When Metropolian State University of Denver associate professor David Heska Wanbli Weiden, a member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe, set out to write a detective novel set on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, he had the knowledge necessary to bring his protagonist, Virgil Wounded Horse, to life — and then his talent did the rest. Since its release last summer, Winter Counts has been deluged with enthusiastic reviews and crime-novel nominations and awards. And that brings up another mystery: When will the next Virgil Wounded Horse book be released?

davidweiden.com
Best Place to Drink In Scary Movies
Courtesy of Nathan Szklarski

The horror-movie crowd found a place to gather over drinks when horror-phile Nathan Szklarski brought a pop-up film series to Bellwether late last year, complete with a matching horror-themed cocktail program. The project was such a hit that Szklarski took over the joint and reopened it in March as Horror Bar, with a nightly schedule of films and fun. Tired of being scared while home alone? Head to Horror Bar: This place is a scream!

Against all odds, Denver Film managed to program movies through the pandemic and into the next year, even as its theaters have been shuttered. Through its online Virtual Cinema, the nonprofit opened programming to new audiences and forged ahead with its signature Denver Film Festival, along with smaller strands of programming such as the Dragon Boat Film Festival, Women + Film and Cinema Q. The programmers even managed to do a drive-in version of Film on the Rocks. No matter what the rest of 2021 throws at Denver Film, you can be sure the organization will keep screening great movies one way or another, and that the Virtual Cinema program will be a powerful tool in the arthouse's arsenal long after COVID-19 fades from memory.

denverfilm.org
Best Theater Programming
Aurora Fox Arts

Since Helen Murray took the helm at the Aurora Fox Arts Center, the small theater company has consistently put on a mix of challenging, literary and engaging productions, continuing its longstanding tradition of celebrating cultural diversity. Staying two steps ahead of social movements, the Fox uses its shows to engage the community in urgent conversations about race, gender, identity and politics, all while delivering contemporary theatrical works. Through in-person and virtual offerings, Murray and company have rallied to entertain and stay relevant during the pandemic, with no plans to stop anytime soon.

Like most companies in Colorado and across the nation, Boulder's acclaimed Local Theater didn't actually have a season in 2020. Faced with a big blank space on the roster, director Pesha Rudnick dubbed the season "Dwell in Possibility" and created new virtual public programming. Instead of canceling the annual Local Lab play-development initiative, she expanded it to include ten playwrights instead of three, giving artists in limbo valuable work. The company stayed sharp without losing faith, and now anticipates going live again this summer with an outdoor run of its Discount Ghost Stories: Songs From the Rockies at the Boulder Bandshell, including free Monday night performances. Local for the win!

localtheaterco.org

The Armory Denver is a creative production facility in a massive building that dates back to the late 1800s. Back then, it housed weapons for the Colorado State Militia; it later became home of the Olympic Auditorium and Art Neon. But this latest incarnation may be its best. In addition to having recording studios and rehearsal rooms, the Denver Armory boasts a stage with lighting rigs, projection mapping, multiple high-end cameras and engineers who have worked in some of the city's biggest venues. As a result, it's a no-brainer match for bands looking for an ideal spot to produce high-quality livestreams and get creative with the filming.

KUVO 89.3 FM has long offered some of the best musical programming in the city, with smart DJs who consistently display their depth of jazz knowledge. But since summer 2019, we've been blown away by the new effort from KUVO: the Drop, a much-needed R&B and hip-hop channel that launched on KUVO's HD2 signal, the KUVO app and thedrop303.org. And this past year, things got even better when the Drop secured its own FM signal, 104.7. Nikki Swarn, who deejays as Amerykah Jones, heads up the station and is joined by fellow DJs Dif'Rent, Unique, and Bella Scratch. Love hip-hop? Tune in.

kuvo.org

Darold Vigil, aka "Pocho Joe," host of the Chicano-flavored La Raza Rocks radio hour, is a walking encyclopedia of Latin rock, soul and R&B. And he graciously shares his immense knowledge of those musical styles and their purveyors past and present, taking La Raza listeners on a guided tour, from Denver's Brass Monkey to Cali's Champs and beyond. But in his quiet, affable way, Vigil, a 2018 Chicano Music Hall of Fame inductee, lets the music he plays speak for itself. The show, which runs on Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. on KUVO 89.3, will set the mood for your weekend afternoon ("Suavecito," anyone?), especially with Vigil at the helm; consider it a learning experience with a groove.

kuvo.org

The folks at ArtHyve like to compare the Record to Record discussion series to a book club, only with music — and that's not a bad comparison. The periodic online events focus on a single LP, encouraging participants to have a critical listen to the chosen album in advance, and then join in a lively discussion of the recording with special guests and a knowledgeable host. So far, the club has considered records by Charles Mingus, Morphine and X-Ray Spex, among others, with big things planned for future programming. Why not take it for a spin?

arthyve.org
Best Blues Club
Eric Gruneisen

While the Rusty Bucket is known as a haven for Pittsburgh Steelers fans and heaven for burger lovers, the Lakewood neighborhood joint also hosts some of the area's finest blues talent on Saturdays, whether it be Randall Dubis, Boa & the Constrictors, BlueKrewe, Eddie Turner or the Delta Sonics. Over the past year, the Rusty Bucket has had to hold off on its long-running Wednesday night blues jams because of COVID-19 restrictions, but there are plans to bring those back, too, once those limitations are lifted.

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