Pink and white cherry blossoms no longer line the banks of Cherry Creek, but that doesn't stop Denver's Japanese-American community from celebrating its culture each June at the annual Sakura Matsuri, otherwise known as the Cherry Blossom Festival. Now in its 31st year, Denver's Cherry Blossom Festival takes place today from 11 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Sakura Square, on 19th and 20th streets between Larimer and Lawrence streets.
"We've got a very solid lineup of performers -- everything from Japanese dancers to the Denver Taiko drum group to martial-arts demonstrations," says Michelle Asakawa, a member of the festival's planning committee. "It's always a really fun, colorful, festive atmosphere."
This year's party includes a Japanese arts-and-crafts market featuring internationally known Japanese artist Hisashi Otsuka, along with vendors selling everything from jewelry to kimonos to Japanese anime. If you need to take a break from the heat, duck inside the Denver Buddhist Temple for cultural lectures, bonsai exhibits, and demonstrations of flower arranging, calligraphy and origami.
But the highlight is always on Saturday evening, when paper lanterns are strung across Lawrence Street for the bon odori, a traditional summer street dance honoring the dead. Hundreds are expected to attend, decked out in elaborate kimonos and hapi coats to dance to traditional Japanese folk songs. "It's kind of like Japanese line dancing," explains Asakawa. "The older people teach the younger generation the moves. It's neat to see, and it's definitely a family event." The dance will be held tonight beginning at 7:30 p.m.
And if you have a hankering for Asian cuisine, fresh hand-rolled sushi and beef teriyaki will be available, along with tea and Japanese beer.
The long arms of the law (Denver police and firemen) will dig into dough and cook up pastries for the Share Our Strength Program kickoff from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today on the16th Street Mall. This is the first year the Denver fuzz will participate in the Great American Bake Sale, a national non-profit project whose goal is to take a bite out of hunger through after-school and summer meal programs for needy children. Tomorrow, Denver's finest will roll out their cakes, cookies and doughnuts for dollars at cop shops and firehouses throughout the city, with area officers well aware of the inevitable wisecracks they'll have to withstand for serving up those glazed buns. The Great American Bake Sale and Share Our Strength program will offer local bakeries' donated treats, as well as officers' secret recipes, both days from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Go to www.greatamericanbakesale.org or call 720-913-6028 for the location of your neighborhood station. -- Kity Ironton
Drum A Que Reaches Out
Grab your bongos, congas, djembes and tambourines, and make your way to Drum A Que, a drumming picnic hosted by Gill's Drum Community at the Washington Park boathouse, 701 South Franklin Street, from noon to 8 p.m. today. Gill (who prefers using only one name) is a retired professional African percussionist who has been feeding the homeless -- and drumming with them -- for the past eleven years. "We bring our drums, share our food and open our hearts," he says.
Even if you miss this beat-then-eat extravaganza, you can still join Gill every Sunday through September from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. at Civic Center Park. The non-alcoholic gatherings employ the same concept, only on a smaller scale. "Music is the universal language, and drumming is the root to all words in that language," says Gill.
For more information, call 303-450-1245. -- Renee Fajardo
Lil's gives new life to old stuff
Marcy Mitchell is a trash-to-treasure sort of girl. She's crafty, with a knack for turning old window curtains and tablecloths into kicky summer wrap skirts. She furnished her Denver apartment almost entirely with thrift-store finds, then turned her recycling mania into a business. After manning a booth at downtown's Ballpark Market, Mitchell opened a retail space just off Colfax Avenue in the funky half-block Capitol Hill enclave she shares with a sandwich shop, a radical bookstore and a tattoo joint. Mitchell's shop, called Lil's on Ogden, embodies the philosophy that there's life left in just about everything. Named after her Grandma Lil from Ogden, Utah, whose vintage picture is displayed on a shelf, it's one place where very little goes to waste. In a mixture of shabby chic, Brady Bunch-modern and Paris-apartment style, there are used sofas from every period draped with vintage textiles, hanging lamps refashioned from antique shades, and wooden-cigar-box handbags galore. Mitchell doesn't think you have to stick to an era when decorating this way: "If you like it, it works," she says. And at Lil's, it really does.
The shop, at 1433 Ogden Street, is open Wednesday through Sunday; call 303-861-4337 for hours. -- Susan Froyd
Back in the Day
Surf's up at Go-Go '66
Wipeout! To transport yourself to the sunny shores of California, all you have to do is bebop over to the Skylark Lounge tonight for Go-Go '66,an evening of retro surf, go-go and rock-and-roll tunes spun by DJ Dario Rosa. "I've been suffering from an obsession with '60s pop culture ever since I can remember," says Rosa, the former Cabaret Diosa guitarist also known as Darrin Feder. "There's just something ultra-cool about 1966."