Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
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.
How fast is Denver changing? Head to Sheridan Boulevard at sunrise and look east across Sloan's Lake, where you'll first see the sun peeking through the downtown high-rises, then its rays glinting off a dozen cranes all in the process of transforming the city's skyline, particularly to the south along West Colfax Avenue. The scene is so startling, you might find yourself needing a drink. Fortunately, the Lakeview Lounge at 2375 Sheridan opens at 7 a.m.
Caught between the busy arteries of Federal Boulevard to the east and the Sixth Avenue freeway to the north, Barnum Park can be easy to miss. But this hilly green space is a treasure on the west side, home to multiple baseball diamonds, an off-road bike course, a dog park and plenty of places to picnic. It also offers some of the best views in the city, particularly from the pedestrian bridge that crosses the freeway. Here at dusk, you can lean back and watch Colorado's legendary sunshine dissipate, bouncing off downtown's endlessly growing skyline. Give thanks that you're not one of those poor souls below, stuck in our now equally legendary gridlock.
It's short, but oh, so, sweet to see a herd of more than a hundred Texas Longhorn cattle moseying along 17th Street, reminding this city of its not-so-long-ago days as a cowtown. The annual kickoff to the National Western Stock Show on the first or second Thursday in January includes marching bands, chuckwagons, old cars, cowboys, cowgirls and maybe even a few llamas heading from Union Station down to Broadway. There's a barbecue lunch that benefits the 4-H International Youth Group, but you don't need to ante up for that in order to kick up your cowboy-booted heels. The city's National Western Complex may be undergoing a billion-dollar transformation, but this time-honored, free tradition shows how the West was fun!
Readers' Choice: Levitt Pavilion
There's a lot to see under that gold dome. Some impressive architecture, for starters, in addition to the permanent displays of stained glass, portraits, photographs, quilts and flags. The Capitol also hosts rotating exhibits provided by Colorado Creative Industries, including the current Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways show, celebrating the program that marks its thirtieth anniversary this year. Climb the stairs for a good look at the native stone used to build the Capitol, then keep climbing to Mr. Brown's attic, a 2,000-square-foot gallery between the third floor and the dome, dedicated to the history of the Capitol building, with pictures and artifacts that tell the story of the building from its beginnings — when developer Henry C. Brown donated the land — to today.
Readers' Choice: Denver Distillery
Denver has a host of overblown festivals offering big bands, good food and plenty of shopportunities. But Temple Tantrum, a block party that debuted over last Labor Day weekend outside the Temple art space at 24th and Curtis streets, offered the city something different: an experimental, immersive art, music and comics festival that brought together the best of Denver's DIY creative scene. Organized by Temple ringleader Lewis Neeff, with funding from community donations and Meow Wolf, the inaugural event was headlined by Pictureplane and Plantrae. A 2019 reboot has yet to be announced; if this festival doesn't reappear, we'll pitch an unholy tantrum.
Readers' Choice: Great Mexican Beer Fiesta
Every fall, the Westwood Chile Fest transforms Morrison Road, the busy thoroughfare that cuts diagonally through southwest Denver, into a street festival celebrating the cuisine, culture and citizens of this community. Put on by neighborhood-centered nonprofit BuCu West, the fest is a hyper-local showcase of the best in the 'hood, presenting performances by Aztec, Vietnamese and indigenous American dancers as well as local rock and hip-hop acts. Dozens of local artists showcase their work alongside booths of fresh produce grown locally through the Re:Vision co-op and artisanal goods made at the Kitchen Network, Morrison Road's commissary kitchen and small-business incubator. But the highlight of the day comes when the fest really turns up the heat, as brave challengers attempt to down the hottest chiles they can handle, from jalapeños to ghost peppers.
Only in Coolorado. Every March, the mountain town of Nederland celebrates its most notorious, and definitely dead, resident: Bredo Morstol, who's been frozen in a state of suspended animation in a Tuff Shed high above the town for more than two decades. To honor this icy immigrant, thousands of revelers gather at what's billed as the state's "most frigidly fun festival" for three days of live bands, coffin races, polar plunging, ice turkey bowling, hearse parades, plenty of antifreeze (alcohol) and lots of international attention. Sadly, the 2019 festival might have been the last: Organizer and owner Amanda MacDonald says she's ready for a break. No word from Grandpa Bredo, though.
A Taste of Colorado has gone through many changes since it was introduced in 1983 as an addendum to the resurrected Festival of Mountain and Plain, which debuted in Denver's Civic Center Park in 1895 and had disappeared by 1912. While the revived Mountain and Plain portion of the Labor Day weekend celebration soon disappeared in a deluge of turkey legs and bad has-been bands, the Taste of Colorado became an annual tradition in Denver, even if mocking it as the "Waste of Colorado" became a tradition, too. But all that changed last year, when the Downtown Denver Partnership decided to give the Taste a facelift, booking far better bands and adding a VIP experience, moves that just earned A Taste of Colorado fourth place in USA Today's contest for the best food festivals in the country. The changes will continue at the 2019 festival, set for August 31 through September 2, with expanded food offerings and more vendors. One thing hasn't changed, though: It's still free to get a Taste.
While both longtime festivals (People's Fair) and newbies (Grandoozy) are taking a break in 2019, Larimer Square's Chalk Art Festival continues to make its mark on Denver. The event that starts on Saturday, June 1, this year will be the seventeenth annual festival, a free, two-day street-painting party during which hundreds of artists turn Larimer Square into an outdoor gallery filled with stunning, if temporary, works of art. Like so many Denver institutions, Larimer Square is examining its options...but no matter what else its future might hold, we're certain it will involve fistfuls of colorful chalk.
Readers' Choice: Underground Music Showcase
Jeff Lee and Ann Martin, longtime booksellers at the Tattered Cover, were on a book-buying trip in Wales in the ’90s when they came upon St. Deiniol's Residential Library. That started their dream of creating a residential library in Colorado, one where they could donate the tens of thousands of books they'd been collecting on the people and land of the West. The result was the Rocky Mountain Land Library, which is creating a home for many of those books at Buffalo Peaks Ranch in Park County. Closer to home, Lee and Martin just opened a branch in Globeville, which is not only stocked with plenty of books, but is also booking author appearances, classes and other special events.
Denver native Kali Fajardo-Anstine grew up in a family of storytellers steeped in Chicano culture, who migrated north from the San Luis Valley. As an adult, she's carrying on that family tradition with her first published collection of short stories, Sabrina & Corina, a spin on how heritage is ingrained in a new generation of Latinas with indigenous roots. Gorgeous storytelling, Fajardo-Anstine's birthright, is what makes her freshman collection so compelling — and an instant classic of multicultural literature.