Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Seven years ago, the galaxy's greatest drag performer, Nina Flowers — fresh from her near-win on the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race — gathered the best drag talent in town for a little show called Drama Drag, which wasn't your average drag show. Over the years, the show morphed into Drag Nation, moving into the large side of Tracks in order to handle capacity crowds, adding the sweet backup moves of Denver Dance, and creating the country's best and largest landing strip for Drag Race royalty to make guest appearances. Drag Nation has become world-famous in its short life, but as Nina Flowers exclaims after each show, "This is the top of the nation!"
Yes, First Friday is often more about socializing than seeing art — but these free events are an undeniably good time, packed with artists and non-artists alike. In fact, First Friday has become one of the greatest date-night activities not just in Denver, but all along the Front Range. For a rowdy time, hit the Art District on Santa Fe; for more intimate explorations, try Navajo Street or one of the lesser-known arts districts. At any one of them, you're bound to be impressed by the level of talent in this town and inspired to attend other art-related offerings — or maybe even buy some art. As Colorado Creative Sarah Wallace Scott notes: "Being smart is sexy, and if you're already attending the First Friday openings with your date, then you should do yourself a favor and attend other art programs, too. Just think of how sexy you will be!"Readers' choice: City Park Jazz
Last September's first Denver Small Press Festival hit the ground running, spring-loaded by Dan Landes and his Suspect Press in collaboration with such groups as Leon Gallery, SpringGun Press, and Gregory Ferrari and Kaela Martin of Walled In Magazines. Indeed small but mighty, the fest showcased everything from zines to formal literary magazines with panel discussions, live interviews and vendor tables. Missed it the first time around? Look for a second fest to pop up again later in 2016 — dates and place to be announced.denversmallpressfest.com
Readers' choice: Larimer Block Party
With so many newcomers in Denver, it never hurts to have a side of history with your fun. The People's Fair dates back to the early '70s, when it grew out of a movement to protect the interests of Capitol Hill; by 1976, it had taken over the grounds of East High School, where tens of thousands of people browsed among vendors selling macrame and patchouli, and booths handed out information about gay rights and the nuclear freeze. In 1987, with interest and attendance exploding, the fair moved to Civic Center Park, where every June it celebrates an incredible array of local artists (the musical tryouts alone are great entertainment), local businesses and local causes. While many festivals these days are crass commercial ventures, the People's Fair continues to be organized by Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods and still focuses on the community — a community that now includes all of Denver, past, present and future.peoplesfair.com
Readers' choice: Great American Beer Festival
When zine enthusiast Melissa Black moved to Denver, it didn't take her long to hook up with the Denver Zine Library, and not much longer after that, she discovered that the library's once-vibrant Denver Zine Fest had fallen through the cracks several years before. To the delight of DZL's Kelly Shortandqueer and the rest of the city's zine community, Black took steps to bring the fest back last summer with a big expo and trading floor, along with a couple of parties to kick it off and put it to bed. Does two years in a row make it a tradition? Find out when the fest returns on June 25, and keep up with news and developments on the Denver Zine Festival Facebook event page.
Every Wednesday, local comedy fans flock to the Deer Pile — a cozy arts space above City, O' City, a vegetarian restaurant and hub for artsy Capitol Hill residents — to watch some combination of Bobby Crane, Nathan Lund and Sam Tallent boogie into the room to the squeals of Mountain's "Mississippi Queen." The PBR-quaffing regulars, who deliberately arrive late to the frequently delayed showcase, recognize the ritual as the commencement of Too Much Fun!, a defiantly anarchic comedy experience unlike any in the city. While the show initially suffered a bit from the departure of founding gent Chris Charpentier, the remaining three members have bounded back by experimenting with something new on the stage each week.facebook.com
Choreographed blood sport and standup may seem like unlikely ring-mates, but at Lucha Libre & Laughs, the two wildly different art forms are locked in an entertainment stalemate. Populated by outlandishly costumed characters and kept afloat thanks to hilarious color commentary, the brawny brainchild of producer Nick Gossert has cultivated a loyal audience of weed-addled nostalgists who share his twin loves of jokes and jawbreakers. And while the bi-monthly showcases at the Oriental Theater will keep going strong, Lucha Libre & Laughs will also begin doing regular shows at Ratio Beerworks and tour as a centerpiece for all three branches of the upcoming Crom Comedy Festival, including its Denver incarnation, Crom West. Lucha Libre & Laughs has been the reigning champion for two years running, and we'll suplex anyone who says that it isn't Denver's best comedy night.
For three years, the Boulder Comedy Show has brought laughter to the historically joke-barren college town on Sunday nights. Seated Viking-style in the consistently packed tap room of the Bohemian Biergarten, beery audience members might be fickle, but they reward good jokes with hearty guffaws. Produced and hosted by Brent Gill, a dab-besotted CU alumnus with the stage presence required to warm up the crowd each week — no easy feat during any sports season — the Boulder Comedy Show boasts some of the best lineups in the state. Lubricated by a wide selection of domestic and imported brews, patrons also have a toothsome selection of central European cuisine to fill their bellies with before shaking them with laughter.
Celebrated worldwide as the platonic ideal of a comedy club, the downtown outpost of the Comedy Works became a perennial Westword favorite simply by being better at what it does than anyone else. Beneath the well-lit hubbub of Larimer Square, the club unites its crowds in the boozy dark, cultivating the ideal environment for standup. Classic standup albums like Dave Attell's Skanks for the Memories have taken advantage of the venue's laugh-swaddling acoustics and hot crowds to capture the unique atmosphere of live shows, and the place has a reputation as one of Dave Chappelle's favorite spots for surprise drop-in appearances. Perhaps the Comedy Works' biggest gift to Denver, however, is nourishing the careers of local comics, from their first New Talent Nights to their television debuts.
Not even the geographical separation of co-hosts Christie Buchele and Haley Driscoll can put Empty Girlfriend in the corner. Resurrected thanks to the wonders of Skype, this fearless exploration of the intimate histories of local comedians, musicians and veterinarians is a fascinating document of how creatives seek and express love. Because of the highly personal nature of its subject matter, Empty Girlfriend is less joke-driven than traditional comedy podcasts — and while some episodes feature unflinching tales of heartbreak and despair, Buchele and Driscoll's quick riffs and occasional forays into sketch comedy keep things amusing and sometimes downright hilarious. So listen up if you dare: After all, any podcast with a recurring segment called "Obscure Sexual Fantasies" really ought to pique your interest.emptygirlfriend.com
There's no better guide to downbeat and noirish cinema than James Ellroy, the demon dog of American crime fiction (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia). Since he relocated to Denver last summer, he and Alamo general manager Walter Chaw have been curating a dynamite monthly series, called In a Lonely Place, that blends the familiar and the obscure, from a quiet Kurosawa police procedural to a frantic 007 romp, from the much-revered Vertigo to the seldom-seen Man-Trap. Regardless of how hard-boiled you like your movies, Ellroy's rants and ruminations as he introduces each offering are worth the price of admission.
Filmmaker/carnival barker/world traveler/dapper fellow Davey B. Gravey (aka David Weaver) has spent the past few years delighting small audiences with his mobile Tiny Cinema, a trailer with four seats and a projector that plays short, silent 8mm films while Gravey plays a live score on a guitar. Not one to let the decline of Super 8mm filmmaking keep him from shooting a brand-new original feature, Moonglow, he premiered it for the teeny masses this year at Leon Gallery.graveystinycinema.com