Denver definitely qualifies as a music lover's city, ranking as one of “America’s Best Music Cities” by Travel + Leisure. Here’s how to spend a weekend indulging your passion.
Let’s start this off right with a show at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre. If you’ve been before, you know the magic that you’re in for; it never gets old. First timers, be prepared to have your mind blown as music floats on the breeze between two massive slanting sandstone slabs (Ship Rock and Creation Rock), which form Red Rocks’ natural amphitheater. Red Rocks is nothing short of a national treasure and a mecca for music fans. No matter who performs in this naturally formed sandstone amphitheater, you’ll have an unforgettable time.
Where to Stay
The Origin Hotel Red Rocks is the official hotel of Red Rocks and will put you just three minutes from the venue. On concert nights, the hotel shuttle will conveniently drop you at the top of the amphitheater and pick you up afterward for a small fee. A huge red sculpture on the hotel exterior reads “ROCKS,” a community guitar in the lobby awaits strumming fingers, and the luxe Red Rocks Suite is decorated with music-inspired artwork and memorabilia.
Head back to Red Rocks in the light of the day to explore the Red Rocks Visitor Center, which has impressive displays about the famous musicians who have played Red Rocks over the years and left signed memorabilia. Then stop at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, located in the Trading Post just to the east (and down the hill about 100 yards) from the main stage at Red Rocks. The exhibits here focus on Colorado-grown artists like John Denver, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Collins and Steve Stills, as well as Red Rocks history and never-before-seen photos of Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, taken by music photographer George Kealiher. Hiking several trails that weave among the otherworldly rock formations is another option.
Grab lunch at Illegal Pete’s, a favorite low-key, local burrito joint with delicious, potato-studded burritos, bowls, quesadillas and tacos. You’ll feel good knowing that their longtime Starving Artists program encourages touring bands to sign up for free food vouchers, so they can stop in for a hot meal while they’re in town. Illegal Pete’s even has a small record label, Greater Than Collective, which is cultivating about a dozen artists worth checking out.
Finally, it’s time to see what Denver’s live music scene is really all about. There are some three dozen venues in Denver, and every local has their favorite. But for a reliably awesome experience, start with the Ogden Theatre, a just-right-sized, standing-room-only venue that gets a refreshing mix of recognizable acts (Jenny Lewis, Maggie Rogers, Sterolab) and local up-and-comers, too. Or if you go for tiny and dive-y, Larimer Lounge is a true launchpad for emerging rock artists. For a venue that’s extremely well-tapped-into the best jam, electronic and hip-hop groups around, try Cervantes Masterpiece, which was a jazz club in the 1930s, in the historic Five Points neighborhood. Beginning August 2019, you’ll want to get tickets for the new Mission Ballroom in the RiNo (River North Art District), which is set to kick Denver’s music scene up yet another notch with a lineup that includes the Lumineers, Ben Harper, Brandi Carlile, Bastille and the Raconteurs.
Post-show, head to Bowman’s Vinyl and Lounge on South Broadway, which is open until 2 a.m. on Saturdays. Shop their vinyl collection, chill in an armchair by the piano, play pool and enjoy killer craft cocktails with music-inspired names, like the Rick Astley.
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is a brothel-turned-peep-show-parlor-turned-restaurant. (Really.) The swanked-out joint has intimate balcony seating and a surrounding sunken stage that hosts performances most evenings. On Sundays, brunch comes with a side of live music, too, with performers ranging from Wes Watkins, the trumpet player of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, to bluegrass bands. While you enjoy the tunes, try the crème brûlée French toast or the arepas Benedict, paired with a bottomless mimosa.
Arguably one of the last great independent record stores in America, Twist and Shout has been in Denver, in various incarnations, since 1988. It's hosted in-store concerts by the likes of Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, My Morning Jacket and more. Head here on the weekend and you’ll join voracious vinyl fans browsing the colorful, sprawling shop for hours.
The last evening of your busy weekend calls for some low-key jazz vibes. For that, plus authentic Denver character, head to El Chapultepec, an unassuming corner joint with “Hot Burritos and Cool Jazz” painted on its stucco exterior. Jack Kerouac and his friends loved El Chapultepec for its no-cover jazz shows in the 50s, and over the years it’s seriously upped its jazz cred, hosting Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis and other greats. Today, it’s a chill spot to catch quality local jazz.