Perhaps it’s something about being in a new city, or maybe Denver is just a place where amazing cultural surprises lurk around every corner. But I feel like my days here have been full of unexpected, delightful encounters with art. The latest two instances of this that I’d like to report on in brief are as follows:
1) The Red Rocks Amphitheatre, one of the world’s great outdoor performance venues, is transformed by day into a hangout for tourists and a parcours for athletes. When I was out there late morning a few days ago with some friends visiting from California, we sat at the top of the stadium seating admiring the epic view of the crimson geology and the big skies while people in spandex ran and jumped around the bleachers around us. Down on the stage though, where others were milling about, imagining what it must be like to be Phish or The Dead or any of the other countless super bands that have played some of their most memorable gigs from this awe-inspiring Colorado stage cloven into the rocks, a young bagppiper warmed up his instrument and played “Amazing Brace” and other well-known piping songs. His warm sound consumed the space. The crowd cheered. We went down to the stage during his performance to listen more closely. And then I went up to him to chat. Turns out the piper was a fellow Brit, visiting his family with his pipes to perform at a memorial service for a recently deceased relative. He had come to Red Rocks the previous day to look around and made a point, as soon as he saw the stage, to return the next morning with his pipes. Playing the bagpipes at altitude in such dry and hot weather isn’t easy. But the musician made a lovely warm sound and I felt elated to have gotten the chance to hear Red Rocks’ famously good acoustics without the need of amplification. I’m looking forward to returning there in a few weeks for The National/Frightened Rabbit and for a screening of Under A Blood Red Sky.
2) I didn’t intend to spend yesterday evening watching a production of Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner. I had, instead, planned on hitting the First Friday Art Walk in the RINO district and possibly having dinner with friends at Fuel. But sometimes evenings take surprising and wonderful turns and you just have to go with them. It started with a happy hour drink and chat with Andrea Dupree and Michael Henry, the founders of The Lighthosue Writers Workshop, Denver’s most illustrious center dedicated to the literary arts. After chatting for a while about the local scene at Pinches Tacos, Andrea and Michael invited me to the Lighthouse Writers Workshop building, an amazing old Victorian house full of nooks and crannies and yet surprising bright and airy, to check out “a short play” that some local theatre people and Lighthouse entouragers were putting on up in one of the building’s attic rooms. The “short play” ended up being an intense and brilliant two and a half hours of Shawn performed by the members of The Denver Poets’ Theatre. The three actors (one of whom, John Cotter, also directed the production) performed Shawn’s erudite and talky drama about the increasingly strained relationship between a son-in-law, his wife, and her father more or less sitting at one end of a long writing table in the attic room. The ten or so members of the audience sat around the table, a few feet away from the actors. The players had put the production together over the course of a year, sitting over bottles of wine once or twice a week. The lengthy process led them to understand Shawn’s worldview deeply. Even in such a small space, the intimacy was rarely overpowered by a feeling that we were watching acting at work. It felt more like we were being drawn into a conversation — one mostly going on in the head of the play’s unavoidably likable but troubled antihero, Jack (Aaron Angello.) After the show was over, the audience and cast chatted in the attic for an hour or so. I had long missed First Friday and Fuel. But the art walk happens every month. And the restaurant is open every day. What I got to participate in seemed quite unique.