Best Sound-System Upgrade 2015 | Lost Lake Lounge | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

If you had stepped into Lost Lake Lounge before last year, you might have thought you had accidentally wandered into the 1970s. The interior looked and felt like a repurposed American Legion hall (the bar area still does). But last year, the ramshackle sound system of old was replaced with a setup that can handle rock shows and electronic artists alike. Whereas before it felt quaint amd homey, the Lost Lake performance room now feels professional and capable.

In its first year of operation by AEG Rocky Mountains, Fiddler's Green (which took back its original name last year after years as Comfort Dental Amphitheater) has gone from being a serviceable spot for watching your favorite mega-star from the lawn to downright pleasant. That change came thanks to better traffic flow, upgraded sound and artful decoration.

Most door guys and gals take tickets, check IDs and run guest lists with a somewhat thorny attitude — perking up only when a friend passes through. And a few are too gregarious for the job, meaning the lines last forever. Trevor Thon is different. He manages to take his job seriously while still finding time to converse with artists and concert-goers — ideally about his beloved comic books, which he reads with one eye on the door.

By day he makes your spicy-tofu banh mi sandwiches; by night he spins your favorite dance beats. For the past seven years, Peter Schroeder, aka DJ Gatsby, has been building a name for himself in the metro-Denver area, most notably spinning hip-hop records at the Pour House, Crimson Hilt Tattoo and elsewhere. While the sun is still up, though, you can catch him at Vinh Xuong Bakery in the Alameda Square Shopping Center, putting together some of the best Vietnamese sandwiches around.

If you've been to a punk-rock show in Denver over the past five years, chances are you've seen Aaron Saye: He's usually perched at the back of the room with a video camera and a smile, documenting the night. He does this with no real agenda or moneymaking scheme in mind, but rather for posterity and an overall love of the scene. That love translates into Aaron's job as promoter and booker for Seventh Circle Music Collective, one of Denver's best all-ages venues. The bands that play there aren't genre-specific, but they must adhere to Saye's sense of community and respect and the DIY ethos. His goal is one that all venues and promoters should strive for: eliminating the gap between artists, promoters and fans.

Brandon Marshall

Although Youth on Record changed its name from and found a new home last year, the group's goal is still the same: empowering young people to use their musical abilities in order to be heard. Local MCs and musicians are at the core of this organization, leading youth through the songwriting, recording, production and performance processes to make music that matters. The organization also hosts music-oriented events, such as this year's question-and-answer session with the members of Sleater-Kinney, which gave young musicians the opportunity to ask real-life rock stars about the ins and outs of the music business.

Being a musician and recording an album for the first time can be a daunting process, but Dryer Plug Studios takes the pressure off. Run by sound engineer Chad Saxton, this full-service studio offers reasonable rates, a room full of gear to work with, and the best in analog and digital recording technology. Rock bands, hip-hop artists, jazz trios and spoken-word performers at all levels of fame and ability get the same treatment at Dryer Plug. The fledgling studio believes in supporting local and national musicians as they grow by producing quality recordings that accommodate a variety of styles and budgets.

OpenAir technically isn't new — it had a good life on the AM dial — but the commercial-free radio station made the big leap to FM this year, and that changed everything. The station's open format allows for a diverse assortment of music programming from the past five decades, but it's OpenAir's contribution to the local scene that is truly groundbreaking. From shows like Mile High Noon, which is devoted solely to local artists, to the regular rotation of Colorado tracks and live sessions featuring key Denver players, locals get heard daily, clearer than ever, on the FM dial.

This is not an underdog story. Gregory Alan Isakov is among Denver's most well-known songwriters, and Laura Goldhamer, who directed the "Amsterdam" video, is a familiar name to anyone with even passing familiarity with the city's creative community. But favorites get that way for a reason, and this clip is proof that both artists deserve their accolades. The song itself is a quiet marvel, and Goldhamer took absolutely no shortcuts in creating a stop-motion accompaniment. In it, a paper Isakov travels the canals of Amsterdam to a strange and beautiful cathedral. There is simplicity and elegance to spare in both the song and the visuals, and they fit together effortlessly.

Readers' choice: "Sizzle Grizzle," The Dendrites

When America was released on New Year's Day 2014, it symbolized a new beginning for the Samples. It was the first album featuring the group's new lineup, and it was recorded and released independently, without any kind of label backing. Sean Kelly wrote his freshest batch of songs in years, imbuing America with the hopeful, thoughtful spirit that has always made the man's music so compelling for so many. The sparkly melodies, broad vistas of sound and impressionistic, poetic wordplay suggest a reinvention and the reclaiming of the ability to dream of a better place.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of