Best Outdoor Venue 2018 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

There are many excellent things about Red Rocks Amphitheatre, one of the most striking places in the world to see a concert outdoors. But the venue just keeps getting better, with an expanded concert season that gives music lovers even more opportunities to enjoy their favorite acts in a spectacular natural setting. While previous seasons have generally run from May until September, this year's Red Rocks calendar is jam-packed from the third week in April to late October, showcasing a wide range of talent that includes locals Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Gregory Alan Isakov and Big Gigantic.

Readers' Choice: Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Joel Rekiel

Part of Levitt Pavilion's mission is to build community through free music and education, and the outdoor amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park started doing exactly that when it opened last July with an inaugural concert from Slim Cessna's Auto Club. The venue will host fifty free family-friendly concerts this season, which means fifty chances to check out a variety of local and national acts in a gorgeous lawn setting with an awesome view of the Denver skyline. When not being used for Levitt's concert season, the amphitheater is available to schools, arts organizations and other nonprofits.

Denver has long been an incubator for musical talent, and venues like the Oriental Theater really facilitate the scene. A team of booking agents packs the Oriental's calendar with live music, comedy, burlesque, live podcast tapings, film festivals, fundraisers and more, with most events having a local tie-in or including local talent. The music- and business-savvy team running this vintage venue has its finger on the pulse of the local creative community and knows how important it is to support artists at every level, giving new and established acts a chance to perform. Artists can aspire to playing the Oriental's bigger stage without worrying about having the right connections to do so. As corporations control more of Denver's music scene, the Northside gem continues to work hard for the community by creating a welcoming space where arts and music can flourish.

Anthony Camera

Despite much ado from the city about its support of DIY spaces, most that were here before the 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland remain shuttered, and the few that have reopened are operating on the down-low, preferring to stay out of the spotlight. In the face of such changes, Seventh Circle Music Collective maintains its reign as Denver's strongest and longest-running aboveground DIY space. Booking more shows than some of the city's major clubs (up to five a week), the west-side venue is housed in a garage run by a motley crew of punks. The 2018 Westword MasterMind winner provides a home for local acts looking for a break as well as major and utterly obscure touring bands that prefer to play outside the bar circuit.

Readers' Choice: Upstairs Circus

Oakland l. Childers

A great all-ages venue does more than set — or do away with — age parameters. It cultivates a space where people can engage in cultural offerings without being judged for being too young to drink or too old to be hip. No space in Denver maintains that kind of energy like Mutiny Information Cafe, which has hosted dozens of concerts from national and local bands, book readings, live podcast recordings and more. Metal, jazz, folk and hip-hop artists and fans have all found a home at Mutiny, where they can sip coffee, play pinball, and browse comics, vinyl and books between sets.

Readers' Choice: Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Best Place to Find the Future of the Music Business

Youth on Record

Brandon Marshall

For the past decade, Youth on Record has been changing the course of many Denver Public Schools students who are on the brink of dropping out by bringing music and activism together in the form of educational programming for school credit, taught in classrooms and at its own recording space, the Youth Media Studio. Recently, the organization has taken this approach to the next level with a ten-month fellowship program, which digs into music as a business while teaching financial literacy, marketing strategies and more to the next generation of the music industry. Emcee, poet, performer and scholar Molina Speaks guides and supports ambitious musicians and producers — with an emphasis on amplifying the voices of young people of color — as they learn the ins and outs of an often opaque industry. The students write and track their own goals, and at the end of the program receive a financial reward to put toward future professional goals. Youth on Record knows that in a growing city like Denver, cultivating homegrown talent is good for any business — and that includes music.

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.

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.

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.

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

Best Of Denver®

Best Of