Michael Emery Hecker

Celebrating its twentieth anniversary as a concert space under the Fillmore name, Live Nation's mid-sized Colfax Avenue auditorium — once a skating rink and an electric-car factory — received a stunning upgrade. The Fillmore's wide-open space was graced with three new elevated tiers of seating, creating vastly improved sightlines to the stage. Upgrades to the sound system deliver bright acoustics to every seat in the house, and added doors have created a smoother entrance and exit for the crowds. The most crucial improvement — which came after years of complaints about endless lines — is the addition of more restrooms, so concert-goers can spend less time doing the pee-pee dance and more time enjoying the show.

Scott Lentz

It's difficult to explain what makes the photo booth at the hi-dive so wondrous. It's sort of magical, in that it consistently spits out better photos of your face than you imagined anyone could take. It's a very straightforward, no-bullshit photographic endeavor: two strips, full color, no dumb frames to choose from. Plus it's intimate in a clown-car sort of way, spitting distance from the bar, and allows just enough time between shots for maximum spontaneous creativity. There's little you can't do in front of that camera's lens: Abandoned strips around the venue demonstrate patrons' love of getting a bit naked, pulling faces and — of course — making out inside. Say cheese.

Courtesy ReCreative Denver Facebook page

The idea behind Head Room Sessions is simple: Local musicians perform live within an intimate gallery space, and the set is filmed. But these mini-concerts documenting the best of the local music scene are so much more, providing participating musicians with a video and audio recording of their work, professional photographs and a write-up — all components needed to pitch their work to booking agents. Curator Elle Naef is also set on bringing together Denver's many music scenes so that artists can meet, mingle, and maybe one day collaborate.

Theresa Mercado doesn't take horror movies lightly. The slasher-film guru has programmed the Scream Screen series for more than a decade, delighting and horrifying audiences along the way. But her cultural expertise goes beyond film, as Mercado brings Denver's best experimental musicians in for pre-show, mood-enhancing sets at the Sie FilmCenter. Acts like Blood Loss, Echo Beds, City Hunter and DJ Sara Splatter have set the tone for events like the Scream Screen Scream-A-Thon, when Mercado played all four Scream films back to back, or the weeks-long Birthday "Slash-ebration" series honoring Tobe Hooper, director and producer of such classics as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, The Funhouse and more.

Best Free Local Music at a Surprising Location


Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

Some of the best venues pop up in unlikely places, and BarFly, at the Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake, continues to be a nice surprise on West Colfax. The bar has built a fine reputation in a short time, creating a space for local musicians to play to both all-ages and 21-plus crowds. In addition, BarFly hosts live comedy, drag-queen bingo and a vaudeville-esque revival show, and it's the home stage for the Black Actors Guild's famed monthly "Show Ya Teef" improv showcase. The best part? The programming is free, complemented by a cordial bar staff, and the spot offers plenty of seating that includes ridiculously comfortable couches.

Hosted by local singer-songwriter and musician Anthony Ruptak every Tuesday night, the Syntax Songwriter's Open Mic is both impressive and approachable — no small feat for a popular event at one of Denver's premier independent venues. The event allows musicians of all stripes to perform, backed by some of the sharpest sound engineers in town. Put yourself out there or join others in the supportive Syntax crowd while some of Denver's brightest musicians — both old and new — try out new material and take big risks.

Readers' Choice: Freak Train at the Bug Theatre

Swallow Hill Music

The folks at Swallow Hill Music, which celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, cannot get enough of the ukulele. For the past decade, they've hosted Denver Ukefest, a three-day festival showcasing all things uke, including workshops, master classes and performances from some of the country's top players. While the annual shindig is a top-notch gathering of uke players, Swallow Hill's music program celebrates the instrument year-round, with classes and workshops that teach everything from basic chords to improvisation. On the third and fifth Saturdays of every month, Swallow Hill also hosts Denver Uke Community, a gathering open to all levels of players.

Wildwood Guitars in downtown Louisville is relatively small, particularly compared to a big-box retailer like Guitar Center. While there's a decent selection of guitars, amps and effects in the main shop, a good portion of the store's stock is in its warehouse next door. The shop boasts the world's largest inventory of Fender Custom Shop handcrafted guitars, including ones made specifically for the store, like the Dealer Select Wildwood "10." Peruse the website to see the dozens of new, used and vintage guitars Wildwood carries before going into the store to try them out.

The last time Tom Waits played Denver was twenty years ago, and the last time he toured was more than a decade ago. The chances of the man actually performing here again seem pretty slim. But fans can see the Waits tribute band Lost Dog Ensemble on a regular basis around Denver. Lost Dog frontman Dave Dinsmore gets pretty damned close to the gravel and grit of Waits's signature vocals while channeling the legend's mannerisms, and the rest of the band does justice to Waits's vast catalogue, particularly songs from Rain Dogs, Mule Variations and Bone Machine.


As a musician, sound engineer and talent buyer, Randall Frazier has always been about taking local venues to the next level. Over the past few years the booker ha s elevated the profile of Ophelia's Electric Soapbox, filling the venue's calendar with hip-hop, jazz, rock and some of the most experimental sounds you'll find at any bar in LoDo. But Frazier is also part of the reason that concerts at Ophelia's sound so good: He not only set up the sound system before the venue opened, but he currently runs the soundboard alongside fellow engineer Elisa Canali.

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