The Ten Best Unexpected Places to See Live Music in Denver

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Every week, there are hundreds of concerts in Denver. Most of them are at the places you'd expect -- dive bars, clubs, amphitheaters, arenas...but the city's love for live music goes beyond conventional settings. You can also hear great local and touring bands at art galleries, outdoor shopping areas and, yes the airport. Those unusual settings often make for an especially memorable experience, so we've rounded up ten of our favorite places to see live music that aren't usually music venues.

See also: A Weekend at Mutiny Information Cafe

10. Red Rocks| 18300 W. Alameda Parkway | 720-865-2494

Red Rocks is well known for its large-scale concerts and its beautiful environs, but it turns out that when there isn't a concert going on -- especially during the off season -- you can go to that stage yourself, when the park is open, and simply get up and play. People do that regularly with acoustic instruments, though occasionally more complicated set-ups will appear.

9. Denver International Airport | 8500 Peña Blvd. | 303-342-2000

With the security restrictions and by-the-book and busy atmosphere of this place, you wouldn't necessarily expect live music to fit at DIA. But in 2013, psychedelic rock band Rubedo played its more jazz-inflected material during a month-long residency. And you might see something like the zombies re-enacting bits of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" during the week of Halloween.

8. Denver Art Museum | 100 W 14th Ave. Pkwy | 720-865-5000

Music is not the DAM's focus, but on special occasions, the curators will invite a local musician to perform at special events -- most memorably, perhaps, in a 2013 collaboration with performance artist Nick Cave. Granted the choice of music is often safe by local music standards, but the potential to see something unexpected in a place dedicated primarily to another form of artistic expression is high.

7. Museum of Contemporary Art Denver | 1485 Delgany St. | 303-298-7554

Situated on the Western edge of Downtown, the MCA Denver has regularly hosted local experimental music for exhibits and as a part of special events. Whether it's ambient electro band Modern Witch, experimental guitarist Roger Green or dadaist dub electronica outfit Men In Burka, the occasional shows at the gallery match the visual and the audio avant-garde quite well.

6. 16th Street Mall

For years there have been public pianos along 16th St. Mall for passersby and others to play throughout the summer, and you can hear someone trying out their skills or merely messing around. There is also the "Talking Sidewalk" on Curtis headed toward 15th.

Various street musicians perform for donations on the weekends, including the inspired and frenetic drumming of Colin Ward of Alphabets as well as French Kettle Station's Luke Thinnes. So you might hear someone playing his cover of "Nights in White Satin" on piano or experimental artists trying their hand at something outside their usual realm of performance.

5. Forest Room 5 | 2532 15th St. | 303-433-7001

Just outside of downtown headed to the Highlands, this somewhat fancy tapas bar doesn't look like it could host music. But on a rare occasion, there will be a show upstairs in the small but cozy living room-looking space with the large, fake tortoise attached to the floor to the side of the fireplace. And the acoustics are surprisingly good. Don't go expecting just folk or mellow music either, though that happens here as well. The restaurant plays host to psychedelic rock, straight ahead rock or not easily defined music like the jazz/ambient/psych/performance art group Malamadre.

4. Strange Grounds | 1417 S. Broadway | 303-733-7600

Strange Grounds hosts a weekly open mic, and people book shows there all the time. What makes it particularly unexpected is that the Denver Avant-Garde Music Society would have a regular showcase here monthly. And that Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes would decide to show up and collaborate with organic ambient group Animal/Object. That was particularly remarkable, but the name of this coffee shop speaks for itself.

3. Denver Art Society | 734 Santa Fe Dr. | 720-583-3728

Though actively courting musicians to book gigs here lately, the Denver Art Society is primarily an art studio. When it was located upstairs, it was tucked away from the bustle of Santa Fe and has hosted some of the most underground of underground bands in Denver. Now that it is located on street level, its First Friday showings from time-to-time include live music performances. That's not a new phenomenon for the Art Walk, but the wide-open nature of the DAS lends itself to taking people by surprise with music coming from within.

2. Cafe Max | 2412 E Colfax Ave. | 303-333-0003 Situated near Tattered Cover, Cafe Max is easy to miss, but the restaurant, with its international cuisine and high-quality coffee and other beverages, is well worth exploring. Co-owner Max Hopewell-Arizmendi has been hosting occasional music performances in the basement of his establishment and is an fan of experimental music to boot. It's not yet a hopping place for those sorts of shows, but it could be growing into one of Denver's new hubs for catching avant-garde music.

1. Various World Cuisine Restaurants and Clubs

Denver and its surrounding cities have a long tradition of restaurants that are just outside the mainstream, hosting shows because many of them also have stages with good sound systems. Or they're just open to something a little different. Whether that's K's China in Boulder or Cafe Africana and Nghe Si Quan in Denver, it's been possible to catch bands that aren't necessarily tied to a particular cultural background at those places when they have trouble booking more conventional venues -- or just want to try something a little different. There is also a whole world of non-Western (or at least non-English speaking music) running through the Denver area regularly, and some of these places are the only chance you'll get to catch an Ethiopian dub act or Russian pop stars that you would otherwise never hear about.

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