Isaac Slade of the Fray is a buddy of Governor John Hickenlooper's, who is, in turn, a passionate music fan. When Hick recruited Slade to join forces for Take Note Colorado — the governor's initiative to get a musical instrument in the hands of every child in Colorado — the singer couldn't say no, either to his friend or to a cause he felt was important. As a political independent, Slade has relished collaborating with folks on both sides of the aisle on a project that could transform the lives of children statewide.

takenotecolorado.org

It takes more than musicians, record labels and venues to make the music industry. Where and how you hear new sounds depends a lot on companies like Color Wheel Music. The music-placement and -licensing company brings Colorado artists to the national stage, using their tracks in advertisements for the likes of Jack Daniel's, Glad and Bank of Colorado. The company's secret weapon is its founders' experience in the business: All four are musicians themselves, having toured the country in acts like DeVotchKa, the Damnwells and the Fray, and among them, they've got dozens of years of combined experience as music producers, audio engineers and composers. Color Wheel Music's work helps the local music scene find new audiences while doing something truly revolutionary in the digital age: paying artists for their music.

colorwheelmusic.com

Balanced Breakfast began as a music-industry meetup in San Francisco, but the Denver version has been thriving for more than three years. Overseen by musicians Reed Fuchs and Mona Magno, the gathering has found a home at the Mercury Cafe, where anyone is welcome to join in the discussion and share a meal. Each month presents a theme or topic — past breakfasts have tackled music promotion through social media, finding revenue streams for musicians in a digitized world, and the ins and outs of booking tours — and music-biz professionals are brought in to share their knowledge. The idea is to give new and experienced musicians a chance to learn from experts in a no-pressure, non-academic setting. Balanced Breakfast gatherings are free (though it's nice to throw down some cash for coffee or a meal to support the Merc) and open to anyone wanting to learn more about how the music industry functions.

blncdbrkfst.com

Best Food at a Music Venue
Jon Solomon

Nocturne is a superb venue presenting some of the finest in local jazz and the occasional touring act in a lovely RiNo setting. It also offers an impressive food menu that's a step above the fare at similar venues in town. Start off with Nocturne's small plates, or Sound Bites, an array that includes house-made burrata, barramundi ceviche and roasted bison meatballs, then move on to the roster of large plates, with items such as pan-roasted scallops, celery-root gnocchi and muffaletta sliders. There's also the Chef's Daily Composition, which is an improvised dish inspired by seasons, moods and ingredients, and the rotating Renditions Tasting Menu, five courses inspired by iconic albums.

Readers' Choice: Marquis Pizza

Moe's Original Bar-B-Que
Cassandra Kotnik

Although Moe's has multiple locations around town, its Englewood outpost is the only one that brings in live music on a regular basis. And while the barbecue is a big draw here, that doesn't mean the music takes a back seat. Moe's in Englewood sports a good-sized stage and sound system and can hold a few hundred people, and some big names — surf-guitar legend Dick Dale and The Head and the Heart among them — have graced that stage, along with a variety of local talent in genres like punk, metal and blues.

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

At first glance, Ophelia's Electric Soapbox looks like a super-hip restaurant top to bottom. But walk inside and you'll notice a big square hole in the middle of the main floor that opens up to a decent-sized stage and dance floor. While the Justin Cucci-owned venue offers eclectic menus for brunch and dinner and pays homage to its days as a bordello with its sultry decor, live music is clearly a star all on its own here. Stroll in on any given night and enjoy some with your dinner.

Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Mark Antonation

The folks at Black Shirt Brewing clearly take their beer seriously, but when they built a stage out of pallets on their patio a few years ago, they showed they were passionate about music as well. The outdoor live music starts up in March and runs through the summer, with an assortment of acts that play a few nights a week. The brewpub has been hosting bring-your-own-vinyl nights inside on most Thursdays and also occasionally teams up with local record club Vinyl Me, Please to showcase significant albums during listening parties dubbed The Spins!

Lion's Lair
Jon Solomon

The Lion's Lair is equal parts dive bar and music venue. Before a show, the 100-person spot is one of the few remaining classic Denver dives where the drinks are somewhat cheap and the conversation is bound to be colorful, given its Colfax location. But come 9 p.m. or so most nights, when bands start playing, it becomes a different monster entirely. The lineups lean heavy on the punk and rock side, with occasional visits from legendary acts like John Doe, Mike Watt and the Blasters.

The Cruise Room
Ken Hamblin

A visit to the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel feels like a step back in time: The longest continually open bar in Denver has been serving spirits since the day after Prohibition ended. Adding to its allure is a free, recently restored jukebox that plays 45s from Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and more. Order a classic martini from the bar, saunter over to the electric-blue jukebox near the front door, and play something your grandparents would dance to. You'll be partaking in a Denver tradition that dates back nearly ninety years.

Readers' Choice: Sancho's Broken Arrow

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

The rule of thumb for venue restrooms is this: The more nondescript and bare they are, the better. Too much decor and we'll linger, missing precious concert time, and too cluttered or dirty and we'll spend more time avoiding the puke on the floor than taking care of business. Ophelia's bathrooms somehow hit the sweet spot of having just enough character to stand out and being comfortable enough to serve as a retreat from all the chaos outside the door. They're clean and private, everything works, there are ample ledges in the men's rooms to hold beers, and the stall doors are made of rulers. Think you'll measure up?

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