Voice of America: There's something mighty special that differentiates a cowboy poet from all other bards--call it rugged individualism or manifest destiny, but it all boils down to a kind of agrarian authenticity. It won't be hard to imagine campfire smoke wafting in the background when the Arvada Center's Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering returns for another long weekend of songs, tall tales and rustic pontificatin' by new and old favorites from Colorado and all over the West, including Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn, John Schaffner, Chuck Pyle, Sourdough Slim and the former mayor of East Tincup, Pete Smythe. This year's sessions get under way tonight with a big group performance at 7:30; events continue with daytime theme sessions from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and additional formal evening sessions at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday, and wrap up with a big matinee at 1 on Sunday. For a total experience, the weekend also affords a last chance to take a gander at The Surreal West, an art show of Western icons portrayed in unexpected ways. Poetry Gathering tickets are $5 for daytime sessions and $13 for evening and matinee main-stage performances; for reservations call the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., at 431-3939.
Politically incorrect: One way to put your personal foibles in perspective is to look at someone whose own faults surpass them in every way. That someone is Larry the Cable Guy, who makes Archie Bunker sound like Mother Teresa. The stage persona of stand-up comic Dan Whitney, the extroverted cable dude is an expert on anything and everything, including--and especially--shooting off his big mouth. What's not to love? The stubble-faced Larry performs, wirecutters in hand, at the Comedy Works, 1226 15th St., through Sunday; for showtimes and ticket reservations call 595-3637.
Cliff hangers: It's hipper than hip to be out on the edge these days, even to the point where snowboarding is now an Olympic sport--and its companion activities, such as ice-climbing and over-under-sideways-down free skiing, can't be far behind. Enter the second annual ESPN Winter X Games, to be held this year in Crested Butte, a carver's paradise if we've ever seen one. The extreme-sports fete, featuring 200 amazingly radical athletes competing in six sports, continues through Monday at the tucked-away resort; call 1-800-821-7613 for information. And off the beaten skier's trail in equally gorgeous Ouray, there'll be more ice-climbing during the Arctic Wolf Ouray Ice Festival, beginning today and continuing through Monday with seminars, slide shows, parties and hundreds of dauntless human ants ascending frozen waterfalls and glacial vertices; call 258-7916 for information and reservations. Of course, you cable-ready folks afraid of the cold will be happy to know that you can sit at home and watch X Games events and highlights on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC's Wide World of Sports throughout the weekend. Check your listings.
But the ultimate couch-potato alternative to taking off upside-down on a slab of wood--this one taking place in the cozy confines of an indoor climbing gym--is IronCloud Productions' staging of K2, a soul-searching play about two men clinging to the side of a 29,000-foot mountain in Kashmir. Let those poor guys do all the work: In the course of the drama, the dangling protagonists get to the root of what life and death are all about, and you won't have to raise a piton. See K2 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday, through January 25 at Thrillseekers Climbing Gym, 1912 S. Broadway; to reserve tickets, $8, call 861-5082.
Words of wisdom: Host Bob Tyler, local songstress Julie Hoest and underappreciated Nashville genius David Olney serve up the music tonight at another installment of Swallow Hill's noteworthy Writers in the Round series. The singing-songwriting triumvirate divvies up the spotlight beginning at 8 at the Swallow Hill Music Hall, 1905 S. Pearl St.; for tickets, $12 ($10 members), call 777-1003.
Culture stash: In the spirit of ujima, a Swahili word meaning "cooperation," a group of local African-American cultural venues, led by the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center and ULOZI Art Center, have banded together for Ujima in Five Points, an eye-opening showcase of galleries, theater troupes, book stores, clubs and gathering places in and near the city's historic Five Points neighborhood. Today at 11 a.m., a free bus tour departs the museum, 3091 California St.; those interested in taking a more free-form walking tour can pick up a map and choose their own routes. Events continue tomorrow with an afternoon dinner-theater presentation by the Eden Theatrical Workshop. Karma: A Drama With Music, takes the stage at 2 p.m. at the Casino Cabaret, 2637 Welton St.; admission, which ranges from $15 to $35, includes live music and a soul-food dinner. Call 321-2320 for reservations. For details on other Ujima events, call the museum at 292-2566.
Songs of the earth: After finishing a ten-year symphonic cycle in 1997, Colorado MahlerFest XI goes back to square one, focusing its annual tribute to Mahler on the composer's lugubrious unnumbered late work Das Liede von der Erde before returning to a rendition of his first symphony, inspired by naive romantic poetry. Though an ongoing free symposium continues today and tomorrow, MahlerFest's main events are its orchestral concerts on the CU-Boulder campus at Macky Auditorium: Hear the darkly gorgeous Das Liede tonight at 7:30 and Symphony No. 1 in D Major tomorrow at 3. Tickets, which range from $8 to $23, can be purchased by calling the Boulder Philharmonic box office at 449-1343; for additional information, call 494-1632.
Fresh start: The Creative Music Works starts off the new year and its winter season with more exhilarating sounds from the Hugh Ragin Quintet, featuring brass player Ragin, head of the CSU jazz-studies programs and a veteran performer whose credits include stints with Maynard Ferguson, David Murray and Roscoe Mitchell. The concert, titled Bebop to Free Bop, explores jazz as a product of black history's eons. Listen and learn tonight at 7:30 at the Houston Fine Arts Center, 7111 Montview Blvd.; tickets are $8 at the door ($5 for students and seniors). For details call 759-1797.
What you see is what you get: Celebrate the graphic fruit of the fine-tuned artist's eye with a display of unmatched visual acuity opening today at the Foothills Art Center, 809 15th St., Golden. The Realist Mystique Exhibition, composed of two separate but related exhibits--Dean Mitchell Paintings and Colorado Contemporary Realists--combines works by the award-winning Kansan Mitchell with an all-Colorado group show that includes offerings from ten of the state's best objectivists. A public reception will be held today from 2 to 4, and the shows continue through March 15; call 279-3922.
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Fit for a King: The memory of Martin Luther King Jr. always receives plenty of folksy acknowledgment on the day set aside in his name, but the best events tend to target togetherness. If you're not up early enough for the annual parade, which leaves City Park for Civic Center at 10 this morning, a series of Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Peace Dinners, sponsored by the MLK Hands Across Boundaries Committee, are scheduled at several locations around the metro area. The bread-breaking observances are meant to promote unity and harmony among friends and neighbors; for a complete listing of dinner sites and reservation numbers, see the Events listings. But if it's joyful singing and carrying on you crave, the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Youth Musical Celebration, tonight at 7 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E. Colfax Ave., might be just the ticket. A multicultural talent show with everything from big-voiced choirs to peppy rappers, the program will mix contemporary gospel, hip-hop and powerful spirituals; tickets are $10 at the door (children twelve and under admitted free).
Boom towns: Colorado's nuclear family has a long, rich history, from Rocky Flats to Fort St. Vrain. CU history professor and Colorado expert Patricia Nelson Limerick charts the dubious vitae of these and other nuclear facilities that have come and gone through the state in a lecture titled The Atomic West at the Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, tonight as part of the Colorado Historical Society's ongoing Lure of the West series. The always-interesting Limerick speaks at 7; to reserve tickets, $6.50 ($5 for CHS members), call 866-4686.
Rize to the occasion: Bluegrass fans are in for a treat when the usually defunct Hot Rize does a phoenix number and rises from its ashes on the Boulder Theater stage tonight at 8. The quartet, a Colorado supergroup consisting of mandolinist Tim O'Brien, banjo player Pete Wernick, guitarist Charles Sawtelle and bassist Nick Forster, opens the downtown Boulder venue's Hot Winter Nights bluegrass series with lightning runs, high harmonies and a shot glass of homespun humor. Also appearing as alter-ego honky-tonkers Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, the talented foursome is certain to dazzle; for tickets, $18 in advance, call 786-7030. The Boulder Theater is at 2030 14th St., Boulder.
Down in the valley: A new South Africa plagued by history provides the setting for Athol Fugard's Valley Song, a modest, intimate tale with only three characters: an older mixed-race man, his forward-looking granddaughter and a white author. Starring only two actors--Denver Center Theatre Company stalwart Tony Church in the two male roles and Englewood native Terrilyn Towns as the girl--the play opens for previews tonight at 6:30 in the intimate Source Theatre, 14th and Curtis in the Plex. Shows continue daily except Sundays through March 29; to reserve tickets, $22 to $25 for previews and $27 to $33 for regular performances, call 893-4100.