Lions and tigers and hippos: While the highfalutin' crowd packs Cirque du Soleil's LoDo big top this month for swanky circus fare, the rest of us can simply experience the Greatest Show on Earth. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus--featuring old-fashioned carnival attractions such as Zusha the performing hippopotamus, Mexico's Flying Caballeros trapeze show, a talented trio of baby elephants and the Golden Pyramid (an astonishing four-man balancing act from Hungary), along with the totally '90s Oxygen Skate Team and a unicycle-riding basketball team--is coming to town for eleven days at the Denver Coliseum, 4600 Humboldt St., beginning tonight at 7:30. This year the circus enhances its sense of immediacy by including in the price of admission the hands-on Three-Ring Adventure, a pre-show opportunity for families to try out juggling, low-wire walking and other circus skills, clown around with experts or meet performing animals and their trainers. (The arena floor is open one hour prior to every show.) Ticket prices range from $10.50 to $15.50 (tonight's Family Night opener offers a $5 discount on all tickets); for complete showtimes and reservations call 830-TIXS.
Learn and live: The facts about HIV and AIDS get a straightforward treatment in What About AIDS?, an informative new exhibit for families opening today at the Denver Museum of Natural History, 2001 Colorado Blvd. Photos, videos, interactive displays and touching testimonials clearly spell out the history, impact and future of the virus in a manner accessible to people of all ages. In addition, trained volunteers will be on hand to answer questions, and a connection to the National AIDS Hotline will be available. The exhibit remains on view at the museum through January 4; call 322-7009 for information.
Do what you like: Downtown, uptown, down south, out west--few musicians cover more territory as effortlessly as guitarist Bill Frisell, and certainly none have more fun. Physically, the shy ax-wielder has been everywhere from New York's Knitting Factory to Nashville; conceptually, he's traveled from avant-garde improvisational jazz to sweet and loopy Americana, but one of his current projects involves a savvy and sublimely modern quartet that includes Denver trumpeter Ron Miles, trombone player Curtis Fowlkes and violinist Eyvind Kang. They'll be at his side tonight at 8 at the Boulder Theater, 2030 14th St., Boulder; for tickets, $17.50-$22, call 786-7030.
In the wash: An extra-sudsy weekend is in store for beer lovers at the 16th annual Great American Beer Festival, which returns to Currigan Exhibition Hall, 1327 Champa St., for three foamy weekend sessions. Featuring more than 1,700 brews from 400 breweries, the public part of the festival opens its doors tonight and tomorrow from 5:30 to 10, with an additional daytime session thrown in tomorrow from 1 to 5. Admission is $28 in advance ($30 at the door) and is good for unlimited one-ounce tastes, a commemorative glass and a program. Designated drivers are recommended; to order tickets call 447-0126.
Do or die: Okay, people, listen up: If you can't find something to do around town today, you're in big trouble--especially since plenty of the action is free, or at least cheap. For starters, you need go no farther than the 7 Performing Arts Festival, a sprawling cultural affair taking place from 10 to 5 today and 11 to 5 tomorrow in and around the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. It's a massive, kaleidoscopic showcase of everything artful under the Colorado sun, including dance, visual art, spoken word, theater and music--some of it watchable and some of it participatory. There are simply too many highlights to list them all, but here are a few: Mayor Webb presides over opening ceremonies at the new Performing Arts Sculpture Park today at noon (Deborah Reshotko and troupe will also present outdoor Dancin' in the Park there several times each day); a Best of Colorado Theater Showcase gives a peek at what's up this fall, with fourteen of the state's best companies; the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Ballet and Opera Colorado all perform; wire sculptor Tim Flynn hosts a Great Balls of Fire croquet game/installation; and "Free for All" matinee performances of Always...Patsy Cline and The Servant of Two Masters will be offered (seating is limited, and required tickets will be available, one per person, at the Plex box office two hours before performances only). Festival admission is free; for details call 640-2758.
On a smaller scale, Teatro Latino de Colorado debuts a bilingual puppet-theater series at Art Center of the West, 721 Santa Fe Dr., with shows today and tomorrow at noon and 2. A Castle With Creepy Creatures will be staged at the same times every Saturday and Sunday in October; Day of the Dead- and Christmas-themed programs follow in November and December. Admission is $3; call 595-3821.
And things are looking up today for serious stargazers: In celebration of Colorado Astronomy Day, the Denver Astronomical Society presents programs at the Gates Planetarium (noon to 4 p.m., Denver Museum of Natural History, 2001 Colorado Blvd.) and the Chamberlin Observatory (6 to 11 p.m., 2930 E. Warren Ave.) that include educational displays and new Mars pictures during daylight hours and telescope viewing at night.
Finally, rhythmic music to soothe the soul can be found tonight at 7:30 at the Boulder Public Library Auditorium, 1000 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, where virtuoso electric bassist Kai Eckhardt, a fusion phenom who's performed alongside John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Trilok Gurtu, joins Boulder tabla specialist Ty Burhoe on stage. Tickets are $10; call 447-8150.
Chance of a ghost: As Halloween haunted houses get more and more high-tech, what's a mother to do? Where can older kids and parents have a properly spooky experience without being traumatized or negatively influenced? Historic Boulder Inc. and the Boulder Museum of History are teaming together to bring you Meet the Spirits, the annual haunting of Boulder's historic Columbia Cemetery, where the ghosts who appear have something to say other than "Boo." These ectoplasms appear in the form of historical figures buried there, and, garbed in period dress, they re-enact their famous lives. Of course, you won't be let off the gruesome hook completely: Side attractions include a scrappy batallion of Civil War veterans, black-clad paid mourners and a nineteenth-century horse-drawn hearse. Meet Boulder's past face-to-face from 1 to 5 at the cemetery, 9th and Pleasant streets; tour admission ranges from $3 to $10. Call 444-5192.
True grits: Soul comes in all flavors, and in LaJoyce Brookshire's novel Soul Food, also a motion picture, it comes in the form of whatever turns up on Mother Joe's table--Joe being the matriarch (and Sunday-dinner cook) for a family of three daughters who can't seem to stick together without her. Get your fill--Brookshire appears from 5:30 to 7 tonight at the Hue-Man Experience, 911 Park Ave. West; call 293-2665.
Or you can load up on Heavy Soul: Former Jam member and Style Council founder Paul Weller, who's as English as a cup of tea but continues his lifelong dabble in African-American pop music on an album by that name, drops in at 8 tonight at the Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave. Rock belter Johnette Napolitano provides the tough opening act; for tickets, $16, call 830-2525 or 1-800-444-SEAT.
Arkansas travelers: PBS's Frontline series, never known for holding back on information, rides right into the thick of Whitewater tonight with Once Upon a Time in Arkansas. The program documents the intertwined careers of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jim and Susan McDougal from the viewpoint of Kenneth Starr's Whitewater prosecution team; correspondent Peter Boyer methodically lays out their case. Tune in tonight at 9; the show, Frontline's season opener, airs on KRMA-TV/Channel 6.
Kurt replies: He's the cult novelist of all cult novelists--from his 1953 debut, Player Piano, to his newest book, Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut has managed to blend autobiography, sci-fi and social commentary into an addictive literary concoction unlike anyone else's. It follows that Vonnegut should be a fascinating speaker as well, which makes him a good pick to appear as guest of the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities' Author Luncheon. He'll discuss his life's work and take questions from the audience at the event, which takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today at the Inverness Hotel and Golf Club, 200 Inverness Dr. West, Englewood; to reserve tickets, $65 (the price includes a signed copy of Timequake), call 573-7733.
The mark of Zora: The Smokebrush Center for Arts and Theater, a Colorado Springs-based outfit, brings a whole lotta Spunk up north to the Eulipions Cultural Center, 1770 Sherman St. A musical take based on three earthy stories by African-American author Zora Neale Hurston, Spunk, which features a fine cast of local and national talent, received sparkling reviews during its Smokebrush run; with the exception of one cast member, the same troupe opens its Denver run tonight at 7. Spunk continues at Eulipions Wednesday through Saturday, through November 8; tickets range from $15 to $25. Call 863-0026 for showtimes and reservations.