Best Singer-Songwriter 2011 | Mesita | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The town's best new singer-songwriter doesn't really play shows — but even so, James Cooley, who releases under the Mesita moniker, is one of the most compelling local songwriters in recent memory. With a breathtaking falsetto croon that recalls Bon Iver, he plays a gorgeous brand of folk that will, well, take your breath away. Even more impressive, he performs every instrument on his recordings, which he engineers and produces himself. And what makes the best even better? It won't cost you a dime to get your hands on his entire discography. You can download it all for free on his website,, and that includes his brand-new album, Here's to Nowhere.

With American Tomahawk, Adam Halferty makes some of Denver's most beautiful, captivating music. His spartan yet soaring songs burn bright — but once your eyes adjust to the shower of sparks, you realize that those gorgeous melodies illuminate some truly horrific and harrowing shit lurking in the crevices. Like shards of glass baked into hard candy, the lyrics — which reportedly reflect on a child-molester neighbor from when Halferty was growing up in the Ozarks — are unflinching, unnerving and incisive. And "1993," which debuted last year, was particularly stunning: "Poor rotten soul with no hope, forgot your name/Young little boys on their knees in your house/Did you make men of them?" The chorus pivots on the lines "No one will know, get them while they're young. You're free," before resolving into the last verse: "Now you're touching the dog and smelling your hands and fucking your sister/Pissing the bed and hiding the sheets and scared of the future/In a house in Missouri is where they found your body."

Perhaps because Denver is not particularly known for its street art, let alone its rich cache of artists and photographers, Month of Photography promoter Mark Sink and Illiterate Gallery decided to do something to help change the way the nation — make that the world — views us. And how. Together, they masterminded and provided the local manpower for a global exchange of photographic images, collectively titled The Big Picture, that have been blown up, Xeroxed and wheat-pasted on walls and billboards not just across Denver, but in some international locations. Photos by our local artists now grace billboards in Switzerland, while works by foreign photographers are all over our town. And lucky us: We get to find — by chance or with the Google map provided — amazing images in the most unexpected places.

As an actor, Mark Rubald communicates a radiant decency. When he's on stage, you just plain like him; you want him to be happy and succeed. So he was perfectly cast as a good-natured working stiff in Curious Theatre Company's production of Circle Mirror Transformation. You could see how puzzled Schultz was by all the arty stuff going on in these acting workshops, how intrigued by sexy little vixen Theresa and how sad when their affair fell apart. And yet you knew he'd carry on, as calm, kindly and competent as before.

Mike Hartman always brings a deep, humorous authenticity to his roles — as he did to kvetchy, diabetic Sid, the protagonist's father in The Catch in the Denver Center Theatre Company premiere. Emotionally stunted, endlessly critical of his son, craving sugar every waking moment, this Sid was funny and annoying. And still, in a sneaking way, you loved him.

Gaston, Belle's rejected and vindictive suitor in Beauty and the Beast, may be vain, a dope and a brute. But Stephen Hahn's version in the Phamaly production was so full of wild, juicy, hang-the-consequences vitality that you could see exactly why all the village maidens pined for him.

Best Supporting Actor in a Shakespeare Production

John Hutton

In the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Othello, John Hutton took the role of Iago and made it entirely his own, his interpretation so strong — both entirely original and true to the script — that it shed new light on the action. Unlike the slithering black snake we half expected to see, this Iago was an old soldier, a bluff man of the people, so apparently honest that you could fully understand why everyone around him, including his wife, would fall for his machinations.

When it's required, C. Kelly Leo can muster an intensity that threatens to shatter the theater walls, and she deployed it to hilarious effect as neurotic Hermia, wife of the dead man at the center of Dead Man's Cell Phone. Tightly wound and buttoned down at the beginning, she unspooled after a few drinks to become a small tornado, so gleefully and brilliantly over the top that she actually seemed to blur at the edges. Leo's part was small, but she solidified this Curious Theatre Company production.

There was an intriguing tension between the sense of calm and centeredness that actress Jessica Love tends to emanate on stage and Jen, the angry, neurotic younger sister she portrayed in Map of Heaven. It turned out to be a winning mix in this Denver Center Theatre Company production. Tossing her long legs over the arm of a sofa, sulking, snapping at her brother, boasting to her sister-in-law, sexy and disheveled, Jen livened up every scene she strode into.

With her calm grace and pure, beautifully modulated singing voice, Tracy Warren was a standout as hat-maker Irene Malloy in the Boulder's Dinner Theatre production of Hello, Dolly!

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