Upon arriving in Denver after Fort Collins, we'd left ourselves little time or energy to go out and see this bustling city... and we were starving. A trip to Enzo's End
took care of that, which might have been a shorter visit had we not noticed the drinks on the menu. We hit our hotel, we hit the pillows and we were up in time for lunch the next day.
We agreed that an eclectic city like this should be enjoyed as such, and that we shouldn't just settle for pub food or sandwiches. We drove around downtown, passing by one place after another until we found the Samba Room
, a classy Latin American restaurant that looked almost totally empty. We were in, and wasted no time in placing a drink order. This was my first taste of a Caipirinha, a delicious, sugary concoction that's apparently very big in Brazil.
We all took turns slurping out of a bowl of seafood chowder before our meals hit the table. They were all so strangely creative - Sarah had a Palomilla sandwich, which came on flatbread and was overflowing with steak and vegetables. Joey's was a filet of salmon over vegetable stir fry with teriyaki sauce and lime. Mine is pictured, one of the most original plates I've ever had put in front of me, the Cuban Blue Plate Special. It featured ropa vieja, a traditional shredded flank steak in a tomato base that was reminiscent of pulled pork. It came alongside rice, black beans, and topped off with baked and fried maduros, or plantains. I gobbled it up gleefully, basking in every unfamiliar flavor that crossed my palate.
One of our top priorities was to finish out the trifecta of the American megabreweries; we'd done Budweiser back in St. Louis, Miller in Milwaukee and today was the day for Coors in nearby Golden, Colo. We were met by an unusually large crowd waiting in line for the shuttle to the brewery, which looked like a fifteen minute wait at the least. But someone told us we were only about a five minute walk from the main entrance, so we marched past the bus lines as I ripped on them for being lazy (hopefully not out loud, but maybe).
It must have been our lucky day, because there were another twenty minutes worth of line-waiting in our near future. We had chosen to come in the early afternoon on a gorgeous summer Saturday, so maybe I shouldn't have been all that surprised. Eventually we made it up front for the tour, which turned out to be a self-guided audio tour.
At first this seemed like a good idea to me. I've never seen an audio tour used outside a museum, but Coors had tons of people coming into this place for tours, maybe so many that touring in groups with paid guides isn't a feasible option. And they certainly kept us moving, because with all the brew tours we've seen this summer, why bother listening to every step of the brewing process when I can just skip ahead to the free beer at the end?
Sadly, I was not the first to consider this option. Everyone seemed to have guided themselves to the end of the tour, leaving us with another massive line of people on their way into the lounge area. The line snaked down a hallway, a set of stairs, and around the room at the bottom - probably another half hour of waiting that suddenly became very easy to pass on. Screw that, we said, we know what Coors Light tastes like. What a waste of time.
We did catch a shuttle as it was just about to leave, and the driver got the same reaction from most of the people on the bus - most of whom had stayed for one beer and then given up (mind you, we were all entitled to three free beers, which I'd usually have much more trouble giving up). The bus driver told everyone there was a bar a few blocks away that sold it for about a dollar a glass, drawing groans from the crowd. Funny guy.
But we're motivated people, we are. There are a few areas of the country that are especially renowned for their multitudes of exceptional microbrews - notably, the one we moved from (Philadelphia), the one we're moving to (Portland), and this one, right here in Denver. Down but not out, we scurried over to Wynkoop Brewing Company
, where there was no stupid Coors Light on tap, but instead, a blissful spread of over a dozen styles of carefully handcrafted beer. We found three seats at the bar and proceeded to forget about the events prior.
We had big plans for the evening, which you'll hear about in a few more paragraphs. But for this reason it was in our best interest to keep ourselves full of food now, in case there was nothing good or reasonably priced later in the evening. We had an order of nachos, which came served as a basket of dry chips, alongside a dip comprised of beans, guacamole, salsa and everything else that would normally go on top. We also devoured a plate of mussels, which I might have sneered at a year ago, but not these days. They'd be a welcome guest star on my next pizza.
A few weeks beforehand, we noticed some familiar band names playing in Denver during our visit. Some evil genius had cordoned off a section of street for a small festival called Dancin' in the Streets
, and we'd wasted no time in buying our tickets. We showed up right around the end of Steve Kimock Crazy Engine
's show, but with plenty of time before our main event for the evening.
Inside there were dozens of vendors, with colorful arrays of clothing, artwork and food on display; even the Wharf Rats
had a tent, the group of drug-free concertgoers who gathered at Grateful Dead shows and hold AA-style meetings. A group of people were painting a psychedelic collage on the side of a wall from an elevated platform. And somehow, there was still room for a "B" stage, where we watched a local rock/hip-hip group called Stanky Pockets
for a while.
At about 6:45, we bailed and hurried back to the main stage. Tonight we would be enjoying a show by Dark Star Orchestra
, one of my favorite acts - this would be close to my 20th time seeing them perform.
Here's the gist. I was ten years old, on summer vacation when Kurt Loder came on MTV News and told me that Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead, had died that day. I knew this was significant (my mom had a Garcia/Grisman
album that she really loved), but I didn't know how significant until I started listening to Jerry's music.
Once I did, and grew to love the Grateful Dead and every note that came forth from their instruments, I began to realize what Jerry's death meant to me and so many others - that I would never see the passionate, communal phenomenon of a Dead show firsthand. All I have are the recordings, which, beautiful and uplifting as they may be, are lacking that extra feeling of being there
That's where DSO comes in. The band recreates the Grateful Dead experience by choosing a setlist from the 2,300+ concerts played by the Dead, and playing the entire show, song by song. They're like an orchestra that only plays music by one composer. Each performer sings and plays the role of a specific counterpart in the real band, and each does it so well it's uncanny. I've played DSO for people before who would never have doubted that they were listening to the Grateful Dead, not for a second. For someone like myself, who was never fortunate enough to see Jerry play with the Dead, this is the closest to that experience that I can hope for. And it's nothing short of amazing.
One of the fun parts of DSO shows is the guesswork. When they recreate a setlist, they do so with the same cast of characters as the Dead did at that show. For example, Lisa Mackey (pictured) plays the role of Donna Jean Godchaux, the Dead's female vocal from 1972-79. She won't be up there if the band's playing outside of those years, unless they're playing an original setlist, which is uncommon but not rare.
Clues like these are integral in deciphering when the original setlist might be from. Tonight, there were two drummers on stage, which only coincided with Donna's tenure on stage from 1975-1979. We're narrowing this down quickly.
Once they played "Cassidy" and eliminated 1975, I got a sense of 1976 and listened closely for any song the band started playing after that year. None came, and at setbreak, I got Lisa's attention and wrote the number 76 in the air. She smiled and said she didn't know what year it was from.
Sure enough, after a whirlwind of spacey jams and powerful vocals, lead guitarist John Kadlecik named the setlist - August 2, 1976 at Colt Park in Hartford, Conn. Lisa shouted to me that I was right and I blew her a big kiss for putting on such a phenomenal show.
Camera full and face melted, we called it a night a retreated to our room for the night. I have a special place in my heart for Denver now.