The 2012 Denver County Fair, the event's sophomore edition, might have experienced a few growing pains, but the modern urban take on a rural tradition is already gearing up for year three, and it promises to be the best yet. Cornerstone activities — including the proliferating blue-ribbon competitions in categories ranging from traditional to hipsterized to just plain silly, Andrew Novick's X-Treme Pancake Breakfast, animal displays and performances, and non-stop events on multiple stages — will be back, fair organizers promise. There will also be a series of daily headlining acts absent from last year's fair, as well as a new History Pavilion that's bound to be a hit. No other event expresses so well the pop culture and spirit of modern Denver — its drag queens and zombie-walkers, steampunks and artists, crafters and chicken-keepers, foodies and fashionistas. Give this annual fest a blue ribbon!

Drop a stone in Denver, and it will land in (or at least close to) an arts district, but the only one with the potential for continual expansion is the River North Art District. That's because RiNo feels like more than just one neighborhood. The Plus and RedLine galleries are in a completely different area than Ironton and Weilworks, while Ice Cube and Hinterland are far removed from the Wazee Union block. But it's precisely because of this neighborhood's vast geographic stretch — not to mention its artistic variety — that it will be impossible for the art venues here to be pushed out, as many in LoDo were.

What can a bar do to keep its customers entertained? There are trivia nights all over town almost every night of the week, most operated by independent trivia companies; some bars attempt to offer their own trivia nights, but those attempts usually turn out to be trivial. Not so with the Tavern Hospitality Group, which offers an original, high-tech trivia show once a week at five of its locations — Tavern Uptown, Tavern Lowry, Tavern Tech Center, Tavern Wash Park and Tavern Littleton. The seven-round game plays on 42-inch TVs throughout each Tavern and features music questions, movie clips, visual rounds and more. There are prizes each week, with winter and summer leagues culminating in an annual championship. Next question!

3 Kings Tavern

Although the men's restroom at 3 Kings Tavern was never the worst in town, it was far from the best — just two small urinals and a stall with a makeshift shower-curtain divider. But then it got a stunning, Extreme Makeover-worthy overhaul. With the wall between the bathroom and a storage closet removed, the pisser is now twice the size, fitted out with an industrial-sized sink, an additional stall and a trough in place of the urinals. What a relief!

Arvada Center curator Collin Parson has redirected the venue's visual-arts program so that it zeroes in on work made by in-state talent. The resulting exhibitions included solos dedicated to David Yust and Robert Mangold, and group shows focused on representational artists and women. His most successful effort, though, was Art of the State. Parson asked Denver art-world celebrity Dean Sobel, the director of the Clyfford Still Museum, to share jury duty with him. Together they pared 600 entrants down to the 160 who were ultimately selected. Paintings — in particular, abstractions — dominate, but there is also a nice selection of sculptures, photos and ceramics. The show, which is still open, is a great way to encourage the people whose blood, sweat and tears create the community around here.

Lion's Lair

Brandy Darling of Girlwreck Presents worked with Doug Kauffman, owner of the Lion's Lair, to bring a handful of shows to the storied bar that may not have otherwise come to town. This began in January with Garland Jeffreys, who was an early friend of the Velvet Underground and whose song "Wild in the Streets" has struck a chord with numerous punk bands across time. Two months later, Flipper performed an in-store at Wax Trax, followed by a pair of memorable nights at the Lair. And two weeks after that, Mojo Nixon played a rare, highly amusing two-night run. These were the kinds of shows that could have easily taken place at a much larger venue, but the intimacy of the setting made the Lion's Lair an ideal fit.

Boulder Outlook Hotel

While Blues & Greens dubs itself "Boulder's Home of the Blues," it's easily the best blues spot in the state. There's a steady stream of local acts such as Lionel Young, Otis Taylor and Dan Treanor gracing the Blues & Greens stage, but the club also brings in a number of nationally known heavies, like Janiva Magness, Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin and Alvin Youngblood Hart. If that's not enough, the place hosts rotating blues and jazz jams on Sundays, and if you're hungry, the menu offers healthy, locally sourced food.

Live@Jack's
Eric Gruneisen

A veteran of the Denver music scene, Jack Hadley has fronted his own blues-based act for close to a decade; he also spent a year and a half as lead guitarist in Otis Taylor's band, and played reggae with Rude Culture and R&B and funk with Network. Hadley knows his way around the blues, and he definitely adds a sense of professionalism to his weekly Monday jams at Jack's. While other blues jams around town attract their share of novices, Hadley's jams bring in more seasoned players, who come to play on the venue's pro sound system. A limited backline is also provided.

Counterpath

In 2006, Tim Roberts and Julie Carr created Counterpath publishing house. Five years later, they were ready to expand their artistic offerings into a physical storefront, which they fill not just with books, but also with carefully curated events and performances that range from film screenings to scholarly lectures to readings by traveling poets. Between acts, you can peruse Counterpath's collection of hard-to-find works from small-press publishers.

The Clocktower Cabaret
Eric Gruneisen

In a city as boosterish on burlesque as Denver, creativity earns extra bonus points. Every third Monday, the performance troupe behind Merry Widow's Artisan Operetta surprises its audience at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse with a comedic (and clothing-light) tribute to any number of topics from this century and the last — from sultry takes on Roy Lichtenstein and Mae West to a technicolor foray into '90s teen craze Lisa Frank. When it comes to burlesque maven Merry Widow and her troupe's shifting cultural aesthetic, nothing is sacred — and everything is sexy.

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