Live music pops up in the strangest places, often venues that weren't originally intended to host concerts, or spaces that are just plain odd in their design. Sometimes it's a coffee shop, a public space, an airport, an art museum or even amid stacks of pallets (or books). Here are some of our favorite unconventional music venues around Denver.
1. Black Shirt Brewery
3719 Walnut Street
Plenty of bars showcase bands. But Black Shirt Brewery built a performance space out of pallets behind the building, making the stage double as a sculpture. While the brewery rarely books shows, when it does it's adventurous; Church Fire, the Milk Blossoms and Of Earth and Sun have all played here.
2. The Deer Pile
206 East 13th Avenue
Located above the restaurant City, O' City, the Deer Pile is a more-or-less empty room with a P.A. This small venue has hosted comedy, spoken word and a variety of music from Denver's underground scene, including one edition of the experimental festival Goldrush, and the now-defunct Noise Floor, a monthly showcase of forward thinking music.
3. Denver Bicycle Cafe
1308 East 17th Avenue
Over the last two years, on occasional Fridays, Denver Bicycle Cafe has hosted some of Denver's best indie-rock bands including Tyto Alba, Major Babes (featuring members of Male Blonding) and Shady Elders. That the cafe offers high quality coffee, beer and bike repair is a bonus.
4. Denver International Airport
8500 Peña Boulevard
DIA has occasionally commissioned bands to perform relatively unobtrusive music in its main lobby. Perhaps most notably, experimental-rock band Rubedo performed the equivalent of day-job hours every day for an entire month in 2013. Mostly you'll find standard jazz at DIA, but every now and then someone unexpected and unusual will be called in to alleviate the usual ambient sound at the airport.
5. Denver Public Library
Libraries are usually a place for peace and quiet, but in the last three years Denver Public Library branches have hosted musical events. The Park Hill branch has an April concert series, typically on Wednesday evenings. The Ross-Cherry Creek branch has its own P.A. and occasionally hosts acts including SPELLS, the Milk Blossoms and Echo Beds.
6. McNichols Building
144 West Colfax Avenue
The McNichols Building has hosted a wide range of community events as well as dance parties. In 2016, the ENDOTREND festival brought to this city-owned edifice the likes of Joy Subtraction, Victoria Lundy, Plume Varia and Church Fire.
7. Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
1485 Delgany Street
The MCA Denver has long paired fine art, DJ sets and experimental music in the institution's rooftop area. But the museum has since expanded its range of music, and in the summer hosts regular concerts on Fridays on the roof and multiple artists each First Friday when a new exhibition opens. The MCA also recently put on the Ten Years of Feminism & Co. Festival with workshops and presentations throughout, live comedy and musical performances in the fire lane outside, including sets from Tacocat, Wheelchair Sports Camp, Mirror Fears and Great American House Fire.
8. Red Rocks During the Day
18300 West Alameda Parkway
It's often lost on people that Red Rocks is a park and people frequent Red Rocks with acoustic guitars to play on the stage when the weather's good and the park isn't having a concert. But that fun shouldn't be monopolized by folkies and singer-songwriters. Who's to say one couldn't bring a battery powered P.A. or a generator and have a more rambunctious kind of show?
1045 Lincoln Street
Roostercat has hosted live comedy, poetry readings and music. It doesn't have a P.A., but with a setting near downtown yet hidden from immediate view, Roostercat is usually a haven for students or friends needing a casual place to meet that isn't a bar. In 2014, Roostercat was one of the venues for the Westword Music Showcase.
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10. Sie Film Center
2510 East Colfax Avenue
Sie FilmCenter occasionally invites musicians to perform in advance of a film, as in the case of Theresa Mercado's various Scream Screen endeavors. Danielle de Picciotto's presentation of The Glasshouse happened here in 2012; her husband Alexander Hacke and friends David Eugene Edward of Wovenhand, and experimental trumpet player Stever Forker provided the score. Other groups opening for screenings include the bands Voight, Echo Beds and Denver Broncos UK, as well as Videodrome, playing – appropriately enough – alongside the film Videodrome.
11. 16th Street Mall
Numerous talented street performers line the 16th Street Mall, providing live-music surprises. During the warmer months, painted pianos are available for anyone to play. We hope Billy Joel heeds our advice and stops by on the Mall the next time he's visiting the Mile High City.
940 Pearl Street, Boulder
Trident, a coffee house and bookshop, has opened its doors to several kinds of music over the years, and it has hosted performances from internationally known avant-garde bands like Thinking Plague and Hamster Theatre. The space has also taken the torch from the now defunct DIY venue Dead Leaf and hosted a variety of underground shows. Clearly the proprietors have tastes that range far from the usual coffee-shop musical fare, and we should all be grateful for that.