You can hardly go a day in this region without someone commenting about the amazing phenomenon that is the Colorado music scene.
The Front Range is awash with top-notch local acts, and it’s a haven for nationally and internationally touring artists who travel through.
Venues (be they bars, large concert halls or eateries) who host the music are the infrastructure that allows the magic to happen on such a regular basis. Without that network, bands would struggle to find places to play that fit them.
The Marquee’s Front-Row-Center Awards are, in part, designed to praise these pillars of live music. But a lot more goes into a good concert than just the venue.
That’s why The Marquee has also painstakingly selected the best in local bands, to honor what they bring to the table in terms of making the Front Range a music mecca.
Name a genre and we’ll bet that you can find an awesome example of that type of band in the area. From alt-country, funk and R&B, to rock, hip-hop and jam, the musicians who call this Mile High region their home are, simply put, on their game — they have to be.
And, in addition to the venues and the musicians, the Front Range is also host to a broad spectrum of music-related shops. These are the stores that keep the musicians geared up, keep concert-going necessities in the fans’ pockets, and add to the excitement of the scene with well-taught music freaks ready to grab your ear about their favorite band while you shop.
You may not agree with all of our picks, and that’s cool. We probably wouldn’t agree with all of yours. Let the debates begin.
Best Large Outdoor Venue
Red Rocks Amphitheatre < Morrison, Colo.
Millions of years of plate techtonics have yet to invent anything quite as perfect as Red Rocks Amphitheatre. With Mother Nature as the architect, the design of the Amphitheatre consists of two, three hundred-foot monoliths (Ship Rock and Creation Rock) that provide acoustic perfection for any performance. In addition to its perfection of natural acoustics and natural beauty, the sheer mass of history that the venue holds is as large as the rocks themselves. This is the last year that The Marquee will grant an award for Best Large Outdoor Venue, because, barring a catacalsimic shift in the earth, nothing is going to come along to rival the majesty of what is most certainly the best venue in the state and, quite possibly, the best venue in the world.
Best Small Outdoor Venue
Planet Bluegrass Ranch < Lyons, Colo.
Yet another repeat winner this year, but when it comes to outdoor festivals in Colorado, nobody does it better than the folks at Planet Bluegrass. Not only are the grounds of Planet Bluegrass an amazing example of harmony between nature and humans, the staff at the ranch has gone above and beyond just providing a place to hear music. Several years ago the staff launched a program to reduce the waste that their festivals produce, and each year they add another element to improve upon that. In 2004, the festivals became 100 percent wind powered and they have also introduced completely biodegradable plastic cups. The result has been a 50 percent decrease in their landfill waste. Additionally, they have some of the most pristine and well organized facilities, and their ability to book the best musical acts in the country matches up with everything else. Oh, and their volunteers rock!
Best Large Venue
The Paramount Theatre < Denver, Colo.
The Paramount Theatre opened in the 1930s as a vaudeville house. The tapestries and chandeliers hint at the singing and dancing of the past while the stage holds contemporary acts of all kind. The acoustics are more than noteworthy, so each of the 2,015 audience members in this self-titled “entertainment-emporium” can hear perfectly. The venue’s upcoming acts range from Burt Bacharach and Judy Collins to the Pet Shop Boys to Evanesence and Zappa plays Zappa. So, whether you want to sink down with a drink in a comfy chair and try and dodge the guy spilling beer in the mosh pit, the art-deco Paramount Theatre can guarantee an evening that will leave you swooning for its modern-meets-mystique ambiance.
Best MEDIUM VENUE
Gothic Theatre < Englewood, Colo.
Whoever changed the original façade of the Gothic Theatre in the 1940s from its art deco splendor should be severely castigated, but at least that moron didn’t mess up the inside — for that is where the theatre truly shines. The first rule when going to the Gothic is remember to look up. The art deco design is brought to life in a myriad of ways, and they all work perfectly to transform the otherwise boxy building into a beautiful room both from an aesthetic standpoint and a comfort angle as well. Above the large front bar, the sky-painted ceiling is striking and worth the admission alone. But, one of the true jewels of the theatre is its wonderful sweeping balcony that gives a bird’s eye view of the room. It’s one of the few venues left in the country that has such a functional and gorgeous balcony, and that functionality is so appreciated on crowded nights.
Best Small Venue
Larimer Lounge < Denver, Colo.
If you didn’t know any better you’d drive right by this joint and not have a clue as to the coolness of the inside. The Larimer Lounge is, simply put, a dive, but it’s one of those dives with character, spunk, and phenomenal taste in music. The place has, seriously, some of the most disgusting bathrooms since CBGB’s, but even having to hold your breath for your entire trip to the can doesn’t take away from the room itself. If anyone else booked this place it would be a forgotten, lost little hole in the wall, but the magic of the lounge is the acts that it attracts. This year alone, they have showcased acts like Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, The Giraffes and Richmond Fontaine. From loud, screaming metal to shoe-gazer indie rockers, the Lounge is a destination point for bands traveling the country, and while they’re not greeted by roomy stages and decadent dressing rooms, the Lounge is always a shoe-in for a warm crowd. Larimer Lounge also has a team of poster artists that have shunned the cheapo 11 x 17 Kinkos copies for old school artistry and silk screened presentation. Some of the artwork that these folks have produced is legendary. All places that host music, large and small, should aspire to this level of excellence.
Best new Venue
3 Kings Tavern < Denver, Colo.
Along South Broadway, the indie scene has blown up in recent years, so it’s no wonder that there was an inevitable yin to the indie scene’s yang. With an emphasis
on rock, punk and country, 3 Kings Tavern opened in January of 2006 and has become a haven for up-and-coming bands, as well as touring bands. Part pub, part pool hall and part music venue, the Tavern has the feel of a cool community center, but one where you don’t play bingo with senior citizens and where you can get a tasty adult beverage while rocking out. It’s a welcome and refreshing scene to see on South Broadway and one that the town is certainly embracing.
Best Venue to discover a new band
The Hi-Dive < Denver, Colo.
In just a few short years, the little bar that was left empty after Jay Bianchi moved Quixote’s to another part of Denver has blossomed into a hip urban hang-out that continually takes leaps of faith on bands, and quite often hits gold in the process. Booking agent Ben DeSoto either has one of the best ears in Denver, or he has connections with one hell of a psychic. Name a local indie band that has sprung up in the last couple years and chances are their early gigs were performed at the Hi-Dive. Bright Channel? Yep. The Hot Iqs? Yes. DeVotchKa? Indubitably. The club still holds some of the feel from its past life as a jam club, but the acts standing on the small but elevated stage seem to take a another swipe at cleaning out the patchouli smell each night.
Best Eatery venue
Oskar Blues < Lyons, Colo.
Like an old recording, Oskar Blues’ exterior does not even begin to allude to the vibrance bottled inside. Two years after opening in 1997, Oskar Blues became a brewpub and joined their stereotype-bending cans of Dale’s Pale Ale (now being sold around the country) with fiery Cajun food and live roots music. Upon walking in to the atrium, southern-souled folk art greets you, including one painting that reads “Who died and made you Elvis?” The downstairs music room is dive-y at first glance because of the pool tables and cherry-red cushioned chairs, but the second you step towards the stage you inhale the history that’s taken place here; the music created in this dark corner seems to have painted the walls around it and echoed up the stairs to paint the entryway. While undeniably vibrant, the 100-person venue is nothing if not an intimate community of musicians and music-lovers.
Best Venue vibe
Oriental Theater < Denver, Colo.
The historic Oriental Theater boasts a Cinderella story as it sneaks up on other notable Colorado venues as one of the best this state has to offer. The antique, originally opened in 1927, called it quits after 60 years only to be suddenly revived by its current owners. An intense stint of recent renovations transformed the theater from prehistoric to savvy and sophisticated. By wisely preserving the most critical aspects of the building’s vintage aesthetic, the owners’ enterprise emerges as a hip, guest-friendly and intimate setting truly worthy of the “best venue vibe.” The Oriental takes a fresh approach to the tried and true method of entertaining with its foundation based on compassion toward the surrounding community and Denver culture. Utilizing the all-encompassing diversity of performance, the Oriental Theater has truly resurrected the good ole’ neighborhood hangout. By showcasing musicians, comedians, filmmakers, meetings and parties of all types and genres, the Oriental Theater replenishes a disappearing appreciation for the art of live performance.
Best Intimate venue
Nissi’s < Lafayette, Colo.
With acts ranging from classical and jazz to rock and acoustic, it’s no wonder Lafayette’s Nissi’s is this year’s best intimate venue. Serving up bistro-style dishes and irrefutable deserts, the establishment could stand solely as a restaurant, but it’s a good thing for Colorado’s local musicians that Nissi’s has a soft spot for live performances. A friend to the native band, Nissi’s splits the cover charge 80/20 in favor of the artists so that the local flavor is never far. Not only does this venue financially favor the musician, their second floor is home to the in-house award-winning strategic marketing and design firm that provides a boost for musicians who want it.
Best CD/Record shop
Twist and Shout < Denver, Colo.
Selection is an incredibly important part of any CD shop and for sheer volume alone Twist and Shout rises above all other stores on the Front Range. But to really be good a CD shop it needs a staff that can talk music and the folks at Twist and Shout can do that as well as college professors can talk about their subjects. That being said, Twist and Shout is a damn dangerous place. It’s set up well enough that you could, in theory, run in, find the album you’re looking for and book out of there in seconds, but anyone who has ever spent more than a few minutes in the place knows: a trip to Twist and Shout requires a time commitment. Inevitably, you end up finding what you’re looking for and usually anywhere from five to five hundred other must-haves. In addition to all the music itself, the store also boasts an expansive selection of books, memorabelia and art. All put together, Twist and Shout isn’t a playground for music freaks, it’s Six Flags, Disney World and Coney Island all rolled into one.
Best “Concert Supply” Shop
Rock N’ Robins < Fort Collins, Colo.
If you love your tobacco waterpipe, you’ll love Rock N’ Robins. A combination of a music store, clothing store, jewelry shop and tobacco stand, this shop has everything from your collassal lung-killing apparatus to your little pocket pipe that’ll take you through countless Red Rocks sets. While the trend is to go for elaborate, expensive glass — and Robins does have its share — it also has some practical and affordable pieces that’ll still leave you with enough money in your wallet to get the good tobacco. The store also has one of the coolest outdoor murals on the Front Range and a visit should be made to check that out, if nothing else.
Best retail instrument Shop
Guitar Cellar < Boulder, Colo.
Located right between the Xoom Juice and the bike shop on the Hill, Guitar Cellar is an obvious choice for anyone from the CU freshman desperate for lessons and repairs, to the worldly collector searching for the perfect vintage six-string. The Guitar Cellar is a one-stop-string-lover’s-shop for repairs, custom and local builds, and vintage instruments. They not only offer bass, banjo and guitar lessons (and are looking for a mandolin teacher), but have an in-house performance space. The staff is passionate and friendly and will offer up a hand to the most clueless (and the most knowledgeable) of customers.
Rose Hill Drive
Rose Hill Drive began as high school kids at the foot of the Flatirons playing Blood Sugar Sex Magik covers, but go see them now and before Nate Barnes’ foot even hits the pedal you’ll know that they’ve become bigger than the Flat
irons themselves. Is this incendiary threesome worthy of the FRC for Best Rock two years running? Of course they are; especially since producer Nick DiDia (Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam) and Rose Hill Drive got together to lay down dangerously addictive tracks for the band’s self-titled debut album. The album was released in August at a Marquee Magazine and KBCO Radio sponsored event at The Fox Theatre, near where the boys grew up. The album was not only released in the U.S.A. but in the U.K., Spain and, come September 22, Japan as well.
Best Indie Rock
DeVotchKa was named after the slang word for “female” from the movie A Clockwork Orange. The indie group plays wistful gypsy melodies reminiscent of a darker Modest Mouse and echoes of a red-wine-soaked circus of cowboys and crooners. Nick Urata — who’s part-Jim Morrison, part-David Byrne — has a completely romantic voice that weaves in and out of the music. Currently, the band is featured in Little Miss Sunshine, the recent indie-esque movie, and while DeVotchKa is featured on the movie’s soundtrack, the band’s portfolio spans over three albums. Their latest EP, Curse Your Little Heart, is the push behind the latest West Coast tour and promises to uphold the sensuality of Devotchka’s past work.
Best Jazz / R&B
Michael Lloyd Band
The only way to describe the Michael Lloyd Band is through its members. Mike Liguori, 29, was born in Anchorage, Ak., grew up in Jersey and was knee deep in the Front Range scene throughout his stint at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Jim Ruberto, from western New York, rocks the hell out of steel guitar on cue and is a pretty killer producer and musician. The drummer, John Nelson, has backed Al Wilson, and bassist Jonathan Barkin has studied with Kai Eckhardt of Garaj Mahal. Face it, they’re cooler than you. Plus, the noteworthy artwork on the website is almost as unique as the deliciously bad-ass jazz-gone-jam that, once it’s stamped its place in your skull, will make you preemptively groove.
With rockstar names like Quentin Smith, Ryder Robinson (no, not Chris Robinson’s kid, we still have a few years before that album), Joe McChan and Adam Tymn, one can only assume that the endearingly boisterous VAUX has hardcore talent that tends to go with such names. After getting signed by Atlantic Records in 1994, the band flew to England and spent a month recording with Carrett “Jacknife” Lee (U2, Snow Patrol) and, after a rough year, their album was slated and seemed to be ready for release. But before the release, Atlantic released VAUX from their contract and gave them back the rights. After years of guerilla marketing, or “hustling,” the band calls their current album, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice, their masterwork.
Eddie “Devil Boy” Turner
Cuban-born Eddie “Devil Boy” Turner has been playing sultry solos in a number of rock bands since he picked up his candy-apple guitar when he was twelve. In the ’70s, he shook his Chicago roots and joined the league of transplants in Boulder, where he quickly swallowed up the local scene. When his buddy Tommy Bolin formed The James Gang and Deep Purple, Turner jumped at the opportunity to jam as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. Sadly, Bolin died, leaving a stunned Turner to fade out of the scene. Somehow, almost a decade later, “Devil Boy” Turner was resurrected as the third member of the Otis Taylor Band. Today, Turner’s Afro-Cuban rhythms and Chicago blues background come to life in his first solo album, Rise. The disc pumps gospel into an old-school whiskey blues club.
Best Jam band
Anyone who lives in Boulder experiences the cult following of the “jam band.” We’ve all seen them: the hula-hoops, the dreadlocks, the patchwork clothing. Hell, we’ve smelled their patchouli oil. Lucky for Colorado, Polytoxic blows this all too common perception out of the water, keeping with the versatile stew that is the elusive jam, but exchanging the afore-mentioned stereotype for flannel shirts, beards, and one quirky blond drummer. Tori Pater, CR Gruver, and “Chadzilla” Johnson form this trio that provides the ultimate excuse to go out on a work night. Their funky grooves and southern grind is guaranteed original for each show. Rich vocals, powerful drum lines, and buoyant keys exquisitely parade their authentic material that fully samples a variety of toxins that gets a crowd moving.
We’ve been hearing about the East Coast, the West Coast, and of course, the ‘Dirty South.’ Rap and hip-hop continues to reward listeners and stun critics with talent that cannot be ignored. It’s about time the Midwest made its way into hip-hop shout-outs, and it will sound something like Deuce Mob. Front man DJ Fame has been working since the ’80s perfecting his craft of mixing and scratching, and with the interjection of AWB (“Average White Boy,” of course), the new and improved Deuce Mob proves to be nothing short of a perfect fit. They are rappers’ rappers putting a clever twist on a Snoop Dogg-like sound with grainy vocals that showcase a distinct Latino culture that has only recently become a major player in the hip-hop scene.
What’s better than a Mama with a little mojo? Nothing except for the Colorado-based band Mojomama. Exploring a combination of funk, soul and rock, Jessica Rowand, Paul Rogalski, Britt Heaps, Mike Fogerty and Doug Carmichael form the quintet that holds itself personally responsible for making people feel good and getting them on their feet. In true funk style, Mojomama explores all parameters of music, sampling everything from ’40s-era blues to R&B, coming together to create sultry, hip-shaking grooves. The group creates the familiar and inviting atmosphere one would expect of old friends who want nothing more than to get funky.
Known as the “g’earls,” the five lovely ladies of Uncle Earl have injected much-needed feminine mystique into traditional bluegrass music. Each equipped with solo endeavors, the members of Uncle Earl create a wholly organic sound complimented by the fiddle, banjo and mandolin. With infectious energy, undeniable charisma, sharp musicianship and a unique repertoire, Uncle Earl has infused bluegrass with a female energy that showcases their talents as one harmonious sound, rather than the traditional lead and back-up vocals. As far as bluegrass goes, these women are defiantly old-fashioned and defiantly contemporary. Their rich, sincere vocals infuse refreshingly unprocessed songs with the end product of perfectly aged folk music.
Jonathan Byerley started recording his debut album i
n his kitchen on an acoustic guitar. Eventually, he filled it out with horns, drums and organs, and released Hymns and Fragments last April. Byerley’s bearded baby face somehow fits his surprisingly deep voice as it sinks into his folky acoustics. Perhaps his most unique song is “Failed Season,” which somehow combines quiet cowboy horns with bouts of Beatles-esque energy. In fact, had Garden State been released a few years later, this song could have easily fit onto the soundtrack. While Byerley’s last project, Nightmare Fighters, focused primarily on heavier music, it came to an end as Byerley found his footing as a songwriter. “I just wasn’t a rock band kind of guy,” Byerley told The Marquee, “I’m just a singer/songwriter.”