National Western Complex

Last summer's inaugural Denver County Fair, which took shape in the fertile, never-say-never imaginations of event promoter/dreamer Dana Cain and artist/gardener/doer Tracy Weil (not to mention pie-making artist Chandler Romeo, who came up with the original concept), cut through every cultural cross-section you could think of. There was fashion. There was urban commerce. There were pancakes, chickens, a freak show, performing pigs, pie contests and Devo. The most important point? The Denver County Fair wouldn't have worked without the dozens and dozens of volunteers who stepped up to set it up and tear it down, coordinate events in each pavilion and keep things running smoothly throughout. More than a spectacle, the fair demonstrated how disparate folks from a diverse community can come together and throw the best party this town has seen. We can hardly wait for the 2012 edition in August.

Readers' Choice: Taste of Colorado

Artist Dorothy Tanner uses light as her medium — along with water, plastic, fabric and her imagination. The sculptures adorning the walls and fountains on display at Lumonics are psychedelic and mesmerizing. When Tanner and her talented crew open up Lumonics for an event (which is at least every weekend), there's almost always a light show filling an entire wall, courtesy of guest videographers and designers or the Lumonics experts themselves. The space contains several rooms and display areas, with secure spots to stash coats, shoes and jaw-dropping art (don't miss the pyramid installation). Shows range from intimate world-music journeys to bass-heavy dubstep lineups to DJ workshops to ecstatic chant and dance. For an illuminating experience, there's no substitute for Lumonics.

Denver Art Society

You might have stumbled into the Denver Art Society on a First Friday, wondering what it was all about. Well, here's the deal: The nonprofit, which looks something like an art flea market and hallway art exhibit at a grade school during an open house, is all about advocating for kids whose schools lack sufficient arts programming. With that in mind, the society offers classes for kids (and the aforementioned exhibition opportunities), as well as space for working artists and performers who in turn volunteer their time. The Denver Art Society's biggest dream yet? The Treehouse Youth Art School, a more formal version of what it's already been trying to do that will offer free cultural classes for kids because — hey — without an arts education, kids grow up not seeing the world in all of its colors.

RiNo District

It's hard to beat the art heavyweights around the Civic Center, but by virtue of its vast scale alone, RiNo — the River North Art District — definitely does, and thus deserves the title of best arts district in Denver. Though pioneering arts outposts began to occupy the Upper Larimer section of the district three decades ago, only over the past five years has a critical mass of art-related outfits occupied the former railyards — with some 100 studios, galleries, ateliers and other art-related operations now sited there. Credit for the successful promotion of RiNo goes to artists/arts advocates Jill Hadley Hooper and Tracy Weil, who founded the district just as the artistic invasion of the almost-abandoned industrial zone hit full speed. As a result, today RiNo is a favorite destination not just for local artists, but for arts enthusiasts throughout the metro area.

Our region doesn't lack good photography, but it's been lacking a good photography showcase since Hal Gould's Camera Obscura shut its doors a year ago. In the meantime, though, two of the area's biggest photography boosters — the then-homeless Colorado Photographic Arts Center and Working With Artists in Belmar — struck up a merger deal last summer that's still being finalized. Here's our snap judgment: Now under the directorship of Rupert Jenkins as the New Colorado Photographic Arts Center, the strengths of both venues, pre-merger — WWA's instructional side and CPAC's curatorial reach — combine to make this a powerhouse representative of the future of photography in Colorado. We can't wait to see what develops.

Dressed in thick tweed suits to match their infectious twee songs, the members of Fingers of the Sun have not only graced the Denver music scene with one of the most expertly crafted albums of 2011, but they've delivered plenty of eye candy, as well. From Nathan Brasil's mid-'60s slug mustache to Suzi Allegra's thrift-store dresses and Marcus Renninger's daring leisure suit and ascot, the band always looks theatrically sharp, strutting that fine line between Prada perfection and what Project Runway's Tim Gunn would describe as "costumey."

You know a band was noteworthy if a number of its peers, based on word of mouth and having heard the music, say they wish they'd been able to see the band live before it broke up. That was the fate of Hot White, which, after roughly four years of existence, played its last show on September 26, 2011, with No Babies and Echo Beds. The band's raw, wiry energy and fearlessness, coupled with a complete disregard for any expectations, always made Hot White one of the most interesting and exciting outfits around. The threesome started as a twosome, with Kevin Wesley and Darren Kulback making instrumental noise rock, but the lineup came to include Tiana Bernard on circuit-bent devices before she started playing bass and doing archly intense vocals. A favorite of the underground cognoscenti and ever-increasing circles of fans of challenging music, Hot White will be sorely missed.

People still flip out when they learn they can check out a pigeon at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver — and we don't mean that they can just see one; we mean they can check one out like a library book, then take it home — with the stipulation that they then let it loose. These birds, part of an ongoing project called Thinking About Flying by artist Jon Rubin, are trained homing pigeons, which makes them way more convenient than a book. We had our own fun with the project when Westword writer Jef Otte raced a checked-out pigeon to MCA on his bike (the pigeon, it turned out, took her own sweet time), but you can also find documentation of other pigeon experiences on MCA's website. Or just try it on your own, though time's running out: Thinking About Flying packs up and flies away after April 30.

Boulder Outlook Hotel

Whatever "Boulder's Home of the Blues," as Blues & Greens is known, might lack in atmosphere, it makes up for in talent. The club, housed in Boulder's Outlook Hotel, not only brings in a regular roster of top-notch local talent like Otis Taylor, the Delta Sonics, David Booker and the Lionel Young Band, but it frequently welcomes well-known national acts, too, such as Big Bill Morganfield (Muddy Waters's son), Tommy Castro and Bernard Allison. And with blues jams on Sundays and Tuesdays, there aren't many nights when there isn't something happening.

El Chapultepec
Courtesy El Chapultepec

The basic blues formula is fairly simple — but to really get a good handle on it, you've got to play in a live setting with other musicians. And what better way to hone your chops than jamming at the legendary El Chapultepec with guitarist David Booker, a Brit transplant who's been in Denver since the '80s and has performed with Bo Diddley, Solomon Burke and Rufus Thomas? The jam, which Booker started in October 2009, gets a steady stream of regulars that includes a fair amount of guitar and horn players.

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