserve tickets.
Bowling green: There's no time to spare, so strike while the iron is hot. Fans of the long-running musical AlwaysEPatsy Cline will have a chance to go Bowling With Patsy & Louise tonight after the duo's regular performance at the Garner Galleria Theatre in the Plex. Melissa Swift-Sawyer and Beth Flynn, who play the country crooner Cline and her sidekick, Louise Seger, respectively, will lay out the ball at 10 at Monaco Lanes, 6767 Leetsdale Drive, with help from talk-radio personalities Kelly Ford and Thom Wise. This is said to be the first in a series of Cline-filled trips; for information call 893-4100.
Cinco swims: The Denver area's Mexican-American population knows how to put on a party--and it does just that each year when Cinco de Mayo rolls around. The Cinco de Mayo Festival, previously held on Santa Fe Drive in the heart of the city's Latino neighborhood, is such a success that it's finally outgrown the barrio, precipitating a move to a larger and more central location at Civic Center Park, Broadway and Colfax. This year's fest, featuring live music and dance, food and craft vendors, children's activities and popular attractions, including displays of lowrider cars and bikes and a Sunday morning Mariachi Mass, has also been expanded to two days in an effort to accommodate the overflow of celebrants. Attend the festival from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow. In Boulder, the MacLaren/ Markowitz Gallery, 1011 Pearl St., celebrates Cinco de Mayo with Viva la Familia, a special fundraising show of works by regional Chicano artists Carlos Fresquez, Sylvia Montero, Tony Ortega and Lydia Garcia. Ortega and Garcia will give demonstrations between 1 and 4 p.m.; partial proceeds from the show, which hangs through May 29, will benefit Boulder's Family Learning Center. Call 449-6807. Later on, Cinco de Mayo celebrating moves to the Sloans Lake Event Center, 2045 Sheridan Boulevard, where Bay Area band Azteca headlines a night of dancing that also features locals Conjunto Colores and Emilio, comedian Marco Alverado, mariachi bands and more. Doors open at 5 p.m.; for tickets call 1-800-444-SEAT.
Calls of the wild: Why get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday? Do it for a lark--you don't have to be a hardcore featherbrain to appreciate the intent of International Dawn Chorus Day, when bird-lovers around the globe gather to watch the sun rise and listen to the birdies chirp. The event will be observed, aided by professional naturalists, bright and early (5:45) this morning at several area locations, including Barr Lake State Park, Cherry Creek State Park, Chatfield Arboretum and Denver City Park; call 370-8299 for details. But even if you can't drag yourself out of bed, there's still a way to participate--just open the window and use your ears. A phone line will be available from 6 to noon for homebodies to call in their findings; see how many birdcalls you can identify and dial 538-6622 with the info.
Risky business: Abducted by members of the Islamic Jihad in 1985, professor and Colorado native Tom Sutherland spent close to seven years in a Beirut prison before being released with fellow hostage Terry Waite. During his incarceration, his wife and fellow educator, Jean Sutherland, remained involved on the other side of the cell bars, working to both free her husband and ensure him more humane treatment. Now back at home in Fort Collins, the Sutherlands have co-written At Your Own Risk, a double-sided account of their intertwined experiences throughout the ordeal. The couple will discuss the book tonight at 7 at Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., as guests of the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation's Authors on Stage series. A Meet the Authors Reception precedes the program at 5:30, across the street at the University Club, 1673 Sherman St. Program admission ranges from $10 to $17; the reception is an additional $30. For reservations call 640-6375.
East of Eden: Romanian defector and writer Petru Popescu is in the American literary limelight with the release of his novel Almost Adam, the engaging premise of which centers on a paleoanthropologist's discovery of an eight-year-old protohuman boy in the modern-day African savanna. It's rumored that the book may soon be a major motion picture. Popescu visits the Tattered Cover Book Store, 2955 E. 1st Ave., for a reading and book-signing tonight at 7:30; for details call 322-7727.
Wu-Tang Indian: The nine-MC Staten Island rap collective known as the Wu-Tang Clan made waves with brilliant off-the-cuff efforts such as Enter the Wu-Tang, then birthed separate projects, including one by Chef Raekwon, lead rapper in the clan's debut single "Protect Ya Neck." Raekwon loosens his copious wordplay with help from accomplice Tony Starks, the Ghostface Killer, tonight at 7 at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Tickets to the all-ages show are $15.75; call 447-0095 or 830-