At The Alley in downtown Littleton, you might find a musician who’s so into the music, they’ll get up and dance on the bar.
When a local band surprises the crowd with a stellar performance that no one saw coming, “it just knocks people’s socks off,” said Mary Riecks, The Alley’s bar manager and a Littleton-area native.
The watering hole on Main Street doubles as a music venue that finds and helps grow local talent — and the shows are free. It’s one of the bars in the metro Denver suburbs that offers a window into up-and-coming homegrown performers amid a music scene that one longtime bar owner says is growing.
“Twenty years ago when I opened up the bar, there were a few bars around that had live music,” said Doug Jacobsen, owner of Jake’s Roadhouse in Arvada.
Since then, he’s noticed that “all of these different bars” now offer space for shows, said Jacobsen, who has friends who perform at spots around metro Denver.
“There’s a lot of great musicians here,” Jacobsen said.
Here’s a look at places off the beaten path where you can catch some lesser known — and sometimes famous — music artists in person.
‘Something for everyone’
Wild Goose Saloon in Parker offers a bit of a different environment: It’s a bar but also a large event venue.
It aims to be “Colorado’s version of the Knitting Factory” — a unique, independent venue that hosts local and national artists, said Chris Dellinger, who serves as co-owner of Wild Goose Saloon with his wife.
They’re both longtime musicians themselves — they perform in a band called Lola Black, garnered play on the radio and toured around the country — and have played Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre several times, Dellinger said.
They take their knowledge of the industry to running the Wild Goose, which was built around the concept of serving as a music venue and has a bigger stage, sound and lighting setup than most bars do, Dellinger said.
It’s “kind of like every musician’s dream to own their own venue at some place and time, and we just ended up being able to pull it off,” said Dellinger, who lives in Aurora.
After opening in July 2021, Wild Goose has hosted some large country artists and “some `80s artists that are still big,” Dellinger said. National pop-rock act American Authors is set to play there in late April.
“My motto always is, ‘If you don’t like the music one night, that’s OK — it’ll be completely different the next night or the next week,’” Dellinger said. “So we really try to have something for everyone here.”
His venue tries to get exposure for local talent by letting them open for national touring acts.
For the audience, the typical admission cost for a national artist’s show at Wild Goose sits around $25 to $30, but local artists’ ticketed shows can cost as low as $10, and most of the local artists’ shows are free.
Dellinger and his wife have “snuck in” a performance or two at Wild Goose, he said — they were set to play there in late April with the Texas Hippie Coalition, an American heavy metal band.
Keeping classics alive
You might also see Jacobsen, a guitarist himself, playing with a band at Jake’s Roadhouse in the north metro area every now and then.
His bar started offering live music “right away” after opening near the end of 2003. Sitting in east Arvada close to Denver and Westminster, the venue offers mostly cover bands and blues, and on Wednesday nights, bluegrass is on tap. Sometimes, artists play original songs, but it’s rare, Jacobsen said.
“Our people come in to hang out, and most original bands don’t have four hours’ worth of original music,” Jacobsen said.
But playing covers at Jake’s Roadhouse is one way to get a new artist’s foot in the door in the local music scene.
“We have bands that come to us all the time that can’t get these other bars to give them a chance to play because they haven’t played anywhere before,” Jacobsen said. He added: “We’re not like that. I know a lot of musicians around town, and we will give a band a chance to play just on the word of a friend.”
He feels that live music is important to promote — “especially nowadays.”
“I’m 68 years old, so I grew up with really a lot of good rock and roll from the `60s and `70s, and I think it’s important to keep that alive,” he said.
And there’s no ticket cost to watch the live music at Jake’s Roadhouse.
New talent in Littleton
Music is always free to watch, too, at The Alley in Littleton on the southwest side of the Denver suburbs.
The bar had its grand opening near the start of 2017 and has always featured live music, said Riecks, the bar manager.
“There were not that many places on Main Street here in downtown Littleton that featured live music other than karaoke or a DJ on the weekends, at least not regularly,” Riecks said. “If you did catch a live band, it was maybe one day a week.”
The Alley came in and established a consistent place for live music, leaning toward classic rock but offering a variety of genres including blues, jazz, folk and bluegrass. Most of the acts that Riecks books are local. And among the original artists, performances typically include about 25% original songs and 75% covers, she said — catering to the crowds.
The small main-street outlet is still an ideal place where you can catch new talent: Some nights of the week are centered around new artists.
“If you come play my open mic night and the open mic host thinks you have some serious potential, they’ll send them to me,” and then the artist may be featured in “new talent Thursday,” Riecks said. After that, Riecks may offer an artist a weekend spot — a paid opportunity to play from 8 to 11 p.m.
“So there’s kind of a ladder,” Riecks said.
Some well-known artists have played at The Alley, including Sean Kelly of The Samples, “which was a huge band in the `90s,” said Riecks, who added that she receives at least 40 to 50 emails a month from local artists and national touring acts.
A large part of The Alley’s crowd on any given night comes for the live music, Riecks said.
People can get a typical bar experience at many other places, she noted.
“But if they want to have a great craft-made cocktail and see some local talent,” Riecks said, “this is the place to do it in Littleton.”