You'd have to look pretty hard to find a less pretentious entertainer than Paul Lopez, pianist at Charlie Brown's Bar & Grill. The perpetually congenial Lopez, a fixture behind the bar's ivories since the late '80s, always has a good word for patrons, whether they're participatory-show-tune types or not. He's no slouch on the piano, either.

Denver ceramics genius Martha Daniels threw everything into Grotto, her outlandish installation in which most elements were made of clay. She painted the walls, created architectural elements and even put in an operable fountain. The resulting atmosphere was dark and heavy, exactly her intention, since the show was meant to evoke the spirit of the ancient grottos of Italy. But despite her historical sources -- like those requisite Venus sculptures -- Daniels also threw in some of her futuristic robot figures.

Best Lunar Landing by an Experimental Caucasian

Whitey on the Moon

Besides spinning tunes for KUVO's Sleepless Nights once a week, Jamie Osborne hosts open-stage gatherings of vast proportions every other Wednesday at the Mercury Cafe -- an impromptu offering that launches listeners into twisting orbits of found sound, electronica, spoken word, jazz noodling and beyond. His own ongoing project, dubbed Whitey on the Moon, mixes indie rock, dance beats and Gil Scott Heron-inspired soulfulness, and it's produced one of the year's most intriguing studio efforts. Add the contributions of some talented local luminaries (including Tarantella violist Kelly O' Dea and reed master Mark Harris from Random Axe and Hamster Theatre), and you've got all the ingredients for a stratospheric sound party. Houston, we haven't a problem in the world.

For an upstart small business, the Bayeux Gallery scored a major coup by presenting the 3rd American Tapestry Alliance Biennial Exhibition last summer. The two previous biennials had been held in public spaces; this was the first time the show was presented in a commercial gallery. But Bayeux, owned and operated by Carla St. Romain, is no ordinary gallery -- it's specifically geared to feature textiles as fine art, and, as such, is one of only a handful of like operations in the country. The show included an international array of textile artists working in an even larger array of techniques. Though it was expensive to present, St. Romain obviously made the right move, since a major exhibit is always the best way to get new visitors in the doors.

Instrumentalist/bandleader Fred Hess has been among Colorado jazz's saving graces for a generation. Better yet, the years have dimmed neither his talent nor his musical curiosity. Faith (Cadence Jazz) finds Hess and a collection of impressive collaborators working at yet another creative peak.

Artistic director Nicholas Sugar has returned the Theatre Group to a high level of quality -- something the organization, best known for producing plays at Theatre on Broadway, has lacked since it expanded some seasons back. This past year, Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing was a competently acted tale that took an inviting look at first love's discoveries, exultations and tumults; Diana Son's Stop Kiss explored a budding relationship between two young women and overflowed with episodes that defied stereotype and transcended curiosity; David Rabe's A Question of Mercy was an unflinching examination of AIDS and assisted suicide; and Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly was a lighthearted musical revue that enjoyed multiple extensions of its original run. Thanks to Sugar's leadership, this all bodes well for the future of provocative but tasteful entertainment.
This up-and-coming honky-tonk band plays the stuff that made Buck Owens, Johnny Cash and their peers famous. Like those artists, the 'Benders know a sense of humor is a key ingredient in successful classic country. The group's re-creation of Ozzy Osbourne's classic "Crazy Train" on its solid debut, Southbound, is a mind-bending thrill; it's funny, devoutly twangy and downright wistful. This is one train worth riding.

Best Local Appearance by a National Author

Dave Eggers

After his mother and father died, 21-year-old Dave Eggers was left to raise his younger brother -- a situation that he turned into a best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The cutting-edge tome inspired Amy Slothower, a fundraiser for the Webb-Waring Institute for Cancer, Aging and Antioxidant Research, to invite Eggers to come read at a fall fundraising event for the Denver-based institution. But Eggers did more than just read: At the end of the evening, he pledged a $100,000 donation to Webb-Waring. And his contributions didn't end there. The Vintage paperback version of his book includes an appendix that offers an update on Eggers's life -- including his visit to Webb-Waring last fall. "I felt I'd wasted decades," he writes. "I wanted to drop everything to move to Denver and become their Igor, sleeping on a basement cot."

Director Hugo Jon Sayles's choice to present Ain't Misbehavin' as a New York City "rent party" lent the collection of Depression-era tunes a laid-back informality that made audiences feel at home from the first note. The Broadway musical revue paid homage to the works of legendary blues man Fats Waller, the son of a high-profile minister who denounced jazz as a product of "the Devil's workshop." Thankfully, the top-notch cast, backed by a sparkling three-piece band, expertly blended the sublime with the risqué. And while their individual abilities impressed, the singers displayed even greater virtuosity during group numbers that ranged from riotous to soul-stirring.

Aurora Cinema Grill - Colorado
Tired of cold hot dogs and overpriced nachos that wind up in your lap every time Sylvester Stallone blows something to smithereens? Aurora's Cinema Grill offers an alternative: a selection of salads, burgers, subs, pizzas and grilled-chicken dishes served to you, at table, while you take in a feature film. The fare may be second-run, mind you, but here's the chance to catch a flick you missed earlier, projected on a big screen while you chow down. The food is by no means spectacular, but it's honest enough, and if you'd like to wash it down with beer or wine, they have that, too. The swivel chairs are comfortable, and the price is right: $2 for matinees, $4 at night.

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