Best Place for Any (and We Mean Any) Local Band to Get a Fair Shake

Cricket on the Hill

Whether they are truly talented or simply interested in using music as a bludgeon, untested Denver bands have long had a wide-open outlet for their art at Cricket on the Hill. Sure, the place is far from cuddly, but management understands the bar's symbiosis with local rock. The standard deal is straightforward: Three bands split a third of the bar after they pay off the sound guy. No bullshit. No one gets ripped off. No drunken riots...well, not very often. Hey, two out of three ain't bad.
Herman's Hideaway
Eric Gruneisen
You don't have to be terribly accomplished to secure some stage time during the New Talent Showcase at Herman's Hideaway. In fact, the whole point of the Wednesday-night series is to give fledgling acts a chance to test the waters of the live-music experience, even if they only play to an audience of friends and sympathetic strangers. Often the shows are kicked off by a presentation from an industry insider who can offer career advice as well as an ear. Because of the huge level of interest among aspiring stagehounds, owner Allan Roth has begun hosting a similar event on sporadic Tuesdays, as well. We hope that becomes permanent: The Showcase is a great way to sample the city's raw talent in a supportive and fun environment. On to the next.
Technically, Tulagi is not a punk club. About half the time, the smallish space -- which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year -- is booked by the staff that operates the Fox Theatre next door. But a couple nights a week, the calendar belongs to indie promoter Mike Barsch, who draws on his years of running Denver punk staple the Raven to enlist an impressive revolving roster of up-and-coming indie-rock and punk artists. Death Cab for Cutie, Mars Volta, the Icarus Line and the Alkaline Trio are among the underworld heavyweights who've come to town at Barsch's invitation, much to the delight of the all-ages crowds who regularly pack the place. Local punk bands get their fair share of stage time as well; as the operator of Soda Jerk Records, Barsch has long been a supporter of area acts. In some circles, he's the reigning king of the hill.
Cervantes' Other Side
When the owners of Quixote's True Blue moved into the old 7 South space on Broadway, they began redecorating with a vengeance -- and a vision. Colorful and kaleidoscopic, the entire room is a museum of musical memorabilia and art (including plenty of original posters and photographs)

that also serves as a venue for local and national jam-based, bluegrass and Grateful Dead-inspired acts. The bar's wide selection of kindly priced microbrews and spirits has made it a favorite among earthy brothers and sisters around town. Beyond the music and the drink menu, however, it's in the bathrooms that your senses can become the most pleasantly overwhelmed. Full murals depicting scenes from Alice in Wonderland and The Cat in the Hat are adorned with literary quotes and song lyrics. While there's plenty going on in the club itself, thanks in large part to the Deadicated efforts of true-blue owner Jay Bianchi, Quixote's bathrooms are so well done, you may never want to come out.

Herman's Hideaway
Eric Gruneisen
Scott Campbell and Jason Cotter, booking managers for the 15th Street Tavern, must have a psychic grasp of which artists are about to break out: Many of the bands that play their club wind up on the cover of the College Music Journal or headlining a showcase at the South by Southwest music conference soon after stopping in Denver. Fortunately for those who like to see bands before they get big, the Tavern's reputation as the local place to play guarantees there's almost always something worthwhile going on in the deliciously divey space. The sound isn't always great, and the room can get over-packed and thoroughly smelly, but, hey, if you like your rock and roll squeaky-clean, try VH1. For riotous live shows and an incomparable calendar, the Tavern is the down-and-dirty destination.
Getting more than 100 people into the Soiled Dove to discuss Denver's music scene with Monday morning looming is no small feat. However, the 1,000-member Colorado Music Association routinely does so on the third Sunday of each month. Popular features include member introductions and a free spread, courtesy of the Dove. Networking, panel discussions and industry news and advice make up most of the content. The programs are typically followed by Q&A sessions and the Dove's "Locals Launch" live-performance series. The organization has inspired a range of specialized, genre-specific subcommittees that regularly meet to hone in on specific musical and career goals. For musicians, COMA meetings are an inspiring and informative way to ease into a week of day-job grind.
The Nashville Songwriters Association International's Denver chapter meets the first Monday of every month at the Academy of the Arts. There, good ol' boys and girls explore the intricacies of songwriting in a friendly setting. Group members come to have their work critiqued by peers, a process that can generate heated line-by-line discussions but never loses the spirit of camaraderie. It's a great place for people to hang out and find out who's doing what in the music biz.
Take an oversized Ronald McDonald, Tron-inspired costume design, giant plastic lobster claws, low-budget martial arts and moon boots. Throw in some warped synthetic ditties dedicated to the Atari classic from which it derives its name, and you're just scratching the surface of the city's strangest multimedia phenomenon, Mr. Pacman. The ranting "No Ghosts" alone is worth the cover charge when the band appears in venues ranging from the Lion's Lair to artsy upper-Larimer Street warehouses. (Just beware of allowing this band around fire: The members of the cartoonish construct set their instruments alight during last year's Grim Productions Halloween party and nearly burned the ceiling as well.) This game is far from over.
Skulls, devils and pentagrams are not involved, but the Bobby Collins Death Metal Armada's fashion sense perfectly complements its spacey, nitrous pop. The Armada's revolving wardrobe includes jumpsuits, milkman duds, cardigans, cheesy Christmas sweaters, space-age fabrics, 3-D glasses and beanies. Rumor has it that bubble-wrap coveralls might be in the works. Fortunately this atmospheric pop combo puts equal emphasis on its music as well as its wardrobe. Death was never so much fun.
If Bio-Bitch doesn't pique your interest -- or at least elicit a chuckle -- then the terrorists really have won.

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