Best Theater Programming 2021 | Aurora Fox Arts Center | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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!

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 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.

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.

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?
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.

Danielle Lirette

For more than two decades, Dazzle has been Denver's prime spot for jazz, bringing in nationally recognized musicians and the area's best players, whether they're up-and-comers or jazz veterans. While restaurants and venues struggled all over the state last year, the folks at Dazzle knew that out-of-work musicians were struggling as well, so the venue stepped up to help through its Bread & Jam program, a pop-up food pantry for professional musicians who have been out of work. The club also offered virtual programming and mental health support through a partnership with Music Minds Matter. That's music to our ears!

Great hip-hop clubs have come and gone in Denver. These days, one of the best places for an artist to be seen is Onyx Barbershop, home of the Barbershop Uncut YouTube series. Armando Trevino, the shop's owner, never intended to be a player in the music industry, but when he realized that Denver has a massive underground hip-hop scene that isn't getting the national attention it deserves, he took action and launched a video series based at Onyx, hosting rap battles and cyphers to give young artists a chance. Barbershop Uncut has put out videos with Old Man Saxon, TheyCallHimAP, Jakob Campbell and dozens of others, and in-person events should return soon.

Denver is often touted as the bass-music capital of the world, thanks to the city's longstanding underground dance-music scene, raging warehouse parties and sweaty, head-banging fans. While some of that underground energy has floated into massive venues run by mainstream promoters, the spirit of the rave scene pulses on at the Black Box, a club owned and run by longtime Sub.mission promoter Nicole Cacciavillano, who set up the space to make sure Colorado's scene would have a welcoming home with a killer Basscouch Sound combo and a community vibe. While the venue itself just opened in 2016, its roots run deep...bass deep.

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