1. Because Front Range artists made us the ultimate mixtape for personal and social uplift.
Erin Stereo | “Summer Somewhere”
DJ Erin Stereo spent the year playing charity benefit streams and hosting a radio show with KGNU, because, well, house music was on lockdown, too. Stereo mixes sassy, gripping electronic sounds that, when heard with your eyes closed, transport you to the dance floor at Tracks. Tune in (SoundCloud: ErinStereo) at home and vogue like no one’s watching.
Ramakhandra | “Andromeda Soup Dumpling”
Didn’t think the harp had soul? Let Ramakhandra blow your mind. The group, which played summer shows in support of racial justice, also debuted a self-titled album. Its second track lays out the group’s singular sound: Funky drums, bass, and futuristic synths deliver a soothing yet challenging listen. It’s unlike anything else—so much so that the band has described it as “Zelda hip-hop shit.”
Brothers of Brass | “Freedom”
New Orleans–style brass is thriving in the Mile High City with Brothers of Brass. The group joined this summer’s fight for racial justice using protest recordings in its EP I Can’t Breathe. In March, it released “Freedom,” an infectiously danceable ode to the end of lockdown.
The Grand Alliance | “Chakra Khan”
The Grand Alliance dropped its self-titled debut album mid-pandemic. Solo artists before their grand alliance (get it?), the trio’s vibe is decidedly up-tempo, with nods to Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang. Their version of funk bumps with a deep-’90s nostalgic touch (think Lucy Pearl and City High) and left us aching for simpler, less virus-y times.
Cheap Perfume | “It’s Okay (To Punch Nazis)”
The feminist punk band saw a massive jump in Spotify listenership after its anti-fascist anthem became a trending sound for TikTok-ers de-platforming hate. This year, the four-member band is planning to record its first album since 2019. —Luke Guillory
2. Because our lit scene is still, ahem, totally lit.
What makes a great literary city? If it’s mission-driven indie bookstores, insatiable bibliophiles, and a community of local talent publishing great novels, chapbooks, and long-form journalism, then Denver is a top-shelf written-word city, nourishing the bespectacled set with destinations old and new(ish). —Philip Clapham
Chapter One: Lighthouse Writers Workshop has been a bastion of creativity for 24 years, helping aspiring scribes find their voices through classes like memoir writing and poetry. Its Lit Fest conferences—even during the scourge—have recently drawn big names like Hanif Abdurraqib, Justin Torres, and Garth Greenwell. The newest addition for mile-high erudites is the Word, A Storytelling Sanctuary, whose editor-writer mentorship programming ramped up in 2017 and which held its first conference, called Margins, in 2020. The Word’s mission is to promote diverse voices in publishing, but we dig that it’s all about diverse Denver voices, too. Look for the second Margins conference in summer 2022.
Chapter Two: A community space for graphic design and activism led by co-owners Rick Griffith and Debra Johnson since 2007, Shop at Matter is still the go-to for books on anti-racism, feminist theory, and political history. Plus, one of the only Black-owned bookstores in Colorado has art prints cool enough for any punk turned artist turned intellectual. Now in its eighth year, Tennyson Street’s BookBar—or what we like to call the coziest spot in Denver—will soon break ground on a new gallery space, repurpose a service station into a community literary giving center (read: a free library), and add a cabaret license so bookworms can enjoy literary-themed cocktails and live music events.
3. Because Denver’s a great place to skate through life.
Roller-skating isn’t new to Denver. Inline and quad skating fun has been spinning around the Mile High City for far longer than the recent TikTok-inspired craze of 2020. Groups like Denver Urban Skate Troop—or DUST—have burned rubber across the Front Range since 2018, bringing together a community of inline and quad skaters of varying skill levels for swift-paced Wednesday night rolls through downtown Denver streets and weekend revolutions on paved trails along the South Platte River. (Follow @denverurbanskate on Instagram to join the next cruising date.) Other eight-wheel aficionados, like Denver’s Samantha Mack Lopez, have contributed to the local skating landscape by creating safe and inclusive spaces for Black and queer skaters. In 2019, Mack Lopez and two friends co-founded an organization for Black skaters to learn about and compete within the international roller derby community. The group’s been sidelined since the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic, but Mack Lopez sees a derby comeback on the horizon. Most of all, she says: “If people tell you that there are no Black skaters in Colorado, that’s a lie. There’s such an amazing BIPOC skating community here; you just have to look for it.” So, grab your skates, follow @blackdiasporaderby on Instagram, and look no more. —PC
4. Because our puppy love ran deep with #milehighpooches.
When we last checked, there were 44,700 Instagram posts with the “milehighpooches” hashtag, all featuring the antics of cute Denver canines. In a city so enamored with its pups that the question “Can I pet your dog?” passes for an appropriate greeting, social distancing rules exacted a serious emotional toll. But in the new hands-to-yourself landscape, technology was a safe tether to normalcy. Enter #milehighpooches. Following a hashtag means Instagram’s algorithm curates popular posts containing the tag and puts them in your feed. No longer leashed to any one account (we had been obsessed with @cheesmanbark, until it went dark), we instead tapped into an endless supply of Fido photos from owners across the city. Like Zoom happy hours, getting our dog fix through a screen was never a long-term solution, but we’re grateful that Denverites shared their furry friends on social media, easing the dogless among us through our isolation. We can’t wait to meet your pup IRL. —Angela Ufheil