Change, especially the easygoing kind, takes time. But after a while, it starts to show. Such is the case at Swallow Hill, where in the few years since the venue moved to its present space and Jim Williams took over as director, the concert hall/music school has quietly turned into an entrenched community presence. Something goes on there almost every day, be it a coffeehouse jam session, gallery opening, song circle, recording session or major concert, and, as always, students of all ages come and go, lugging their guitar cases, mandolins, fiddles and autoharps hither and thither. Music lives in this old church building, and Swallow Hill's welcoming door always seems to be open.
Taking the Rock 'n' Bowl concept to a higher level, the Beats and Bowling underground parties at Elitch Lanes offer glow-in-the-dark bowling 'til 5 a.m., with a continuous underground party-music soundtrack, for the imminently justifiable cover charge of fifteen bucks (which includes all bowling). Upon arrival, bowlers pick up their shoes and declare allegiance to one of several local DJ collectives (Casa Del Soul, Mile High House, etc.). At the beginning of each hour, scores are automatically tallied, and the DJs representing the team in the lead take over the turntables for the next sixty minutes. Organized by local DJ and promoter Eric Shimp, better known on the club scene as DJ Sexclown (we're serious - and so is he, apparently), the Beats and Bowling parties are sporadically scheduled and unadvertised by conventional means. Watch for fliers or visit the Mile High House Web site for your next chance to pick up a spare at four in the morning.


You'd be wise to arrive at the Gemini Tea Emporium early on the last Friday of every month; by 10 p.m., the bright, lovely Gemini spills over like a too-filled teacup. Packing them in is Cafe Nuba, a performance-poetry series that draws the most energetic, passionate and politically infused young writers, lyricists, hip-hop rhymers and straight-up new-school bards. Host Lady Speech conducts the artful mishmash, in which all are invited to read on a first-come, first-slammed basis. Now broadcast on the Boulder-based Free Speech TV network, Cafe Nuba is beaming into screens across the nation; fortunately for Denver, the real thing can be experienced live. Cafe Nuba may just signal the rebirth of cool verse in our town.


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Most evenings at the Climax Lounge, the game area in a back room is open to everyone. But every Thursday night, novices are advised to step aside and let the experts do their thing. Boasting one of Denver's only competitive p-ball competitions, the Lounge has become a sporting destination for indie rockers, punks and pinball wizards who like to ping and pong metallic balls around -- and who take said activity very seriously. Cheap beer, good music and free admission are among the attributes that make the Climax Challenge fun for spectators as well as players. This club's got game.


In 2002, Otis Taylor was named Best New Artist at the W.C. Handy Awards -- the Grammys of the blues field. Of course, Taylor is anything but a new artist, having been part of the Colorado music community since the '70s. But this acknowledgment, as well as a pair of nominations for the 2003 Handys -- including Acoustic Blues Artist of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of the Year for his impressive disc Respect the Dead -- show that the esteem with which he's held in these parts is spreading far and wide. And deservedly so.


When Tony Furtado first moved to Colorado, he was known as a bluegrass banjoist -- but the tag soon proved far too restrictive for such a talented player. American Gypsy, Furtado's latest CD, is as eclectic as it can be, touching upon folk and acoustic styles from across town and across the globe.


Halden Wofford's authentic bray is a vocal time machine, a stirring, nasally joy that yanks traditional country fans back to the days of Hank Williams and other classic country singers. It sends chills down the spines of listeners and gives Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams a huge, genuine-article stamp. The bespectacled Wofford also yodels like the dickens and pens great songs, and his mule-kicking solo act is the best one-man twang show in town.


In the pre-O Brother, Where Art Thou? years, many bluegrass musicians felt that the music they loved would appeal to a wide audience only if they changed it in substantial ways. But Open Road, which calls Fort Collins home, makes no such compromises on Cold Wind, its latest release on the Rounder imprint, and thank goodness. These musicians make tradition exciting.


Now don't get us wrong: On stage, every member of the Risk (bassist Nick Anderson, drummer Greg Wildermuth and guitarist Nathan Marcy) burns more calories than Bush did death-row inmates. But this group's prince of perspiration is definitely singer/guitarist Joaquin Liebert, whose sweat glands could stand in for squirt guns as he leaps, writhes and howls his way through songs that are half Replacements, half Small Faces and 100 percent soul. If you've ever been to a Risk show, you know: Stand within ten feet of the stage and you're soaked.


Screw Audioslave. Featuring past and present members of celebrated Denver punk groups like Four, Deadlock Frequency, the Messyhairs, Crestfallen, Still Left Standing, the Facet, Contender and Pariah Caste, the newly formed Line of Descent has a Mile High pedigree a mile long. The group recently split a thunderously heavy and brutal release with the notorious Scott Baio Army, and its side-project status ensures that every Line of Descent show will be a rare and anticipated event. Now, if only the band could be talked into doing an S.O.D. cover.


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