Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
One of the last of the endangered Colfax dive bars, the Lion's Lair has been a celebrated punk-rock venue for almost thirty years. But it's also been host to something even more brutal and hardcore: open-mic comedy. A vital training ground for Denver standups, the Lion's Lair is where local legends such as Ben Kronberg and the Grawlix performed their earliest sets and where the current generation of aspirants go to have their dreams nurtured and crushed in equal measure. Founded over a decade ago by Troy Baxley, the open mic has cycled through a series of guest hosts but always maintained its spirit of benevolent chaos, a tradition carried on by current stewards Roger Norquist and Westword's own Byron Graham. A cultural institution that harks back to a bygone Denver, the Lion's Lair open mic is unusually fraught with absurd occurrences, like a mid-show seance or a comic being heckled by his future wife. Sign-up begins at 10 p.m. every Monday night.
You expect to check out books and movies from the local library, but did you know you can also check out experiences? If you have a Denver Public Library card, you can visit the DPL's website to book a free pass to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver or the History Colorado Center up to thirty days in advance. Each museum offers different plans for families, but they typically start with free admission for two adults; at the DMNS, the one-day membership also includes discounts on ticketed exhibits and IMAX shows. You're more of the outdoorsy type? You can also check out a free, one-week Colorado State Park pass and activity backpack at any DPL branch. Way to go.
Readers' Choice: City Park Jazz
The National Center for Atmospheric Research offers plenty of ways to expand your brain while exercising the other muscles in your body. Noon tours on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays provide primers on atmospheric science and current NCAR research, and free tablets loaded with audio, videos and additional content are available as well. Visitors can also conduct self-guided tours of the facility's sprawling campus; our favorite jaunt is the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, which offers signage explaining wind, cold fronts, climate zones and even the notorious brown cloud along a nearly half-mile loop. But you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing: All of these options are free.
Readers' Choice: Coors Brewery
Natives and transplants alike can get a crash course in all things local by exploring History Colorado's tours (two- to six-hour jaunts around the metro area that might involve walks, bikes or buses) and treks (overnight trips to areas fifty miles or more away from Denver). Many facets of the state's history and culture await: walking tours of Denver alley art or its lesser-known parks; an overnight canoe trip on the Colorado River; a visit to Sugar Beet Days in Sterling; tea at Cherokee Ranch Castle; the wineries of Grand Junction — the list goes on, and with a little advance planning, so can you.
Who says the best things in Denver have to be shiny and new? Riverside Cemetery is the city's oldest functioning cemetery, located between the Platte River, the train tracks and the industrial Northside. But what makes this spot, where many of Denver's founders are buried, so remarkable is the diversity of tombstones. Sure, there are plenty of standard rectangles, and the more recently people were buried, the less interesting their markers seem to be. But go back in history and you'll see remarkable horses, life-sized sculptures of city founders, a decidedly not-religious tree stump, puzzling babies, a tombstone to a Serbian soldier that looks something like a hot-air balloon, and so much more.
Lakeside Amusement Park's storied past never fails to amuse its faithful fans. A true place of mystery on the northwest edge of town, Lakeside has always played second banana to the tonier Elitch Gardens (inasmuch as an amusement park can be tony), but that's what makes it so charming: It's a place stuck in time, a neon anachronism that's slowly crumbling (physically, even, after a car recently crashed into a parking structure next to the welcoming Lakeside tower). Author David Forsyth endeavored to put that charm and mystery into words by digging deep into the park's history for Denver's Lakeside Amusement Park ($34.95, University Press of Colorado), a fun read that uncovers Lakeside's untold stories.
Those who were teenagers in the '80s and '90s may remember collecting funny and edgy print publications like Adbusters and MAD magazine and plastering your bedroom walls with torn-out photographs from their pages. Denver's Birdy aims to re-create that culture with original, often humorous art pieces printed on high-quality matte paper. Even the advertisements are custom-created by artists known to Birdy editors Jonny DeStefano and Christy Thacker. Since launching in 2014, the free monthly publication — distributed in such trendy spots as Twist & Shout and Pablo's Coffee — has developed a cult following. It's even become a favorite of DEVO's Mark Mothersbaugh, who has contributed his own art pieces, as well as a platform for writers of both fiction and creative nonfiction. Each issue is numbered and meant to be collected; be sure to grab a copy as soon as you see one at the beginning of each month; they disappear quickly.
Denver has more than its fair share of engrossing storytelling events, including the Narrators at Buntport Theater and StorySLAM competitions hosted by the Moth. Amber Blais wanted to create something different, and she's succeeded with Raconteur Denver, held every two months in a different location around the Mile High City, including bars and art galleries. While these nights start out, as the others do, with a pre-selected list of storytellers, the spotlight is then ceded to audience members.The idea is that one story often inspires another, and so people who might not have thought of a particular experience to share may hear something that reminds them of a relevant story. Raconteur Denver also records the evenings and reproduces them as a podcast, but they're more fun in person. Consider that upcoming themes this year include "Spectacular Failures," "Tales of the Tour," "Pets" and "Lost and(or) Found."
BreckCreate aims a little higher than the usual mountain-town arts organization, taking simple "festivals" to new levels. WAVE, an early-season spectacle inspired by Scottsdale's Canal Convergence that debuted in Breckenridge last summer, spread interactive artworks and music throughout the town, inviting tourists and townies alike to experience a big-city art experience at a higher elevation. WAVE will return this year on June 1, bringing another round of exciting water projections and adventures in light and sound to Breckenridge as it gears back up for the summer season.
Readers' Choice: Punching Mule Music Festival
Suzi Q Smith is a slam poet, spoken-word artist, teacher, activist, author and performer, and her fierceness with words is matched only by her drive to bring the world of slam poetry to Denver. The founding slam master of Denver's own Slam Nuba team and executive director of Poetry Slam Inc., she's won national championships herself, and thanks to her efforts, the 2017 National Poetry Slam will be held in various venues throughout Five Points this summer, bringing poets from across the country to the Mile High City. Thanks to the work and wisdom of artists like Smith, Denver has secured its place as a proud and supportive hub for a long-overlooked but deserving arts and culture community.
Do you love the smell of aerosol in the morning? Do you realize that street art is so much more than graffiti? Then you'll have a crush on Crush. Now heading into its seventh year, the festival welcomes over eighty local, national and international street artists who paint walls in RiNo spanning the ten blocks from 2500 Larimer Street up to 35th Street and sometimes beyond — all with the property owners' blessing. Crush founder Robin Munro has been working hard to push the RiNo Art District as a leader in the urban arts scene — not just in this state, but in the country — and many street-art legends have made their mark at Crush, including Tats Cru, Woes, David Shillinglaw, Lauren YS, Max Sansing, Dulk 1, Blaine Fontana, Birdcap, Scribe, Jose Mertz, Sense, Rodwasworld, Elle Street Art, Shalak Attack and Bruno. Crush usually crushes it for two weekends in September; watch westword.com/arts for an announcement of Crush 2017 dates.
Readers' Choice: Great American Beer Festival
After pop-culture dreamer Charlie La Greca parted ways with Denver Comic Con, which he co-founded, he turned his sights on something more community-oriented and artist-friendly — a more manageable, true-hearted comic con that allowed fans to get face-to-face with comic creators. The Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo might not break attendance records or send cosplayers in droves out into the streets of downtown Denver, but its first installment last spring at the Sherman Street Event Center was a small miracle. This year's followup will take over the McNichols Building, with special guests the Hernandez Brothers of Love and Rockets fame, Kitchen Sink Press founder and underground comic artist Denis Kitchen, Denver expat Noah Van Sciver and dozens of other independent comic artists from near and far, as well as a fresh trove of comix, small-press publications and zines.