Best Unpretentious Yet Legendary Venue 2023 | Herb's | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Unpretentious Yet Legendary Venue


Justin Criado

Herb's turns ninety this year, but it's never been one to put on airs. It is what it is: a music venue and a watering hole. The drinks are good, and the live music, usually jazz or blues, can be life-changing. But that's just an average night at Herb's, no biggie. Drink up and get down, as folks have been doing here for almost a century, including the infamous Jack Kerouac. Lots of places in Denver claim to be one of Kerouac's old haunts, but Herb's is the real deal. Legendary, even. But as we said, no biggie.

The Front Range is filled with cultural history and institutions, and the Blasting Room has established itself as an integral facet of the music scene. The studio was founded in 1994 by members of the punk group ALL, including current owner Bill Stevenson (who played drums for ALL as well as Descendents, Black Flag and Lemonheads), when the band relocated to Fort Collins and was looking for a studio where it could record. The Blasting Room has stayed booked steadily for almost 29 years now, and has worked with thousands of bands, including Rise Against, Alkaline Trio and As I Lay Dying. Keep an eye out for upcoming documentary The Blasting Room, by local filmmaker Aaron Pendergast, due out later this year.

Based on a model program created by Venezuelan economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, El Sistema seeks to even the playing field for economically challenged kids by way of an immersive after-school orchestral string music curriculum. Students from kindergarten through high school age can choose violin, viola, cello or bass, while the preschool set can attend once-weekly Early Childhood Music sessions.

While Denver has a few options for school kids wanting to learn to play in a mariachi ensemble, true musicians will want to head for the hills. Rocky Ridge, which already hosted summer jazz and classical-music camps for all ages and levels, now offers Nuestras Raíces: Música Mariachi, a six-day beginning program for kids ages ten to fifteen, taught in a mountain setting at the foot of Longs Peak. Presented in collaboration with Denver's Latino Cultural Arts Center, Música Mariachi offers a full summer-camp experience and a valuable fundamental learning opportunity.
Brandon Marshall

Youth on Record was founded in 2008 as by the musicians/activists of the Denver band Flobots. In 2010, Jami Duffy, YOR's current executive director, was brought on board; the name was changed and the mission expanded. While it began as a tiny nonprofit, Youth on Record now operates programs at nine high schools and middle schools five days a week, linking students with musicians, and last year it bought into the Underground Music Showcase. Youth on Record also has a recording studio in its headquarters, where students and local musicians make music today. YOR music ambassadors have included big names and community leaders, including Big Gigantic, Molina Speaks, Melissa Ivey and more.

Brittany Teuber

In a music community as tight-knit as Denver's, it's only natural for a supergroup like BTTRFLY Quintet to form, creating a unique brand of music influenced by funk, jazz, neo-soul, R&B and swing. The group comprises Grammy-nominated drummer Adam Deitch and Grammy-winning trumpeter Benny Bloom, both from Lettuce; Pretty Lights collaborator and Break Science keyboardist Borahm Lee; Break Science bassist Hunter Roberts; and Big Gigantic producer and saxophonist Dominic Lalli. BTTRFLY Quintet released its debut album, Coast, in November 2022, but because all of the members have their other projects and tours, the band's concerts will be rare...and certain to fly!
High Shutter Productions

DNA Picasso (aka Devin Nyshawn Arnold) has always looked to his namesake for inspiration, and his latest album is a clear nod to the artist's Blue Period. Arnold calls the March release his "most authentic" album yet, and those words ring true from the first listen, which will have you coming back for more. Although many associate the color blue with sadness, Arnold runs through every emotion imaginable in The Color Blü, celebrating love, self-reflection and the knowledge that going through bad times just makes the good ones that much better. The album also reflects Arnold's collaborative spirit, with bars from Colorado hip-hop artists Chris Cart3r, Malcolm Whyz3, Forty $even and more. Be sure to add this one to your playlist: You'll feel anything but blue.

Kori Hazel

N3ptune is one of the few local musicians to play Red Rocks early in his career. The artist, whose captivating earworms are an intoxicating fusion of pop, soul, hip-hop, rock, gospel and more, has wasted no time making big moves since releasing his debut album, RENAISSANCE, in 2021 (and which he just re-released). N3ptune stayed booked and busy throughout 2022, going on an East Coast tour and playing a headlining slot at the Westword Music Showcase. His music pulls listeners in, inspiring them to live more authentically and pursue their own passions, just as he pursues his with vigor. N3ptune could well be the next Colorado name to break worldwide.
David Novin

While EVANOFF had been known more for its dream-rock and jam-oriented sound, keyboardist Brennan Forrester, guitarist JJ Evanoff and drummer Jake Hall took a heavy prog-rock direction on their 2022 album, SINGULARITY. The full-length is an energetic, captivating swell of psychedelic rock with eight innovative, instrumental tracks that mix chugging prog metal with sprinklings of dreamy lo-fi and future bass influences. EVANOFF closed out 2022 opening for jamtronic mainstay Papadosio on its Colorado run, and is now embarking on a well-deserved East Coast tour. We're loving this heavier sound from the band, and can't wait to see what directions it takes this year.

VOLORES is the COVID baby of husband and wife Nathen and Shelby Maxwell, who needed something to occupy their time during the pandemic. Already musicians (Shelby is a singer-songwriter, and Nathen is the bassist for Flogging Molly), the two were able to seamlessly create a sound they call "mountain goth," and they debuted it with the single "Ages" early in 2023, teasing their album of the same name, which was released in February. With Shelby's poetic lyrics and whispery yet soulful vocals soaring over the solid foundation provided by Nathen's intricate bass lines, the album has a classic-rock sound fused with pop and indie influences.

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