Best New Venue 2011 | Summit Music Hall | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Michael Emery Hecker

While the folks at Soda Jerk Presents already owned the Marquis Theater at the edge of LoDo and the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, they still wanted a bigger venue of their own where they could put larger-drawing acts, which were previously booked at various bigger venues around town. So last year, Mike Barsch and company took over the former Bash nightclub space at 1902 Blake Street and transformed the 12,500-square-foot venue into a first-class music venue with top-notch lighting and sound rigs. Since reopening as Summit Music Hall last April, the venue has brought in a steady stream of acts that run the gamut from punk and metal to hip-hop and industrial. And when the main room isn't being used for bigger shows, the front room, which has a small stage, occasionally brings in local acts, adding a welcome option for this scene's up-and-coming bands.

Mark Manger

At 10 p.m. on any given Monday night, the corner of Tenth and Santa Fe is a pretty quiet place. But don't let that fool you: Inside Interstate Kitchen & Bar, the weekly Rock 'N' Roll Spelling Bee is buzzing. The brainchild of bartender Kevin Galaba, the bee, accompanied by a soundtrack favoring the likes of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis (hence the name), is the place to bring your spelling smarts. But leave your stage fright at home: The RNR is one laid-back bee, done at your seat with pencil and paper. That means you don't have to leave your drink — like the buck-fifty Lone Stars on special — unattended to recite (or screw up) your word in front of an audience. Prizes are awarded for good spelling and even good penmanship. Can you spell F-U-N?

If you haven't already been to the Dikeou Collection, chances are good that you'll never find it without a guide. The gorgeous gallery is hidden away on the fifth floor of a building just off the 16th Street Mall, and is a white maze of rooms filled with art installations of all mediums, occasionally including floor-to-ceiling inflatable pink bunnies. In the midst of all this, the Dikeou Collection holds intimate, donation-based shows — Sara Century, Cougarpants and Last Eyes played a recent First Friday gathering. The space's serene sterility as a gallery offers a nice, natural juxtaposition to the loud and sometimes wild performances by local musicians.

So few people went to see The Nature of Things, the official show connected with last summer's Biennial of the Americas, that the admission fee was waived for the final days of its run. That was a smart move, because the show was too good to miss. It was put together by a young, hot-shot curator from Mexico, Paola Santoscoy, who was fresh out of grad school at the California College of Art. In the few short months she had to throw the exhibit together, she invited artists from all over the United States and Latin America to participate, and got an impressive roster. In fact, if there was one shortcoming to The Nature of Things, it was the fact that only two Colorado artists made the cut: Clark Richert and Joseph Shaeffer. Since the Biennial had turned its back on locals in general, Denverites repaid that snub by turning their back on the Biennial.

Into the world of safe, light and forgettable little musicals blew Tupperware-selling phenom Dixie Longate, a booze- and drug-addled, trash-talking, child-neglecting ex-con from Alabama, to stage a real Tupperware party in Dixie's Tupperware Party. You could buy pretty much everything she described on the stage, including collapsible bowls and ribbed mugs — that is, if you could stop laughing long enough. Kris Anderson, an actor who realized he could actually make a living selling Tupperware, came up with the sweet, dirty-minded and hilarious script, and he performed the hell out of it.

DJ Bedz has built quite a name for himself over the years, first as a ubiquitous club DJ and then as the official DJ of the Denver Nuggets, host of White Shadow Radio and on-air mixer on Hot 107. But the most admirable part of his legacy is his support of Safehouse Denver, the nonprofit dedicated to sheltering women and children from domestic violence: Bedz routinely donates 100 percent of the proceeds from the mixtapes he sells at Independent Records to Safehouse.

We in Denver are blessed to have one of the world's greatest music venues just west of town — but only a handful of local musicians will ever get the opportunity to play the hallowed Red Rocks Amphitheater. And without the highly successful Film on the Rocks summer movie series, far fewer locals would ever grace that incredible stage. The series, which has found its stride in recent years and now sells out most of its screenings, hand-picks promising acts to play before each movie. The gig may not be an industry showcase or an opportunity to impress an idol, but the thrill of looking up at the crowd, seeing the rock cliffs on either side and knowing you're standing in the shadows of as impressive a list of legendary rock-and-roll performers as has ever existed, is a thrill not to be taken lightly.

Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

The members of the decade-old Buntport Theater Company arrive at all of their final productions through group work and discussion, play and improvisation, and Jugged Rabbit Stew was no exception. But this original play surpassed even their usual surreal, daring and crazily imaginative standards. A wicked magician's bunny that steals everything he can lay his paws on, including human limbs and a woman he's infatuated with? A love affair between said woman and a disembodied arm? Completely nutty, ridiculously funny — and also, in its odd way, thoughtful and evocative.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

It took the Denver Art Museum over a century to finally decide that photography deserved its own department. The first step was to hire a curator: Eric Paddock, who used to fill the same role at the Colorado Historical Society. To create the new department (previously, photography had been split between several), Paddock looted the museum's storerooms for treasures, many of which hadn't been seen for many years, if ever. The resulting show, Exposure: Photos From the Vault, featured many of the pillars of photo history, including Eadweard Muybridge, Ansel Adams, Alexander Rodchenko and Garry Winogrand, as well as some of Colorado's top photographers, such as Kevin O'Connell, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, Ronald Wohlauer, Robert Adams, Laura Gilpin, George Woodman and Wes Kennedy. Paddock's work on this first effort for his department indicates that there will be many more great things coming; we can't wait to see what develops.

Denver's wizard with PhotoShop — as well as makeup and costuming — is John Bonath, whose solo Blurring the Edges filled the funky and charming Camera Obscura Gallery to its rafters with magic-realist photos of people in oddball settings. To produce his images, Bonath sets up scenes using actual materials, then makes up his models and dresses — or undresses — them before taking multiple shots and combining them in a computer, creating montages. Sometimes he even goes in and paints the images after they've been printed. Though not a retrospective, the show included several bodies of work by Bonath that spanned the last few decades, providing some nostalgic history for a gallery that's been the city's photo specialist since the 1970s but will soon be closing for good.

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