Artopia through the eyes and ears of a virgin

Looking over the schedule for Artopia, it quickly becomes clear that it is impossible to see everything. Choices must be made and none of them are easy. To wait until the end of the set; or make sure that you catch the beginning of the next act down the street...these are the dilemmas. Along the way, if you procrastinated on sampling the chili, ice cream, Indian food and other tasty treats scattered throughout the premises, and missed out, that's no one's fault but your own. The evening was a choose your own adventure book with a storyline winding through the depth's of Denver's local culture: A cornucopia of music, food, art, fashion and drinking running along two blocks of Broadway.

It didn't take long for things to warm up. A steady stream of people rolled into Vinyl shortly after the 7 p.m. kickoff. They were greeted by a New Order song warming up the necks, arms and hips that would later pack the dance floor as the DJs segued toward house and electro. The craps table at the front of the bar is surrounded. Someone is feeling lucky.

Around the stage and down the stairs was a completely different scene -- the basement is perhaps only as well-lit on two occasions -- when the cleaning people show up, and again shortly after last call, when the corners are swept of those who don't have to go home but can't stay here. On stage is Chella Negro, serving up an inviting take on classic country -- a sound meeting at the intersection between her strong voice and sweeps of sustained pedal steel.

"We play country music...in the basement of a dance club," she points out after a few songs. The band members aren't the only ones not commonly found down here on a Saturday night. Scattered across the back half of the basement were local vendors peddling wares including jewelry, t-shirts, skin care products and more.

Two floors up was yet another scene entirely. Between the long row of tables featuring loads of local delicacies and the row of people wrapped around the bar, the second floor of Vinyl filled up quickly. There were a handful of people just going in laps from the curiously small neighbors Little India and Little Man Ice Cream. The Salted Oreo ice cream was outstanding.

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Hopefully everyone broke away from the food long enough to take a lap through the art gallery that covered the other half of the floor. Michael Brohman's cast bronze series "Chickababys" was unexpected and awesome, landing somewhere between the allegory of thalidomide and the Puppet Master horror movie franchise. Brohman's curious heap of humanity was bordered by the subtle-toned, tattoo-inspired drawings by Aron Dubois on one side, and by Dave Seller's pro-1% series of ships in bottles on the other. My personal favorite had "F**k the Poor" writ large across the ship's sail, and a Cadillac hood ornament slung across the bow.

There was no way to categorize anything in a way that made sense. Eclectic was the only theme that extended more than a few feet in any direction, a demonstration of the diverse styles represented in the collection of art, and the assemblage of local musical acts who would perform over the course of the night.

Another floor up, on the roof, was Xendra the fire dancer -- dancing with fire -- working a flaming hula hoop and singeing a dread or two in the process. As she spun fire, dubstep frequencies throbbed out of the rooftop system. Throw in the Jonas Bros. Furs sign illuminating the distance and the scene makes for a unique and exceptional tableau.

Almost two hours in, and things have taken on the element of a challenge. How much can any one person make it to see during all of this? A lot of people chose to settle in for Danielle Ate the Sandwich down in the basement of Vinyl. Although the chatter from the market area was contending with her rich, Feist-like arrangements, the exposed stone wall and row of low-slung couches made the basement a cozy setting to catch their show.

Down the street at Mo's a line had formed waiting for the doors to open, and the assembled dozens immediately flocked to the vivid photography on display and the I heart Denver pop up store. Next door at Standard there's a distinct Midnight in Paris vibe, not because Owen Wilson is there, but because the space is dark and moody, with chandeliers hanging above the booths. It's relatively peaceful, a respite from the throbbing parties picking up pace around it, that is until the bands plug in and the crowd packs in toward the front of the stage. Churchill played a particularly rousing set later in the evening.

The B-Boys were definitely holding down the floor at City Hall with the GRO Project laying down the grooves. While the uprock might've looked like a fight on the dancefloor, there was no one throwing hits and hip checks like the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls next door, offering up demos in the fine art of flat-track, quad-wheel mayhem in preparation for their next match on March 3 at the Fillmore. Evidence of the ever-increasing number of graphic designers and font geeks in town, one of the derby refs was named Sans Sheriff.

Then there was a contortionist and complimentary fro-yo on the second floor of City Hall, along with a Scion that was getting a custom paintjob. The only real question though is how they got the car up the stairs, and how they're gonna get it back down?

Burlesque show madam Cora Vette's name is inspired by a car, between that, raw power and serious curves, she and the car share quite a bit in common. "You guys are packed in; this is awesome," she exclaimed to the boisterous crowd awaiting the start of her burlesque and boylesque. "Welcome to Artopia 2012. We're gonna have tits and ass and penises."

Over the next half hour, she delivered on her promise with a parade of carefully choreographed numbers that offered a little something for everyone. Are there people who are immune to the sirens' song of naughty fun? Who wouldn't want to see Ophelia P. Cock strut her stuff covered in peacock plumage? And who doesn't need the occasional reminder that ladies love a fit dude in sequin underwear? It's that kind of party.

Having been walking, dancing and drinking for several hours, it's clear some of the early arrivals are starting to wither a bit due to the physical rigors of keeping up with the event itself. The shot of Red Bull and vodka helps, but will it be enough? There might have even been a yawn or two from some corners where a lack of cross training prior to the event lead to early onset of fatigue. That might have been the case until BLKHRTS took the stage at City Hall.

The act embraces all the raw, grizzly energy of M.O.P. or Onyx with a distinctly post-Jeezy sense for epic, pounding beats. The crew came out swinging, and despite the still-audible thump of house music from next door, after the first chorus dropped and every available arm was waving in the air, no one cared or remembered that there was any previous disturbance. They put the energy right back into the room and had the crowd moving. There was a guy toward the front wearing a skunk hat and singing along to "SX DRGS VLNC MNY & DTH."

That's the kind of night it was: A night of curious juxtapositions that didn't seem out of place whatsoever. Best snapshot of the evening: Watching a guy in green face paint dressed like a preying mantis give his number to a girl in a very short club dress. How often do you see that?

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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