It sounds like the plot of a made-for-the-holidays TV movie: Cowboys save Christmas for cancer-stricken youngsters. But in this case, it's a real-life drama, one you can help resolve. Wild West re-enactors The Hole in the Wall Gang are seeking donations for the Candlelighters of Southern Colorado, a Colorado Springs support group for children with terminal cancer and their families. According to HITWG member Mike Rozelle, this will be the last Christmas for some of the CSC's patients, whose families are facing both the loss of their young loved ones and huge medical expenses. Last year the Candlelighters lacked funds to buy gifts for their youngsters, and Rozelle and his fellow thespian cowpokes want to make sure that doesn't happen again. Cash donations and gifts are needed by December 4. If you can help, call the Gang at 1-719-685-0868 or 1-719-534-9532.

For those who get their thrills on snow, Warren Miller's annual cinematic ski-and-shred films are the holiday equivalent of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Miller's 1998 installment is Freeriders, a snowbound travelogue that takes adrenaline-seekers to a winter's worth of exotic locales around the globe. If that season pass is burning a hole in your pocket, this could cool your jets until the powder piles up in the high country. Tonight's showings are at the Boulder Theater at 6:30 and 9:30, Saturday's are at 6 and 9 p.m., and Sunday's are at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 and $14 and include a one-day pass to Copper Mountain and other goodies. They're available at the theater box office at 2032 14th St., Boulder. Call 303-786-7030 for details.

At 6 tonight, downtown Denver's Larimer Square kicks off its Winterfest holiday festivities with its annual lighting ceremony. In addition to plugging in the block's electrical wonders, the Square will also provide carolers, hot chocolate and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Retro-activity hunters can indulge in a few nostalgic laps around the ice rink, which also opens tonight; skating stints are $3, and rentals are $1. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Santa's Workshop and Nutcracker Salon opens for business, offering kids' face-painting makeovers, a peek at Mr. Claus's workshop and a knee session with the man himself. These two holiday enterprises will be open until 4 p.m. every weekend through December 19 and on December 23 and 24. For details on all of Larimer Square's seasonal activities, call 303-607-1276.

Lannie Garrett may qualify as Denver's hardest-working woman in showbiz. Over the past two decades, she's successfully juggled a number of popular musical personas, from the corn-fed country of "Patsy DeCline" to the brandied sounds of her "Slick Chick on the Mellow Side." Tonight and Saturday she closes the door on her ninth season of big-band jazz, as her "Any Swing Goes" show jumps and jives through its final romp. The gigs take place at 8:30 p.m. at her usual haunt, the Denver Buffalo Company, at 1109 Lincoln St. Tickets are $20, and there's a two-drink minimum if you aren't dining. Call 303-832-0880 to make a reservation.

In folk-music circles, Tom Paxton reigns as one of the kings. During his forty-year career, he's recorded 42 albums and countless folksy treasures while earning the undying respect of his genre's best performers. His tunes stretch from side-splitting jabs at politics and popular culture to scathing assaults on the same; tonight he'll be performing these ditties in the Swallow Hill Music Association's annual Thanksgiving Concert. The event is a fundraiser for the Food Bank of the Rockies, so canned items are welcome. The show takes place at Teikyo Loretto Heights University, 3001 S. Federal Blvd., and tickets are $13 and $16. Local songwriter Carla Sciaky opens this 8 p.m. show. Get details at 303-777-1003.

If you're considering buying a dog for Christmas, Lifeline Pet Rescue needs your help. The shelter at this no-kill, nonprofit puppy rescue operation is full, with another 200 puppies backed up on a waiting list. Lifeline is in urgent need of qualified homes for its cuddly charges. If you'd like to rescue one of these little guys while making room for a new arrival in the kennel, call the LPR hotline at 303-699-8727.

For more than twenty years running, Always on Sunday has provided a communication forum for area singles in the 35-60 age bracket. The topic for tonight's meeting of the all-volunteer singles discussion group is: "Are You Ready to Fall in Love Again?" To get help in answering this eternal question, join the conversation from 7 to 9 p.m. when the group meets at Cross of Glory Lutheran Church, 1991 S. Oneida St. For details, call the AOS hotline at 303-575-1020.

Billy Bragg has forged a double-edged career that employs both gleaming pop anthems and hard-edged populist rousers. His current project falls in the latter category and centers on one of America's greatest voices of the proletariat, Woody Guthrie. With help from members of Americana standard-bearers Wilco, Bragg has provided music for a number of completed song lyrics from Guthrie's later years and brought them together in a time-spanning collaboration titled Mermaid Avenue. The disc is garnering rave reviews, and tonight Bragg and his Blokes ensemble will offer cuts from this disc and many more. The show is at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Tickets are $16.75, and doors open at 8.

Make me blue: For a few years now, Brendan's Pub has been offering local musicians a chance to weather Stormy Monday by playing the blues. Every Monday the house hosts a blues jam for aspiring artists and down-in-the-hole players while the Brendan's Blues All-Stars provide the musical backing. The head-cutting starts at 9:30, and there's no cover charge. Brendan's is located downtown, at 1624 Market St. Get the straight skinny at 303-595-0609.

The Denver Zoo roars into the holiday spirit tonight with Wildlights, its yearly display of illuminated animal sculptures and electrified glitter. This year's glowing menagerie features several new creations, and each night will also include singers, dancers and various musical outfits. To keep you warm while you prowl the zoo's 35 acres, there will be hot drinks and warm nibbles, plus extended hours in the humid confines of the Tropical Discovery rainforest habitat. The fun runs from 5:30 to 9 each night through New Year's Eve. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children ages four to twelve. Kids three and under get in free. The Denver Zoo is in City Park, at 2300 Steele St. Call 303-376-4800.

While the swing craze has certainly fostered more than its share of trend-jumping imitators, it has also proved to be a godsend for a number of dance-friendly bands who carve their own trails. 8 1/2 Souvenirs falls into the latter category, playing a martinied blend of jazz, Django and gypsy soul that stirs the heart and the soles. Led by Frenchman Oliver Giraud and twenty-year-old siren Chrysta Bell, the Souvenirs are gaining a fast following with smokey live shows and a new RCA platter, Happy Feet. Tonight they warm up the Mammoth Events Center for the ever-popular Brian Setzer Orchestra. Showtime is 6:30, and tickets are $27.50. Get details at 303-830-8497.

Broomfield gets into the seasonal swing of things tonight with its Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony. Set for 7 at the Broomfield Municipal Center, the folksy event will feature the expected carolers and bright lights, as well as an appearance by Old St. Nick. In addition, there will hayrides and down-home socializing, along with music provided by students from Broomfield schools. For more info, call 303-464-5516.

Need a little something to temper an overdose of holiday goodwill? The Denver Art Museum is presenting A Fine and Private Place, an exhibition of death-related photography that's sure to jar your soul back into a grimmer reality. The exhibit includes a wealth of powerful photos that cover grief, the dead, and the rituals we use to honor them. The showing is the first in a new DAM space sponsored by Laura and David Merage, which will be hosting various photography exhibits throughout the year. Admission to the DAM is $4.50 for adults, $2.50 for students and seniors Tuesday through Sunday; Saturdays are free. For more information call 303-640-2953.

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Marty Jones