By now, the Brothers of Brass — a group of musicians from across the country who've found a home in Denver — have been making beautiful noise for several years, becoming a staple of the Mile High City experience. Led by the booming tuba of Khalil Simon, this traveling horn and percussion party weaves together the music of everyone from Beethoven to Aaliyah to Gary Glitter. Get caught up in their wandering soirée in the heart of LoDo as a Rockies game lets out, dance along to their mesmerizing music on the steps of the Denver Performing Arts Complex or see them live at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom. The Brothers' signature Southern sound has permeated central Denver and found a way to charm crowds on stages and in the streets.

Melz Staccz wants to be known as the top female rapper in Colorado, and she's actually one of the best rappers in the state — which is a real accomplishment for a recent transplant from Chicago who's only been making music for a few years. While she's based in Colorado Springs and has built a following there, she's started making waves up and down the Front Range, including in Denver. With an eye toward collaboration and a mix of turnt-up dance hits and introspective songs, Staccz is winning fans across the hip-hop spectrum.

Standing out in this area's crowded rock scene is a tough thing to do. But in just a couple of years, Oxeye Daisy has won over a glut of fans and is poised to be Denver's next breakout act, if the young rockers were to ever hit the road. Led by Lela Roy, whose wild vocal range is put to use on the band's self-titled 2018 debut, Oxeye Daisy writes and plays fun, danceable pop that covers the emotional spectrum. The band, which has been performing at small venues throughout town, recently dropped a stunning cover of the Cranberries "Dreams" with fellow rockers Tyto Alba. We can't wait to see what's next.

Rapper Ray Reed has had about as much success as a Denver musician can have without breaking out of the Mile High market: He's headlined the Bluebird, dropped albums, played the big local festivals and developed an outstanding image, sound and fan base. So after hitting the ceiling, he decided to combine his clout with that of other artists, including Gmally, Keem Veggies, Mojo Goon, Eband$ and Tha Ape. The result: Finesse Gang, nine artists who work to promote each others' shows, perform together and generally build up the local rap scene. They even run a fashion line. Denver might have great musicians, but Reed's building a music movement.

With bands like Allout Helter and Cheap Perfume fighting bigots of all stripes through their lyrics, it would be easy to think Colorado's anti-fascist music scene is synonymous with punk. But this year, a new voice joined the ranks decrying hatred and violence. Lolita Castañeda's debut single, "Toda Mi Gente," is an optimistic, bilingual pop banger that addresses pressing social issues such as police violence, gun safety and the rise of the racist right. While the song tackles hard topics, it's also joyful. Castañeda, who got her start as a vocalist with the hip-hop group 2MX2, has taken her time releasing solo material, and the wait has been worth it.

Best Musician for Prisons, Politics and Protégés

Kalyn Heffernan

Best Musician for Prisons, Politics and Protégés
Anthony Camera

Kalyn Heffernan is tireless. She's performed inside prisons, on Native American reservations and in community centers, rapping about gentrification, police brutality and disability rights. As if that weren't enough, the MC is now running in a heated mayoral race and forcing politicians to talk about many of the issues she's spent years writing songs about. She's foul-mouthed, tough as nails and, most of all, a champion of up-and-coming musicians, including those she mentors at the music education nonprofit Youth on Record. Heffernan and her band, Wheelchair Sports Camp, represent the best of Denver's music scene: They're creative, optimistic, boldly original, and they engage with their community.

There are a number of groups in town run by do-gooders in the music industry funding everything from education initiatives to nonprofits. One of the latest on the scene, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' Marigold Project, spent 2018 organizing benefit concerts for everything from gun-safety groups to refugees to people experiencing homelessness. Headed up through 7S Management by Kari Nott, a veteran of Willie Nelson's Farm Aid, Rateliff's foundation also provided funding last year to 25 nonprofits and community groups, from the Harm Reduction Action Center to the Black Mesa Water Coalition. Thanks to the Night Sweats' advocacy work, Denver has a reputation for having a good music scene in more ways than one.

Denver's always running from its cowtown roots — and that's too bad. An urban island in an ocean of farmland, mountains and small towns, this city could be a country-music capital like Nashville or Austin. That's why hi-dive co-owner Curtis Wallach, who plays in Hang Rounders, decided to jump-start the local country scene with a new music promotion company, Queen City Country & Western, which shines a little light on Denver's country bands. The company, modeled after Grouphug records, already represents six acts, including Casey James Prestwood & the Burning Angels, Jennifer Jane Niceley and Extra Gold, with plans to add more.

Best Of Denver®

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