In the second half of the '90s and the early part of the '00s, Kathryn Ellinger was one of the primary songwriters in experimental rock band Worm Trouble. The charismatic frontwoman, a multi-instrumentalist with a strong yet girlish voice, had a knack for crafting pop songs with avant-garde underpinnings. Ellinger renamed the band Sleepers around 2003, and focused on songwriting that was no less diverse, but heavier in terms of instrumentation. Worm Trouble and Sleepers both garnered a good deal of critical acclaim, but Ellinger found it necessary to take an extended break from the world of music. Five years later, a reinvigorated and newly inspired Ellinger has returned, along with her pronounced ability to write songs that ignore any divide between conventional and outsider aesthetics.

When ska was ascending to the peak of its popularity, Five Iron Frenzy was in the right place to ride that wave. There was a glut of ska in the '90s, and before Five Iron broke up, what set it apart was the fact that it was punk and rock as much as it was ska. It was also a thoroughly non-judgmental Christian band, and the music it wrote was legitimately good. Plus, the band was genuinely funny, and its relationship with fans was one based on real human connection. All of this earned the group admirers wherever it played. When Five Iron announced it was getting back together, expectations were high, and while the New Year's Eve show at Casselman's may not have been as frantic as in the past, the performance was vibrant, fun and endearing in a way that few ever are.

Some of the best shows are the ones that no one seems to see — and this was definitely the case for Uphollow's original-lineup reunion last April. As part of the Wax Trax 33 1/3 Birthday Blowout — set over Record Store Day weekend — the band came together for an amazing revival of its pop-punk past. Uphollow's post-'90s incarnations took the group to new heights: a conceptual double album, Soundtrack to an Imaginary Life, the multimedia collaboration Jackets for the Trip and the welcome addition of Ian Cooke all added to its dynamism and continued growth. The Wax Trax show might have only been half full — but it meant the world to the collection of fans who were there to see the band step back in time, in all its Mission to the Moon-era glory.

When she's not tenderizing the muscles of stressed-out working folk in the Capitol Hill Whole Foods, Abby Jane Palmer is often moonlighting at rock concerts, keeping blood pressure low and limbs loose for big-name acts passing through Denver. Last year alone, she methodically kneaded the road-weary backs and shoulders of performers in My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, Jack White's touring band, Beats Antique and Thievery Corporation. But Palmer welcomes non-famous clients as well, either in her Massage Spot chair at Whole Foods or through her private practice, where you can schedule a more thorough (no, not that thorough) session.

In fall 2012, the University of Colorado unveiled a small but elegant building called the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities, named for former chancellor Vincent Fulginiti. Designed by NAC Architecture with Stuart Crawford, the building includes a good-looking little gallery. In an inspired move, freelance curator Simon Zalkind was hired to set up the first year's schedule. He started with a show focusing on Soviet dissident Ernst Neizvestny, then followed up with an exhibit about AIDS that paired the work of the late Wes Kennedy with that of Albert Winn. (Pieces by Judy Chicago and her husband, Donald Woodman, will fill the space through May.) That's quite a roster for a small gallery, and it proves that Zalkind, who also curates at the Singer Gallery, can always be counted on to do something worthwhile.

Best Rollout of a Relocated Gallery
Frank Sampson

Although it was tiny, the Sandra Phillips Gallery on Santa Fe Drive established itself by focusing on important artists from the state's art-historical past. But when gallery owner Sandra Phillips moved to the Golden Triangle last fall, she knew she had to pull out the stops to recapture the exhibition-going crowd. Frank Sampson, dedicated to one of the best-loved and most established painters in the state, did just the trick. The eighty-something magic-realist from Boulder is still at the top of his game, as his show of recent paintings made clear. And the exhibit was a great way to get people to notice Phillips as well.

MCA Denver
JC Buck

Yarnbombing is a joyful thing: We look out our windows to find that the trees have grown socks and that flowers have bloomed on chain-link fences, and nobody knows exactly how that came to be — or even wants to know. Yarnbombing is done in secret — although around here, you'd rarely be wrong if you guessed that the deed had been done by members of Denver's number-one yarnbombing squad, the Ladies Fancywork Society. So it was almost a slap in the face to their fans — a gentle, funny one — when MCA Denver asked the LFS to come out from undercover to knit a huge temporary curtain to protect the museum's reception desk from piercing winter winds whistling through the building's open entryway. Titled "Fancygasm," it's just that: a knitted patchwork splash of wintry colors that awes and surprises guests before they've even entered the museum proper. Oh, what a web they weave.

When Adam Perkes, the intense actor who played the lead in Bat Boy for Equinox Theatre, was found dead in a Glenwood Springs hotel early this year, the rest of the cast was devastated, and it looked as if the show would have to be canceled. But director Deb Flomberg felt that if that happened, everyone involved would remember the production with nothing but pain. So she contacted Nick Sugar, who had previously both played the role of Bat Boy and directed the show, and he agreed to take over. After a frantic six-day rehearsal, Bat Boy reopened to an enthusiastic audience and a standing ovation. Campy, funny and touching, the musical tells the story of a creature that's half bat, half human, and his attempts to make a place for himself in the world. Flomberg relates the theme to Perkes's life: "It's about someone who feels very alone, isolated and rejected." In Sugar's interpretation, she adds, you saw "a little bit of Nick and a little bit of Adam."

When Randy Roberts opened Z Art Department a few years ago, he decided to focus on artists important to Colorado's history, including Herbert Bayer, Roland Detre and Winter Prather, all of whom are dead. Then last year, he delved into contemporary art by living artists. One of the first exhibits of this kind was Parson in Perspective, which looked at a decade's worth of work by important local sculptor Chuck Parson, who creates conceptual abstractions made of sheets of steel, panes of glass and hunks of stone, with the finished pieces held together by nuts and bolts from the hardware store. Z Art Department has kept a low profile, but that is starting to change with crowd-pleasing efforts such as this one.

Curious Theatre Company

Curious had a rocking season last year, and this year the company did it again, mounting three of the season's must-see shows. Time Stands Still was an incisive examination of the way the media covers war — and the resulting indifference of the public — in the very human context of a relationship between a photographer and a writer who were both profoundly damaged by a stint in Iraq. Then there was Red, a two-man piece about the relationship between Mark Rothko and an apprentice-disciple that told us much about the narcissism of the great painter and what it takes to make art. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a play about race, wrestling and ambition, charged into your consciousness, jolted you to attention, picked you up in a front face-lock and set you down breathless. Then there was the mordant humor of Becky Shaw and the — sorry about this — forgettable Maple and Vine. Generally speaking, everything at this theater — sets, lights, costumes, acting — is top-notch. If you're looking for a present for a theater-loving special friend, you can't do better than a Curious season ticket.

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