Best Free Entertainment 2022 | Levitt Pavilion | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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Ah, Levitt Pavilion, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. We love that you put on fifty free concerts a year, and that those shows take place on a lovely green hillside in Ruby Hill Park, where we can sit on our blankets and look out over the city as the sun sets behind us. We love that an amazing roster of local and national artists serenades us from a beautiful stage with a state-of-the-art sound system. It doesn't get much better than this on a warm summer night...and it's all gratis, thanks to the forward-thinking Levitt Foundation.

Courtesy Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page

If city life has you feeling overwhelmed but with no time for a real getaway, head to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Once the site of a chemical weapons manufacturing center, the former federal facility is now an expansive nature reserve in the heart of metro Denver that's open from sunrise to sunset. There are twenty miles of easy hiking trails, as well as trails for biking; along the way you'll see bison, deer, prairie dogs and incredible birds of prey. For those who'd rather enjoy the great outdoors without getting out of the car, the refuge also has an eleven-mile wildlife drive.

Molly Martin

Even outside of baseball season, McGregor Square is hopping. Now, with the Colorado Rockies back at Coors Field, the Rally Bar in the Rally Hotel is the perfect place to watch fans coming and going and deliver a play-by-play account of the action over a few beers. Just a few things we've seen out the big windows: a couple breaking up and immediately getting back together, a happily inebriated soul wearing a swimsuit but no shoes, and too many people wearing the colors of the opposing team.

While music festivals have become more accessible over the years, the overall level of inclusion for people with disabilities remains low. Shawn Satterfield, a lifelong music fan, set out to change that with the Shine Music Festival, which debuted on August 8, 2021, at Levitt Pavilion. To make the free festival work, she recruited volunteers and organizations involved with the disability community, bringing in inclusive technology to help people with all disabilities feel comfortable while also keeping costs down. "Seventy percent of people with disabilities are unemployed," she notes, "and music is expensive." So is putting on a festival, but this one was such a hit that it will be back in August, this time in Civic Center Park.

The Denver Performing Arts Complex isn't so much a venue as it is an epicenter for the kind of arts activities that defines cities as cultural institutions. After staying closed through much of the pandemic, it's the place where you can once again spot a secondary-school field trip, or a music student analyzing an orchestral piece. It's where you can take a date to see Broadway plays such as Hamilton, or where a grandparent might take a grandchild to hear the Colorado Symphony score Harry Potter. The Colorado Ballet, Opera Colorado, the Colorado Symphony and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which pushed for the creation of the facility fifty years ago, all call the sprawling twelve-acre complex home. Welcome back.

James Florio Photography

Just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Denver Art Museum in October 1971, the renovation of the Gio Ponti-designed, tile-clad tower — now called the Martin Building — was revealed last fall. The makeover is a masterpiece both inside and out, with the new Sie Welcome Center not only creating a new entrance, but providing a visual and physical link between the original museum building and the Hamilton. The galleries were also refreshed, with the Western American Art collection finally given its due on the seventh floor — right by the rooftop decks that are once again accessible to the public. We can't wait to see what the DAM does to top this anniversary celebration fifty years from now.

City of Greeley Museums

Neyla Pekarek, a cellist, singer and former member of the Lumineers, has long been fascinated by Kate Slaughterback, who gained fame in the 1920s for killing 140 rattlesnakes that were attempting to slither toward her, her son and her horse on their homestead in northern Colorado; she made a flapper dress of the snakes' skins that is now a Greeley museum artifact. This year, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts presented a much larger memorial to this colorful pioneer: a full production of the musical Rattlesnake Kate, based on Pekarek's concept, scored by Pekarek, and written by playwright Karen Hartman.

Courtesy Museo de las Americas

This year, Denver has seen three exhibits devoted to La Malinche, a Nahua woman enslaved by Hernán Cortés and used as his interpreter during his conquest, who bore his son and is known as the mother of the European/Indigenous mixed race. The Denver Art Museum's Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche came first, with works ranging from the sixteenth century to modern day; plans for that exhibit inspired Maruca Salazar, former director of the Museo de las Americas, to curate Malinalli on the Rocks, which uses the woman's Indigenous name and showcases works by contemporary local Chicano and Latinx artists. The result is stunning, with pieces in myriad mediums that look at Malinche through a more sympathetic lens, after being seen as a traitor to her people for centuries. Rounding out the trio: Malintzin: Unraveled and Rewoven at the CU Denver Experience Gallery.

Best Fiftieth Anniversary for a Theater Company

Su Teatro

Denver was the epicenter of the Chicano civil rights movement, so it's only fitting that as part of its fiftieth-anniversary celebration, Su Teatro reprised its original production War of the Flowers, the story of the Kitayama Carnation Strike in Weld County, which culminated with five women being tear-gassed when they chained themselves to the gates of the factory. For the past five decades, since it got its start in a University of Colorado Denver class, Su Teatro has been fighting the restrictions of traditional stories to push political truths and tell the real stories of the community. Now at home in the former Denver Civic Theatre, Su Teatro just keeps adding programs for that community, everything from the Chicano Music Festival to the XicanIndie FilmFest. But ultimately, the play's still the thing.

Best Fiftieth Original Show for a Theater Company

Buntport Theater

Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

Every now and then, something pops up that feels purely Denver, and in the theater scene, that's Buntport, a company of six talented artists who create their productions — often hilarious, sometimes deeply moving — through a brainstorming process that miraculously always produces a coherent script. It's experimental work, but not the arrogant, "you're-too-stupid-to-get-this" kind or the trendy, expensive immersive stuff turning up everywhere these days. Based on whatever intriguing morsel of news, myth or fantasy has caught a company member's attention at some point, Buntport's work is homegrown, original, and entirely itself. Catch it if you can, and/or take any visitor who asks what's special about Denver. After a pandemic-induced delay, Buntport's fiftieth original show debuts this month.

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