Thrills for the week

January 15
Voice of America: There's something mighty special that differentiates a cowboy poet from all other bards--call it rugged individualism or manifest destiny, but it all boils down to a kind of agrarian authenticity. It won't be hard to imagine campfire smoke wafting in the background when the Arvada Center's Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering returns for another long weekend of songs, tall tales and rustic pontificatin' by new and old favorites from Colorado and all over the West, including Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn, John Schaffner, Chuck Pyle, Sourdough Slim and the former mayor of East Tincup, Pete Smythe. This year's sessions get under way tonight with a big group performance at 7:30; events continue with daytime theme sessions from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and additional formal evening sessions at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday, and wrap up with a big matinee at 1 on Sunday. For a total experience, the weekend also affords a last chance to take a gander at The Surreal West, an art show of Western icons portrayed in unexpected ways. Poetry Gathering tickets are $5 for daytime sessions and $13 for evening and matinee main-stage performances; for reservations call the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., at 431-3939.

Politically incorrect: One way to put your personal foibles in perspective is to look at someone whose own faults surpass them in every way. That someone is Larry the Cable Guy, who makes Archie Bunker sound like Mother Teresa. The stage persona of stand-up comic Dan Whitney, the extroverted cable dude is an expert on anything and everything, including--and especially--shooting off his big mouth. What's not to love? The stubble-faced Larry performs, wirecutters in hand, at the Comedy Works, 1226 15th St., through Sunday; for showtimes and ticket reservations call 595-3637.

January 16
Cliff hangers: It's hipper than hip to be out on the edge these days, even to the point where snowboarding is now an Olympic sport--and its companion activities, such as ice-climbing and over-under-sideways-down free skiing, can't be far behind. Enter the second annual ESPN Winter X Games, to be held this year in Crested Butte, a carver's paradise if we've ever seen one. The extreme-sports fete, featuring 200 amazingly radical athletes competing in six sports, continues through Monday at the tucked-away resort; call 1-800-821-7613 for information. And off the beaten skier's trail in equally gorgeous Ouray, there'll be more ice-climbing during the Arctic Wolf Ouray Ice Festival, beginning today and continuing through Monday with seminars, slide shows, parties and hundreds of dauntless human ants ascending frozen waterfalls and glacial vertices; call 258-7916 for information and reservations. Of course, you cable-ready folks afraid of the cold will be happy to know that you can sit at home and watch X Games events and highlights on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC's Wide World of Sports throughout the weekend. Check your listings.

But the ultimate couch-potato alternative to taking off upside-down on a slab of wood--this one taking place in the cozy confines of an indoor climbing gym--is IronCloud Productions' staging of K2, a soul-searching play about two men clinging to the side of a 29,000-foot mountain in Kashmir. Let those poor guys do all the work: In the course of the drama, the dangling protagonists get to the root of what life and death are all about, and you won't have to raise a piton. See K2 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday, through January 25 at Thrillseekers Climbing Gym, 1912 S. Broadway; to reserve tickets, $8, call 861-5082.

January 17
Words of wisdom: Host Bob Tyler, local songstress Julie Hoest and underappreciated Nashville genius David Olney serve up the music tonight at another installment of Swallow Hill's noteworthy Writers in the Round series. The singing-songwriting triumvirate divvies up the spotlight beginning at 8 at the Swallow Hill Music Hall, 1905 S. Pearl St.; for tickets, $12 ($10 members), call 777-1003.

Culture stash: In the spirit of ujima, a Swahili word meaning "cooperation," a group of local African-American cultural venues, led by the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center and ULOZI Art Center, have banded together for Ujima in Five Points, an eye-opening showcase of galleries, theater troupes, book stores, clubs and gathering places in and near the city's historic Five Points neighborhood. Today at 11 a.m., a free bus tour departs the museum, 3091 California St.; those interested in taking a more free-form walking tour can pick up a map and choose their own routes. Events continue tomorrow with an afternoon dinner-theater presentation by the Eden Theatrical Workshop. Karma: A Drama With Music, takes the stage at 2 p.m. at the Casino Cabaret, 2637 Welton St.; admission, which ranges from $15 to $35, includes live music and a soul-food dinner. Call 321-2320 for reservations. For details on other Ujima events, call the museum at 292-2566.

Songs of the earth: After finishing a ten-year symphonic cycle in 1997, Colorado MahlerFest XI goes back to square one, focusing its annual tribute to Mahler on the composer's lugubrious unnumbered late work Das Liede von der Erde before returning to a rendition of his first symphony, inspired by naive romantic poetry. Though an ongoing free symposium continues today and tomorrow, MahlerFest's main events are its orchestral concerts on the CU-Boulder campus at Macky Auditorium: Hear the darkly gorgeous Das Liede tonight at 7:30 and Symphony No. 1 in D Major tomorrow at 3. Tickets, which range from $8 to $23, can be purchased by calling the Boulder Philharmonic box office at 449-1343; for additional information, call 494-1632.

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