Thrills for the week

December 12
Brave new girl: Songbirds no longer wear sequined dresses or stand in the shadows in a chorus line somewhere to the left of the strutting lead singer. Modern songstresses write their own smart material, accompany themselves and belt out the songs forthrightly, without apologies. Singer/songwriter/pianist Paula Cole is among that wild bunch--the rising star shows why tonight at 8 at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave. Tickets are $13 in advance ($14 day of show); call 322-2308 or 830-TIXS.

All together now: There's nothing more neighborly than this evening gathering at the Washington Park Boathouse--the twelfth annual Community Christmas Caroling Celebration, an old-fashioned rosy-cheeked sing around the park's north lake, is about as friendly and gimmick-free an event as you're apt to find in town during the holiday season. Carolers of all ages are invited to rendezvous in Wash Park between 7 and 8 tonight, and participants need bring nothing but their own sweet voices--songbooks will be provided and refreshments served. Thank the Washington Park Recreation Association for sponsoring the free event in one of Denver's most picturesque holiday locales; for details call 698-4962.

December 13
It's in the bag: Long before Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, people used candles to light up their holidays. In homage to the Southwestern tradition of softening that candlelight by covering it with a brown paper bag, primarily Latino merchants along Santa Fe Drive will line their sidewalks with the twinkling packages--or luminarias--for the Luminarias de Santa Fe Arts Walk, taking place tonight from 5 to 10. Museums, shops, galleries and restaurants in the 700 and 800 blocks of the illuminated avenue will be ready and waiting for strollers and shoppers; for additional information call 534-8342.

Feelin' groovy: Trained in the art of sax playing as he was, with formative stints under the batons of blues and soul bandleaders Ike Turner and Ray Charles, you might think Hank Crawford entered the jazz world ass-backward. Instead, Crawford has pumped a rhythm-and-blues vitality into the cool heart of jazz, making warm, propulsive, funky music that successfully straddles genres. Jimmy McGriff, the Hammond B-3 protege of another Jimmy (Smith, the master of all blues-jazz organists), joins Crawford tonight and tomorrow at Dakota's, 2401 15th St., for a live reprise of a bouncy string of recordings the two have made together. That joint will be swinging--with shows at 6:45 and 9:30 p.m.; for tickets, $18.50 and $22.50, call 477-9700 or 830-TIXS.

December 14
Welcome to the world: Though most children will whine this Christmas for Mermaid Barbie, shiny two-wheelers, flashing robots and plenty of Sega, everyone seems to agree: There's no finer gift than a book. That's right--give a youngster a story sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard and you give that kid the world. The folks at the Tattered Cover Book Store keep that in mind this weekend when they host a Children's Book Drive, sponsored by the Women's Federation for World Peace, at both of their tome-filled locations. Donate a children's book (new or used--in good condition, please) between 10 and 8 today or 10 and 6 tomorrow and you'll get a $1 certificate toward the purchase of any new children's book. Donated books go to children living in local safehouses and shelters; T.C. stores are located at 2955 E. 1st Ave. in Cherry Creek and 1628 16th St. in LoDo. For details call 322-7727 or 436-1070.

Latino quarter: Time out. Before your holiday gets completely out of hand, leave the mall. Take a deep breath and slow down--sometimes small is better. El Centro Su Teatro, one of Denver's enduring little cultural enclaves, sponsors a Christmas Tiendita--that's "little store" in plain English--today and tomorrow from 2 to 7 p.m. Featured on the mini-market's shelves will be handmades from places as far away as Mexico, Guatemala and San Antonio, Texas, as well as homegrown items from local businesses such as the Cultural Legacy Bookstore and the Human Bean Company. Shoppers can enjoy live music, dance and storytelling throughout the tienda, and traditional Mexican dishes will be served. In addition, the theater's annual holiday children's musical, Joaquin's Christmas, opens for the season with a $1 preview performance each day at 2. The contemporary play, a joyful audience-participation tale set in Pueblo, Colorado, continues through December 29; tickets to regular performances are $7 for adults and $3 for children. El Centro Su Teatro is located at 4725 High St.; call 296-0219 for tickets and showtimes.

Family affair: Singing siblings Tim and Mollie O'Brien have a lot in common--red hair, for one thing, but especially their big, perfectly matched voices, pipes that obviously have spent some time hanging around together. Tim, a mandolin-twanging sensation in the bluegrass world, and Mollie, a sultry, style-hopping vocal vamp, appear tonight--along with Tim's lightning-fast accompanists, guitarist Scott Mygaard and bassist Mark Schatz, better known as the O'Boys--at the Oriental Theater, 4335 W. 44th Ave. Just to even things out, Mollie's guitar-picking husband, Rich Moore, opens the Swallow Hill-sponsored show at 8 with a few tasteful licks; for tickets, $13 to $15 ($5 children), call 1-800-444-SEAT.

December 15
Slog, don't run: So your novice cross-country ski attempt landed--with you--right on its rear? And that attempt at downhill skiing ended up as an expensive way to run into a tree? Ice skates left you permanently pigeon-toed? There's hope for you yet. The Boulder Outdoor Center's Rocky Mountain Snowshoe Festival, taking place today from 10 to 5 at Loveland Ski Area, is open to all sloggers, regardless of age or level of experience. The day's activities include family hikes, backcountry tours, races and games, along with a wrap-up awards party; demo snowshoes are included in the festival's registration fees--$10 to $23 in advance ($12 to $28 on festival day). To register call 444-8420.

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