Any city worth its salt has an amazing art scene, and any art scene worth taking notice of has a tightly knit artistic community. Taking that logic up another notch, an artistic community that wants to be taken seriously needs a place to meet, to exchange ideas and to bounce them off of each other. That’s why, when New York was happening in the 1970s, or Seattle in the 1990s, there were little pockets of musicians, poets, and all manner of everything else meeting at bars, coffee shops, art galleries, sex clubs or random basements. Something is happening in Denver now, and that’s why a hangout like Menagerie is so important.
Menagerie might not be the first arts collective and variety show that this region has seen, but it’s certainly the most recent to create a stir. People are sitting up and taking notice of the wide variety of genuinely talented art types that are gathering and performing for the weekly event at Cervantes'.
Musician Doran Joseph started Menagerie in August 2015, when Cervantes' owner and talent buyer Scott Morrill took a chance on a germ of an idea.
“Basically, I was trying to build a sanctuary for the arts,” Joseph says. “Somewhere that’s going to be a meeting place for so many different formats – acoustic bands, DJs, painters, poets. I just felt like we needed a place, and it would almost happen on its own.”
When asked to describe the average Menagerie night, Joseph says that he can’t, because they all differ tremendously. The man isn’t short on confidence, mind you.
“We do four or five different shows every month, but we’ll always have incredible talent,” he says. “There’s nobody finding the kind of local talent that we’re finding. People take our rosters, go down the list and then invite them to play their bars and clubs. Diversity is a big thing; it’s not just a buzzword. You’ll see different stuff all night — acoustic acts, different spoken-word poets and beatboxers, painters, vendors, and different genres of DJs every week.”
Joseph admits that Menagerie isn’t a radical departure from what people are already doing in Denver, but he says that he and his fellow organizers, such as booking manager Corey Rezner, love their artists more than anybody else.
“The appeal that makes us different is the loyalty,” he says. “The way that we’re all growing together. Everything we do is all about family. You come and you see it. That’s how it’s different.”
While Menagerie is largely for artists of all types to gather, Joseph is keen to stress that its “sanctuary” nature means that anyone who needs it is welcome.
“We’re keeping the doors open so artists have a haven to hone their craft,” he says. “Also, some people just need to get out of the house, and we need them to come to our house. It’s all about kindness, doing things the right way and making sure people have a place to go. The best place.”
Ah, there’s that confidence again. It only shines more brightly when Joseph is asked how he expects Menagerie to grow.
“It sounds grandiose, and people don’t believe me, but this is going to be the best show in the world,” he deadpans. “We’re not just competing with Denver anymore. This is going to be the best show that anyone puts on every week in the entire world.”
To be honest, he has a ways to go before that happens. But with local musicians like Peter Pidgeon, Metafonics, Rosa Sparks and Joey Porter’s Vital Organ either booked or having already performed, it’s clear that Joseph and the team behind him are doing something right.
“I’m an artist myself, and I spent so many years traveling,” Joseph said. “I’ve been to almost twenty countries, looking for a scene that my music belonged in. You can only not find it for so long before you decide, fine, I’m going to make it myself.”
Menagerie takes place every Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Cervantes' Other Side, 303-297-1772.
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