Best Indie Booker 2016 | Madeline Johnston | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

As a talent buyer for Syntax Physic Opera and a resident of Denver DIY treasure Rhinoceropolis, Madeline Johnston has a serious stake in the local music scene. Unafraid to mix it up, she takes venue booking to the next level, curating shows based on raw sound rather than genre. A typical Johnston bill might include an experimental electronic act, a jazz quartet and a hip-hop artist all sharing the stage (or floor). Johnston's intentional soundscapes provide an atypical experience for show-goers — bar crowds and warehouse regulars alike. An active musician who also runs cassette-tape label Tinyamp Records, Johnston is fully immersed in the music that's happening right now, allowing her to put together some of the freshest and most interesting concerts in the metro area. Fans might go to a show to see their favorite rock band and discover a noise artist they've never heard of — all because of this promoter's ingenuity.

Brandon Marshall

While the Denver Botanic Gardens' summer concert series is a decades-old tradition, Swallow Hill, which took over booking, producing and promoting the concerts there in 2010, has helped turn the series — which also includes a few shows a year at the DBG's Chatfield location — into a universally sold-out affair. The 2015 series boasted a wildly diverse lineup that included local legendary bluegrass outfit Hot Rize, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Boz Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Culture Club, Melissa Etheridge, Ziggy Marley, Gipsy Kings, and a stop on Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club's final tour.

Throwing an inaugural local-acts-only music festival into the middle of a festival-saturated summer is a daunting task, but no one pulled it off better than the Bluebird District Musical Festival. Highlighting the wonderful, tiny venues lining the Bluebird District along East Colfax Avenue, the BDMF provided a weekend that was the perfect antidote for music fans already suffering from festival fatigue. It was casual and curated with care, with every stage offering eclectic, talented local acts.

The owner of Syntax Physic Opera, Jonathan Bitz, prefers the term "host" or "concierge" to "door guy," which tells you something about the attention to detail and ambience here. And indeed, inside you'll find medicinal herbs in the cocktails, portraits of frontier-era civil-rights heroes on the walls, pistols in glass cases and an eclectic array of offerings on stage. It takes a certain kind of patience and charisma to stand at the threshold of such a place, and Syntax's Yves Rhone has both in spades. You'll find Rhone there every Friday and Saturday night, stylishly dressed and setting the tempo. Finding himself with a sudden vacancy about a year ago, Bitz hired Rhone on the spot on the strength of some trusted recommendations, and Rhone has been all we could hope for in a host: conversational, unflappable, and more than capable of preparing you for what's beyond the atrium.

Grabbing the mike for karaoke is usually something that requires one more shot of tequila or the loss of a bet — unless, of course, you're at Armida's. The Mexican restaurant has been a Denver favorite for over twenty years, drawing huge crowds for karaoke seven days a week. While the more "professional" karaoke singers take the stage upstairs, patrons can expect drunken Salt-N-Pepa renditions and Backstreet Boys impersonators on the main stage. With two happy hours a day, Armida's provides the perfect atmosphere to let your hair down and pretend you're Selena — if only for one night.

Readers' choice: Armida's
Chris Cone
The Buffalo Rose's exterior after its 2018 remodel.

There really is no other place in metro Denver quite like the Buffalo Rose. Because the Rose is hidden away in Golden, you really have to want to get there — but on the plus side, parking is easy. The venue generally hosts either rhythm-and-blues gigs or hair-metal shows put on by local group Wolfpack Productions, and it's all perfect. The guy working the door looks like he's spent some time in biker gangs, the bar staff wears the same leather gear they wore in 1988, and there's a dude propped up against the wall in cowboy boots and leopard-print pants who just might have been in Pretty Boy Floyd. The place is a joy: The sound is spot on, and you get a good view of the stage from just about anywhere. And where else do you get to see bands like Faster Pussycat, Danger Danger and motherfucking Winger?

The thing about glammy, sleazy hair metal is that in 2016, it's just about the least-cool genre of music you can be involved in. Hell, in 1993 it was the least-cool genre of music that you could be involved in. That's why, in our book, the musicians who have soldiered on while trends have risen and fallen — all the while spraying that product into thinning hair and keeping that gut in check — should be applauded. Grind Cat Grind still opens for just about every former Sunset Strip idol that comes our way, and is still killing it night after night. Some of the members even moonlight in a hair-metal tribute band called Mr. Steak, offering double the fun. Shame on you for laughing: Grind Cat Grind's set is chock-full of excellent anthemic rock and roll, and the bandmembers don't give a crap about what's charting. Gentlemen, we salute you.

At this point, everybody in Denver should know how talented Kalyn Heffernan is. The MC with the sharp wit and sharper tongue has got flow for days, and she's an artist first and foremost. Yet it's impossible to ignore the fact that the rapper's also got a keen eye for an outfit. We even ran a photo gallery in 2014 of every outfit Kalyn wore at SXSW, and each one was a head-turner. Whether she's rocking a glamorous dress, a pair of jeans with a tattered jacket and a porkpie hat or Adidas high-tops and a baseball cap, Heffernan makes it work.

With matching leather jackets stitched with "Denver Rock City, USA," songs about Kitty's South and lyrics like "We'll play the hi-dive until the day we die," there's no band that shows more love for its adopted home town than Bud Bronson & the Good Timers. The punk rockers are all too aware of Denver's bro-and-beer culture, and they manage to both embrace and mock it (see "Vapedemic" and "Beer Commercial") with love. Denver-centric songs may not be the path to national success, but then again, Bud Bronson has never wanted to win over the country — just the rowdy South Broadway crowds.

The best music video this year was also probably the bloodiest. Hard rockers the Yawpers released American Man this year, which garnered national attention and the insane video for the single "Doing It Right." The video starts with the main character slitting his wrists, and from there it goes to a cut-off penis, a car chase, and a cameo by Absolute Vinyl owner Doug Gaddy. It's violent and intriguing, and it perfectly represents the Yawpers' balls-to-the-wall attitude. Oh, and the song itself is top-notch, too.

Readers' choice: "S.O.B.," Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

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