Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Before an enormous black-and-white mural of Johnny Cash graced the east-facing facade of Bender's 13th Avenue Tavern, the run-down, windowless structure was home to a string of short-lived hip-hop and goth-oriented night spots: Tongues Untied, Club Onyx and Club 314. Enter Tyson Murray, upright-bassist for local country powerhouse the Railbenders, and an entrepreneur with a vision beyond mere turntables and gossamer. In addition to hosting a weekly movie series, karaoke nights and outdoor patio service, Bender's now boasts a wide range of live local bands -- everything from the Denver Gentlemen to Cephalic Carnage. As further testament to the club's eclectic spirit, Murray and company have lured top national acts like Rex Hobart, Jolie Holland, Slim Cessna's Auto Club and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Even the Man in Black wouldn't argue with that.
The action can get pretty hot and heavy when LoDo's bars let out at 2 a.m. But from the cheap seats on the sidelines, watching the crowds pour out of the clubs and pour themselves into cars and cabs -- after some last-second attempts to hook up --can be mighty entertaining. And the vehicles parading slowly past offer a non-stop urban soundtrack.
Though Stevyn Prothero's tiny Iron Feather Book & Zine Shop is in danger of losing its space in north Denver, the place's do-it-yourself attitude lives on to the bitter end. Prothero welcomes any and all wannabe zinesters to use his stuff -- Xerox, keyboard, scissors and so on -- to create their own page for the community-based Open Zine Project. Prothero knows something about what it takes to create an indie publication: His own Iron Feather Journal has been coming out sporadically for years. Open your mind and take up your pen.
Capitol Hill encompasses a wide swath of central Denver, so it's no wonder that the Capitol Hill People's Fair is the city's best, and most diverse, festival. From its humble beginnings at Morey Junior High in 1971, when 2,000 people attended, the People's Fair has exploded into Colorado's premier arts-and-crafts happening; last year, some 275,000 people attended the three-day event at Civic Center Park, soaking up live entertainment, food by the barrelful, community and family-oriented activities and the best people-watching of the year. The fest is a huge fundraiser, as well: Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods raised $45,000 for area nonprofits in 2004. Kick back, kick off your shoes, and celebrate Denver's funkiest neighborhood.
Normally, when you come across a celebrity in Aspen -- say, Kevin Costner fashioning a kayak for an In Style magazine photo shoot -- it's funny, but not ha-ha funny. For nearly one week out of every year, though, Aspen is the ha-ha-funniest place in the world. The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival is a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of humor, from standup to sketch comedy to readings; Cheech and Chong, Conan O' Brien, Jim Carrey and Dave Eggers were among those on hand this year. And how about all those hangers-on in fur coats with VIP passes around their necks, talking on headset cell phones? Now, that's funny.
The first of its kind in the United States, The Shoot Out Boulder celebrated the art of quick and cheap movie production. Filmmakers were given 24 hours to complete a seven-minute short. Only in-camera editing was allowed -- meaning everything had to be shot in sequence -- and the footage had to incorporate specific locations or props from within the Boulder area. Several dozen crews of both novice and seasoned filmmakers participated in the quick-paced contest, resulting in an amazing variety of subjects and styles that ranged from the hilarious to the reflective. Plans for another festival are under way, which is great news: The Shoot Out is a can't-miss opportunity for area filmheads.
Good food and Cherry Creek North? Two of the most obvious bedfellows in town. It took little stretch of the imagination to combine them into a fail-safe annual festival. The glitzy al fresco celebration spreads over several Saturdays and features a gourmet market and cooking demonstrations by hot chefs from the region and the world, working in a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen on Fillmore Plaza. The event, which culminates in a Grand Tasting soiree, is bling for your belly. So rev up your tastebuds: The series returns in July.
September's inaugural Yell Fest was a wild, chaotic mess. Put on by Comedy Works house comedian Chuck Roy, the night was advertised as a search for "Denver's biggest asshole." What the night actually determined was that given limited rules and ample booze, everyone's an asshole. Roy has since fine-tuned the format, and the resulting Stand-Up Comedy Battles, which take place on the last Wednesday of the month, have become a hilarious match of wits between the city's finest comics. Featherweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight contestants receive subjects about a week in advance, then square off on each topic in front of an audience to see who wrote the funnier jokes. Simple enough formula; the results, however, are anything but.
The only thing wrong with Mayor Hickenlooper's declaration last September naming Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado Denver's first poet laureate was that it came too late for Delgado to savor it -- just two months after he died, at age 73. During his lifetime, Delgado -- whose politically charged epic "Stupid America" is considered a classic of Chicano literature -- battled the literary aristocracy for acknow-ledgment. But the thought was there, and Delgado, a community-minded teacher and activist who was much more than a poet, must be smiling down on the barrio in his honorary capacity. We miss you, Lalo.
It makes sense that Regis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution, should end up with a statue of the great Irish author James Joyce on one of its campuses. After all, Joyce's stand-in, Stephen Dedalus, is referred to as a fearful Jesuit in the epic Ulysses. Sculptor Rowan Gillespie forged this life-sized bronze in Ireland in 2001; encircling the figure in a sundial pattern are carved entries from the novel. Located just a short stroll from parking lot 2, the statue provides inspiration for those who want to contemplate a writer whose work was once banned in the United States but is taught -- for now -- at virtually every place of higher education.
Stan Kroenke's Altitude Network took a blow right along with the National Hockey League: Pro hockey's strike-riddled lost season translates into lost revenue for the new station, which was conceived primarily to broadcast Avalanche hockey, along with play by other Kroenke-owned sports teams. But the Altitude team made a small comeback by creating On Stage, a concert series featuring live performances by such local music sensations as Wendy Woo and Big Head Todd and the Monsters, all videotaped in local clubs. Nice save.
Adam Lerner directs The Lab at Belmar, one of several exciting new spaces that have distinguished the urban shopping center as a creative hub as well as a shopping destination; in its first year, Belmar has hosted everything from filmmaking workshops to gallery exhibitions and cutting-edge public art. The Lab's "Appreciating Contemporary Art & Things You Learn From Aunt Miriam" program has been the center's runaway hit: The lecture series -- held from October through May on the first Thursday of every month -- considers art from cultural, political and spiritual perspectives, exploring its power to shape and change societies as well as the human psyche. Photographers, video artists, writers and historians are among the speakers who christened the series' inaugural run. The talks are so popular that reservations are recommended. Capacity crowds turning up to talk art in the middle of the suburbs? There's something happening here.