Ska's the limit: What goes around comes around, and when it comes to something as exuberant and danceable as ska, we couldn't be happier. What began in the '50s as a full-throttled precursor to the more loping Jamaican reggae music went through its first revival nearly twenty years ago, due in no small part to the efforts of the Specials, the flagship band of Britain's late-'70s 2-Tone label then known for such up-tempo tunes as "A Message to You Rudy" and "Too Much Too Soon." It's only fitting that the group, or at least its '90s equivalent, should make a comeback in the midst of ska's second coming. Led by original members Lynval Golding, Neville Staples, Roddy Byers and Horace Panter, the resurrected Specials appear tonight at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St. in Boulder; local skasters Judge Roughneck work up the dance floor at 9. Tickets are $16.80; call 443-3399 or 830-TIXS.
Welcome to the neighborhood: That good old family-fueled, sing-along community feel is nowhere more evident than at the Swallow Hill Folkathon, an annual weekend fundraising event that makes helping the Swallow Hill Music Association, Denver's local folk-music maven, virtually painless by providing plenty of high-quality entertainment at minimal cost. This year's event kicks off tonight at 8 at Cameron Church, 1600 S. Pearl St., with a concert featuring Swallow Hill favorites Chuck Pyle, the Velveeta Sisters, Chris Daniels and the Acoustikings and (it's rumored) special guest Catfish Hodge. Tomorrow you're invited to come on down, sit on the curb and join in the easygoing fun as the Folkathon proper--a sweet-natured family festival and street fair--gets under way at 10 a.m. at the Swallow Hill Music Hall, 1905 S. Pearl St. Six stages will offer everything from bluegrass to kids' fare until 7, and the whole shebang wraps up with a street dance presided over by the Crescent City inflections of accordionist John Magnie. Tickets for the Friday concert are $12 ($10 members), and festival admission is $5 ($1 for children eighteen and under); call 777-1003 or 1-800-444-SEAT.
Passion fruit: The skinny black gown, a slim gigolo for a partner and that de rigueur rose between the teeth: Are these things tango stereotypes? Absolutely not. There's no dance more deserving of such sultry accoutrements than the tango. But that doesn't mean it can't be messed with, especially when done under the competent direction of Argentinian Ana Marie Stekelman, who seamlessly melds the smolder of traditional tango with sophisticated modern-dance method. Her company, Tangokinesis, direct from Buenos Aires, will light your fire when it appears tonight and tomorrow at 8 at the Boulder Theater, 2030 14th St., Boulder, as a guest of the Colorado Dance Festival. Admission ranges from $18 to $28; for reservations call 442-7669 or 786-7030.
Goof grass: One of our favorite things about the Denver Botanic Gardens' annual summer concert series is its inherent kid-friendliness--no matter who graces the outdoor stage there (and the choices range from the tony likes of Cassandra Wilson to the traditional blues update of Keb' Mo'), children seem to have as good a time as the adults. It has something to do with the festive air and the cool fragrance of early evening--not to mention all the picnic blankets spread out on grassy knolls inviting endless somersaults. And nobody minds when tots dance around the stage in innocent, half-wild hordes.
Tonight's concert is tailor-made for families: The rowdy Red Clay Ramblers bond bluegrass and vaudeville, playing rinky-dink tunes that everyone--especially a kid--loves. The Ramblers bring their instrumental menagerie of banjos, guitars and tubas to the gardens tonight at 7:15. The best surprise is that these guys play as well as they entertain, cracking you up with a Spike Jones tune one minute and taking your breath away with a lightning-fast string-band raveup the next. Concert tix are $19 ($16 DBG members); call 777-3836.
The wild ones: When this group of bikers roars into our fair city, there won't be any black leather, revving motors or young, T-shirted Marlon Brando, but there will be excitement to spare. The Mike Nields Memorial Cycling Weekend, which takes place today and tomorrow in and around Civic Center Park, features the cream of the professional cycling crop pedaling for bucks in a pair of national competitions. Over 500 registered bicyclists take part in the Fresca National Criterium Championship Races between 7 and 6 today in the park, 14th and Acoma streets; not only can spectators scan the ongoing action, but they can take in an adjacent road cycling expo as well. The Bannock Criterium National Series Races wrap up events tomorrow on a figure-eight course that includes 13th and 14th streets between Bannock and Delaware, again from 7 to 6. Admission on both days is free.
Child's play: Typical summer festivals tend to corral kids into generic "children's areas" where tykes get balloons tied to their wrists and their faces painted instead of trudging through vendor aisles after Mom and Dad, screaming for humongous turkey legs, ice-cream boats and ten-gallon servings of lemonade. But here's a fest where the tables turn: At KidSpree, happening today from 10 to 6 and tomorrow from 10 to 5 at Bicentennial Park, Alameda Avenue and Potomac Street, activities are designed with youngsters in mind, and it's the adults who might find themselves tagging along behind. The Aurora celebration features kid-sized food portions and tons of hands-on fun, as well as roving cartoon characters, contests and live entertainment geared to pint-sized tastes. A parking area with free shuttles to and from the festival grounds is located north of the Aurora Mall at 14200 E. Alameda Ave.; the site is also accessible by bike (racks will be available) or on foot. Better yet, admission and all activities are free (except miniature golf, which costs $1 plus a player's age in pennies); for more information call 478-KIDS.
One little indie: Berkeley filmmaker Paul Budnitz is a consummate do-it-yourselfer--he shot most of his feature 93 Million Miles From the Sun at night in San Francisco's Mission District, using a volunteer crew and working on a budget made possible by donations from local businesses. And when he was done, he took the footage home and edited it entirely on a home computer. The resulting work, which views scenes on an up-close, intimate level from different points of view, has made a splash at festivals in California, Hawaii and Berlin; now you can see it when it screens at 6:30 and 8:30 tonight only at the Bug Performance and Media Art Center, 3654 Navajo St. Tickets are $5 to $6; for information
Brush up: One of the Foothills Art Center's best and most-attended shows of the year is back: The annual Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition opens to the public today with a reception from 2 to 4. A widely varied juried exhibit that's held together by the jeweled tones and minimal, washed-out brush strokes of watercolor, RMNW offers skillful renderings in countless dimensions of the medium. The popular show continues through September 14; artists will be on hand to demonstrate their trade from 1 to 4 on August 17 in conjunction with the Golden Arts Festival. Foothills is located at 809 15th St., Golden; call 279-3922 for details.
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Ain't it funky now? If Charlie Parker met James Brown in a dark alley, chances are they'd end up sounding something like Junk, and that's not a bad thing. The Bay Area foursome mixes the frenetic best of bebop with unshakable Godfather grooves guaranteed to make your teeth chatter on the dance floor, floating baritone saxist David Robbins's first-class improvisations over an urban jungle beat. Better take a nap before you go--Junk performs tonight at 9 at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Admission is $3; call 443-3399 for information.
A little day music: Stories and kids mesh well--when the former get told, the latter listen, wide-eyed. So maybe it's time you started looking at the opera as a form of storytelling, complete with plush stage sets and costumery bound to dazzle young eyes. Take a chance--send your kids to a Central City Opera Youth Performance, which provides a specially narrated version of the real thing for young cultural dilettantes. Puccini's classic Madame Butterfly is featured today at 2:30 at the Central City Opera House; American Carlisle Floyd's opera Susannah will be offered at the same time on August 5. Tickets are only $2 for children ages six to eighteen; accompanying adults--who must attend with at least one child--pay $5. Call 292-6700 or 1-800-851-8175.
Accordion to plan: The swallows return to Capistrano; Queen Ida returns to the Arvada Center--and summer's not summer until she does. The squeezebox-pumping first lady of zydeco is a sure hit whenever she turns up on the suburban center's outdoor stage, located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd.; when she appears there tonight and tomorrow at 7:30, along with her accordion-wielding chip off the old block, Myrick "Freeze" Guillory, the good times will roll again. Tickets are $20 reserved ($14 lawn seating); call 431-3939 for reservations and information.
Blue Wednesday: If paying dues is an intrinsic part of playing blues, Coco Montoya is overqualified for the job. The guitarist toiled for years as a sideman for Albert Collins and John Mayall before setting out on a solo run. But it was worth the wait. On his own, Montoya burns it up in style, as you'll see for yourself tonight at 9 at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave.; for tickets, $10, call 322-2308 or 830-