Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Taking over one of those old, defunct theaters and turning it into something grand is a common fantasy. It's much less common that people actually do it. Why? Because many of these places are decaying pieces of crap that are fraught with dangers economic, psychological and physical. The contentious neighborhood-association meetings alone have sent many a wannabe theater owner to the nuthouse. When Scott LaBarbera and other partners began throwing shows in the Oriental Theatre last fall, it seemed like another well-intentioned escapade doomed to failure. But six months and a significant renovation later, the 78-year-old former movie house has emerged as one of the best new performance spaces in town, featuring a diverse slate of comedy, live music, community meetings, films and even a gong show. The Oriental demonstrates that west Denver can not only support such a venue, but desperately needed one all along.
When concert season opens at Red Rocks, the crowds run rampant throughout the tiny burb of Morrison. It's enough to make anyone long for a stiff drink and a classic Americana meal, which is exactly what the Blue Cow provides. Whether you prefer a Bloody Mary, a margarita or a mimosa, the staff can hook it up; they serve everything from Budweiser and Corona to microbrews and Mike's Cranberry Lemonade -- even a martini in a pinch. They also brew the strongest espresso in town, and the soft-serve ice cream and shakes are ideal on a hot summer day. It's the perfect place to nurse away a hangover before the big show -- or to kick-start the next drinking marathon.
The title of Lawrence Argent's sculpture isn't very catchy, and most people will draw a blank when hearing "I See What You Mean," but if we say "The Big Blue Bear" at the Colorado Convention Center, you see what we mean. The piece was an instant hit with the public, and it has become a nationally known icon for Denver. Even the normally artless business boosters hijacked it, sending out a guy in a cheesy blue bear suit to promote the hotel tax during last year's election. For all the love, however, it's the fact that the sculpture is sophisticated, contemporary and by a hometown artist that makes it one of the best things downtown.
In 2003, Carol Dickinson was facing retirement from directing the Foothills Art Center in Golden, and she decided she wanted to leave a lasting monument. A take-charge sort of gal, Dickinson went to the Foothills board and suggested having Texas artist Jesus Moroles create a sculpture garden in his signature minimalist style. (Truth be told, it was more than a suggestion; she presented the idea as a fait accompli.) The board agreed, and Moroles teamed up with architect Ted Shultz and landscape designer Susan Saarinen while Dickinson began cajoling donors for funds. Typically, projects such as this take five years to finish, but Dickinson got it done in just two and half, bringing Golden into the 21st century in the process.
Aurora's partly seedy, partly rebirthed main drag gets extra marks for effort in 2005. Last fall, Longmont artist Mario Miguel Echevarria put up his "Aurora Eterna: A Public Spectacle" mural atop Pasternack's Pawn Shop, shedding brilliant neon lights on a series of stylized symbols of Aurora history. "Aurora Eterna" is the perfect companion to the stretch's other murals (by Jason Needham and Susan Cooper), and it adds a touch of class to the tawdry.
The 16th Street Mall is perfect for people-watching and eavesdropping. All manner of freaks can be found on the mall -- from the suited to the suit-less -- but the most amusing to watch is the Bitter Biker. The anonymous cyclist rides up and down the mall yelling, "You are all sinners!" and other such Puritan dogma. Sometimes he even throws in a "I am not here to kiss your babies!" On special occasions, he ditches the bike and does his rounds on foot, strumming his guitar and opining -- in key. It may not be music to the ears, but it sure makes the "Hillary is Hitler" guy at Colfax and Lincoln seem a little on the unimaginative side.
The Boulder Fringe Festival is the spawn of a creative seed that began traveling across the ocean nearly fifty years ago. The original fest began in Edinburgh in 1947 and has since happily inspired imitators all over the world. Boulder's version, launched in 2005, was a marathon of spontaneous art, music, performance, puppetry, film, video and installations. The roving exhibition took root online at www.boulderfringe.org and in corners and coffee shops, theaters and galleries all over town. This year's event, slated for mid-August, will last twelve days and include hundreds of participants, all of whom are selected randomly by lottery. Boulder attracts those on the cultural periphery, and the Fringe Fest is a wildly expressive way to see the best of them at work.
Take the customary author readings and book signings, add popular film series such as "Dueling Divas" (a hiss-off between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis), then throw in cooking demos, knitting and journaling classes, theater, concerts, lectures and oddball do-it-yourself events, and you might come up with something as invigorating as Fresh City Life, an ongoing celebration of arts both fine and domestic. And yes, every event is free, though some require advance registration through www.denver.lib.co.us/programs/fresh/.
Sunday nights are the hottest of hot summer nights. It's the night that members of the Colorado Fire Tribe meet up at the Confluence Park boat launch to drum and dance with fire. These are spontaneous, informal gatherings -- no tickets, no reservations. People just wander up on the spectacular view of spinners rhythmically swinging flaming lanterns suspended on chains, twirling fiery batons and dancing with all manner of blazing accoutrements. When it all comes together, it's as much about athleticism and grace as it is about meditation and control. When it doesn't come together, it's mostly about leg scars, nasty head knots and pants on fire. Though seldom necessary, thick blankets are at the ready for stopping, dropping and rolling. And the roiling South Platte river is always available to cool any hotheads.
Back in 1898, moovers and shakers in this cowtown decided to brighten up the January gloom with a major stock show, complete with free beer and barbecue for the locals. After 30,000 drunken Denverites rioted through the stockyards, city boosters didn't risk another stock show until 1906 -- but it's been going strong ever since. The National Western Stock Show now attracts hundreds of thousands of people for fifteen days every January, when they can watch people put down serious money on 4-H calves, see whip-cracking monkeys tame rodeo clowns, buy Ginsu knives, eat everything from funnel cake to Rocky Mountain oysters, and drink themselves silly in the Cowboy Bar, right by where the steers are better groomed than any Cherry Hills matron. This is how the West was fun.
Crested Butte is Colorado's last rugged, old-style ski village, with a downtown full of Victorian cottages and storefronts dating back to the mining days -- and open space providing a buffer between the town and the condos of the burgeoning ski area. For a week every July, Crested Butte gets just a little wilder when the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival is in full bloom. Sure, parts of the festival can be quite cultured -- classes on making botanical teas and potions, for example -- but there are also rough hikes and horseback rides through some of the most beautiful terrain you'll ever see. This year's homegrown festival -- the twentieth in Colorado's official Wildflower Capital -- runs from July 10 to 16. Stop and smell the primroses.