Best Revived Jukebox 2017 | Cruise Room | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
The Cruise Room

Not much in the Oxford Hotel's resident bar has changed since it opened the day after Prohibition ended — except for the jukebox, which was out of commission for years. It came back to life recently after a thirty-year lease on the bar (and the adjacent, now-defunct McCormick & Schmick's) ran out and hotel owner Sage Hospitality's restaurant group finally assumed control of the Cruise Room. Sage acted fast, recruiting longtime jukebox repairman Jim Francis to tune the beauty back to life. Now she spits out 45s from Nat King Cole, Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra, among other classic artists.

Brennen Bryarly has built a bit of an electronic-dance music empire over the past several years. Bryarly releases house music as Option4 and has organized shows locally and nationally that offer an array of dance-oriented artists. And every year since 2014, he's put his wide net of contacts and great musical taste to use at Cloak & Dagger. The now-established EDM festival at City Hall and Vinyl brings together commercial and underground acts, and Bryarly invites both local and national performers. Nowhere in Denver is the EDM scene more diverse, or more alive, than at this festival.

Damian Burford had been organizing and booking shows for years in both Colorado Springs and Denver. He used to work with the Triple Nickel Tavern, a famed punk-rock venue in the Springs, which gave him the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the music industry, from booking to organizing a show with integrity. When he moved to Denver, Burford remained connected to the music world through his Mostly Harmless podcast. He even booked shows occasionally, though not in any official capacity. A chance conversation with a friend at The Fest, a punk-music festival in Florida, inspired Burford to try his hand at organizing a festival of his own. Working with Vincent Fasano of 3 Kings Tavern, Burford was able to pull off Don't Panic!, a bona fide, small-scale yet well-attended festival at various South Broadway venues, headlined by Off With Their Heads and Chicago punk legends Pegboy. The festival will return to Denver next year.

Heavy Dose Records head Brian Castillo and Reed Bruemmer of the band Poison Rites came up in Denver's underground music scene, regularly catching shows at local dive bars and DIY venues. Eventually they joined forces to re-create that small-venue neighborhood vibe at a musical festival they'd both want to attend. Scheduled in the summer across four days at venues between Larimer Lounge and Meadowlark Bar, Rocky Mountain Low brings together legendary punk bands like DRI with exciting underground bands including Protomartyr, Echo Beds and Hide.

Steve "Faceman" Schnepel always puts on ambitious concerts. Even his bar shows involve some kind of elaborate costuming or set design — like when he turned the stage at Lost Lake Lounge into a giant shark's mouth a few years back. Last November, Schnepel helped organize Faceman's 100 Year Storm, which took inspiration from epic storms that dump tons of snow on a city. The festival presented live performances by a hundred bands at a single venue (the Oriental) over the course of two days. Somehow, the logistical nightmare all worked, and Schnepel is expected to put on the crazed event again this year.

Mutiny Information Cafe has always been a home for misfits and rebels, so it makes sense that it would host the annual Mile High Parley anti-music-festival festival. Located smack-dab in the middle of a certain other, larger, more well-known music gathering that takes place on South Broadway each summer, the Parley takes an accessible, all-ages, punk approach. Hosting local acts on stages indoors and out all weekend long, this counter-fest highlights the underground music scene and all its weirdos and freaks.

The tiny, picturesque city of Niwot, situated near Longmont and Erie in Boulder County, is as well known for Chief Niwot's Curse as for anything else: Legend has it that the chief puts a curse on any resident of the city who tries to relocate. Fortunately, those who stick around out of fear have a great little jazz festival to keep them occupied. Jazz on 2nd Avenue takes over the main strip in town, and last year's lineup included Liquid Soul and Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band. Sure, some local and school bands play, too, but the musical quality on display is still exemplary. Taking place in September, when the weather is nice but not stifling, Jazz on 2nd Ave is Niwot's crazy little secret.

Textures got off the ground at the now-defunct Gypsy House Cafe, where it happened semi-regularly for five years. Now held at Mutiny Information Cafe every last Sunday of the month, it showcases the breadth and depth of the area's ambient music scene. The brainchild of Wesley Davis of bios+a+ic, the series remains relevant by not sticking to a strict definition of the ambient genre, having included modular-synth wizards like Kuxaan Sum, musique concrète artists like Victoria Lundy, and internationally known visual-synthesis pioneer Mark Mosher.

Theresa Mercado has long organized unique film series, hosting events at the now-defunct Crash 45 and the Alamo Drafthouse. Most recently, Mercado has been hard at work on Scream Screen, a month-long event at the Sie FilmCenter that presents modern horror classics and performances from bands like Echo Beds, Vought and Denver Broncos UK. The mementos that Mercado hands out at the end of the night, whether small figurines she made herself or buttons with touches from the just-screened film, set these events apart. Not one to shy away from theatrics, Mercado likes to play the part, as well: For this year's showing of The Brood, for example, she dressed as Samantha Eggar's character and reenacted the scene in which Eggar licks the afterbirth off her mutant baby.

A parent's musical world can feel pretty grim at times; there are days when you'd almost kill for something even a little meatier than another rendition of "The Ants Go Marching." That's why the 45-minute Tiny Tots program from Inside the Orchestra is perfect for all ages. Accompanied by parents and other adults, children sit on the floor (at History Colorado, Boettcher Concert Hall or other fabulous locations) and are surrounded by Tiny Tots' thirty-piece-plus professional orchestra. As the music plays, the conductor talks directly to the little ones, asking them questions and walking them through the experience. Afterward, they have a chance to meet the musicians and get a little closer to the instruments. Even better? Admission is a mere suggested donation of $9.95.

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