The Denver Party Scene and THOU ART on HIGH: A Cap Hill Neighborhood Art Night
I quite enjoy parties. I grew up in an area known colloquially as “South Florida” – an area along the southern east coast of Florida which spans three tri-county areas and houses cities such as West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. You’ve probably heard of at least one of these cities, and you would expect them to be filled with sunshine, tanned bikini bodies, and all-day and all-night beach drinking. You would be right to imagine it this way– in South Florida, the weather is warm year-round, the people have money to spend, the location is prime for any-drug-you-want access, and there’s no good reason not to party. There are clothing-optional rooftop pool parties, international four-day-long fetish events that take over entire hotels, every concert you want to attend, and five separate downtown club scenes in a 3-hour north-south radius. The party scene is expensive; it has a dress code; and you can bet that professionals are running it.
While known as a party destination to much of the world, South Florida lacks a certain intimacy and community connection. Although it has so much to offer, it does so with a shallow and half-hearted nature. There is no meaning to the party, no value; it’s just another day in the life.
Denver is different: It encourages the genres of art, sex, circus, and theatre to unite like great poets, writers, painters, and philosophers of the 1920’s once gathered. No one is wasted; not in their intoxication nor in their humanity. Everyone desires to show up as themselves and to enjoy others as they are. The party scene wakens my soul to a glorified time when eccentricity, glee and rebellion both escaped the center of culture and eventually defined the culture for an entire decade. Life will be seized and consequences will be damned.
I first recognized the 1920’s atmosphere back when I attended Natalia Kvalem’s first-ever production, a variety show held at the Diebolt Brewery. With interwoven acts of burlesque, aerial arts, and stand-up comedy, Natalia produced and hosted a show full of enjoyment, enthusiasm, and a “fuck-the-system” attitude reminiscent of the greats of that magical jazz era. Imaginations stretch, races mingle with honesty, notions of gender and sexuality dismantle, and folks disregard class as trade for the opportunity to laugh, dance, drink, dress, love and behave as they want. A hundred years ago may as well have been yesterday when it comes to this basic acceptance. How can I not witness a century-ago life unfolding again in the here and now?
The party community in the Denver area represents shared experience, with each event an adventure we traverse together with intentions to never be the same again. The world seems perfectly underground, exclusive only in the sense that you must be ready and willing and free of offense, and you too shall stumble like Alice down the Speakeasy rabbit hole. Your invite is your desire and your desire is the only purpose that matters.
These events might be held in houses elevated to status with titles like Morrison House, Love House, and Mile High House; or, they might arise in large warehouses converted into legit festival spaces for a single night only, hidden backrooms of breweries, detached garages, tented backyards or small indie art galleries. The spaces alone illustrate intimacy and surreptitious prestige. Your average human may never find the party simply because it takes extraordinary leaps to arrive somewhere with no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
And, these events are not held by Big Business; they are curated by the people of the community, by the local producers and volunteers and artists and patrons of the arts. Not only do you want to pay to attend these events, but you want to donate a piece of yourself monetarily or otherwise. When finally you arrive in a place where you’re welcome to be yourself, when you’re celebrated for being yourself to the utmost degree, your feelings of connection and generosity multiply.
A few weeks back, I caught word of a party happening at this lovely Capitol Hill mansion-esque three-story home affectionately known as the Mile High House. I’m intrigued, this being the third time that I would be attending a party at an exclusive House-with-a-capital-H (each time with a vague description of debauchery and amusement that in no way prepared me for what was to come). There was supposedly some sort of open mic happening there too, so I extended the invite to some of my favorite local comics and one of my favorite creators in this town, Josue Flores. THOU ART on HIGH: A Cap Hill Neighborhood Art Night was not the first party at the house, though it may have been the first in awhile or the first of its kind or, perhaps it doesn’t matter because you should imagine that every party is the first and only of its kind.
Walking into Mile High House feels luxurious, with varying ceiling heights and colorful flooring adorning the entranceway and a spiraling wooden staircase leading to the unknown above. Everywhere you look, antique wallpapers and light fixtures illuminate the spaces. Down the hallway, one of those old classy fabric chairs sits beside a hat rack holding pseudo-photobooth props (as in, they were real hats/glasses/etc. mimicking the unreal versions provided for photobooths). Beside the chair sits a table housing an old rotary phone. A tripod stands across from the furniture, with a note providing directions on how to attach your cell phone to it and use the photobooth.
Art prints adorn the walls in a room to the right of the front door. At the end of the room, a canvas is well-lit and invites party guests to create community art. A table sits in front of it with paint and brushes, pastels, markers, and crayons, as well as puzzle pieces from a rather large puzzle, each piece flipped upside down in one end of its box revealing the plain white backing on the pieces. The other end of the box shares a message to place your finished piece there to dry so later the pieces can be adjoined into a community-created puzzle.
In this room, a man approaches me with a pen taped with a message: What was your face before you were born? I wonder, is our face but a caricature? Are our insecurities about how we appear worthwhile in the grand scheme of the universe? When our faces are the distinct matter we use to identify ourselves as me, what transformation takes place when we discover someone else may have owned our face before?
The man speaks few words and seemed only to communicate in gestures, but he beckoned with his hands that I should wait a moment as he had a message just for me. He digs around in his front jacket pocket, very focused, as though he was flipping through items looking for the perfect one but all while making no eye contact with bits of paper in his pocket. He pulls out a message and hands it to me: Boredom is counter-revolutionary. How dare this man have my soul pre-notated, how dare he know my deepest values with only the touch of his fingers. I introduce him to several of my friends later and watch him perform this act and provide each friend with a message that seemed to be truly meant for them, too.
The room across from this one has photography for sale on the wall and musicians take turns playing music while a few folks on a couch dance in their seats. A man on a stool known in front of an antique typewriter offers to write a poem on-demand for any guests (@darkphart). I lock eyes with a guest who begins to banter with me in such authentic and intimate fashion, I wonder if he’s flirting with me. He suggests we get a poem written, and in a jumble of communication between the two of us joking while making our request to the poet, we challenge him to write a single poem we can share. Afterwards, we urge the poet to cut his work in half for us in a manner in which we could then place the pieces together later, much, much later in our lives, in a dramatized reunion in which the adjoined pieces would prove that we were truly the same people who met and adventured at this party together long ago. We spend the entire night finding each other again to exchange profundities and question each other on our beliefs about the universe.
The poems this guy wrote blew me away. Later, one of the comics I invited took my request to read one of the poems aloud and my biggest regret was not recording it.
Anyway, my new bantering friend and I continued to share in the joys of the party even after he introduces me to his girlfriend, who happened to be the photographer showing her work that night. She’s cool, their mutual friend is cool, and I’m pretty sure I just met my new best friends. It’s that kind of party in which every guest actively participates in the present-tense with radical acceptance and inclusion.
I wander into the kitchen later in the night, and like a fairy tale character offered magic beans on his journey, a beautiful lady offers me fancy chocolates bagged in pairs and neatly arranged in a plastic container in exchange for Venmo donations of $5. Shaped like hearts and emoticons and whatnot, these chocolates contain somewhere between twenty and a hundred milligrams of THC each. Though stated as a footnote at the end of the chapter, that’s not a casual range. Someone might eat half of a twenty milligram edible and be flat on their back. That’s quite an adventurous deal for $5, just sayin’.
The comedians performed where the musicians played earlier in the night, though the lighting, sound, seating and time weren’t set up for stand-up. One of the comedians remarked to me that I was the reason they were all there and my Facebook post got shared around, though I didn’t even know some of them and didn’t believe I made that big of an impact. It made me smile to see so many of them show up and be so happy to have a space for their act. Josue was running around in his usual fashion, observing some of the issues and trying to improve upon the show so that everyone could enjoy it much more. As the night went on, the space rearranged enough to be worthwhile. While I missed some of the comics due to sound issues, I was lucky to catch the acts of Miljen Aljiovic and Brian Evans. If you haven’t seen these two do stand-up, you’re denying yourself some of the deepest laugher you can ever have.
I excused myself during the show to fill up my water bottle in the kitchen. As I made my way to the sink, I paused for my turn. Ahead of me, a man sings and dances and smiles, possibly drunk. Becoming distracted by the people in the room, I share a moment with another stranger in which we honored the outstanding adventure, the party, the evening of surprises. At that moment, a woman with chin-length, ash-toned hair dressed in meaningful and perfect waves entered the room and locked eyes with mine. I found her to be gorgeous…awake; she made her way toward me then claimed apologies for tripping over my shoe (I don’t believe this). I tell her she’s too beautiful to apologize, that she’s too beautiful to ever apologize. I’m mumbling and bumbling and naturally flirtatious; she doesn’t stop looking into my eyes. I ask her if I can add her on Facebook…and she opens her phone to save my number.
I head back to the room with the stand-up and she follows me in there but I’m sitting down with friends and distracted by all the energy and excitement around me. Later, she approaches me to tell me she’ll be leaving soon. She leads me up the stairs to a room adorned with fancy white wallpaper, a design that you can feel under your fingertips if you guide them across the wall. We sit down on windowsill in front of a large, inset window and she moves closer to me, close enough to feel my skin against hers. She tells me how she’s moving into this lovely room at the Mile High House and makes it clear she wants to see me again.
It didn’t seem like a cold night with all the magic in the house, but it was chilly as ever in Colorado May. In the front yard, a woman hoops for the entertainment of those standing on the patio and in the back yard, flow artists spin their props on fire.
I met most of the party hosts toward the end of the night and connected them to Josue so their forces could exceed my wildest imaginations. If your curiosity’s engaged enough to venture into the wilderness of the new 20’s, grab a ticket for this Friday’s THOU ART on HIGH. This particular party presents a line-up of all female comics and all ticket proceeds will go to the ACLU in support of women’s autonomy. Bring your instruments, your fire props, your sensibilities and your soul – and remember that art isn’t just a space on a wall; it’s about the way we live and breathe in connection with our community.