Arvada Center Blog

The Next Big Thing- Orquesta Akokán

The Next Big Thing- Orquesta Akokán

Mambo! You can hear the hustle and bustle of the streets of Havana on Latin collective Orquesta Akokán’s self-titled album.

Signed to the independent New York City label Daptone Records, this Cuban big band has the ethos and sound to match the rest of Daptone’s acclaimed roster of funk and soul musicians. Led by the attention-demanding vocals of José Pepito Gómez, Daptone’s first Spanish-language release is a groove-infused album of all original songs, paying homage to the old school banda gigante sound of the ‘40s and ‘50s and the mambo kings.

The Yoruba (a western African people with a longstanding community in Cuba) word akokán means “from the heart,” and it is apparent by their authentic sounds and hot-Havana-nights rhythms that they truly are making music from the heart, for the heart.

Fans of Buena Vista Social Club will love their celebratory lyrics and textured orchestral sounds, and they really get the crowd moving with driving Afro-Cuban percussion. Sounding simultaneously 21st-century-fresh and timelessly vintage, Orquesta Akokán has been met with critical acclaim and bigger crowds at every show. Their album of mambo, salsa, and cha cha sounds was recorded live in three days at the legendary Areito Studios in Havana and released last spring, with the band touring the United States for the first time then as well- even playing the Lincoln Center!

Fiery, upbeat, joyful, infectious – Orquesta Akokán’s music will find a special place in your heart and their rhythm will stay in your bones. This summer sees them making appearances throughout festival season all over the United States and Europe, exposing them to ever-increasing audiences. See them at the Arvada Center Summer Concert Series this year, and you can say you “saw them when.”

Grab a dancing partner and see Orquesta Akokán at the Arvada Center on June 29th!

Physics meets movement: 3rd Law Dance/Theater

Who knew that dance could teach you a science lesson?

Photo by Annabelle Denmark

3rd Law Dance/Theater has been considering the physics of movement for almost two decades. Beginning their life at the start of this millennium, this award-winning dance company creates conceptual performances that explore current societal events through metaphors and the freedom of dance.

3rd Law Dance/Theater asked their audience for their favorite moments and then dug back through years of original choreography to put together a retrospective of their work. They bring this piece of artistic history to the Arvada Center on June 1!

Collaboration is key as 3rd Law combines the input of current Artistic Co-Directors Katie Elliott and Paul Fowler, the lasting influence of Co-Founder Jim LaVita, their dynamic troupe of dancers, and influence from the physical spaces that dance pieces are specifically created for. We spoke with Katie Elliott, 3rd Law Dance/Theater’s Co-Founder and Artistic Co-Director, to find out how they work, what we can hope to see in the future, and the physics behind the whole thing.

Photo by Catrine Turillon

Q: What is the genesis of 3rd Law? Can you explain the principle behind the name?

Katie Elliott: Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction – is the philosophical and physical backbone of the company.

3rd Law Dance/Theater is an award-winning contemporary dance company that has been pushing the boundaries in movement, media, visual art, digital construction, theater and music since 01.01.01, the first day of the new millennium.


A: What is your creative process when creating new work?

KE: At 3rd Law Dance/Theater the creative process is dynamic and collaborative, the push and pull of ideas is alive between choreographer, dancer, and composer. Equally important is the connection with the audience through the power of live, in-the-moment performance – a cornerstone of the company’s vision.

Photo by Annabelle Denmark

What are some of your favorite moments since the company began in 2001?

KE: All of our favorite moments have grown out of all the different communities and collaborators with whom we have connected. Highlights include: Boulder Bach Festival, The Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and a variety of individual artists.


Q: What do you hope to see for the future of 3rd Law?

KE: Expanding the communities we’ve built through our Dance for Parkinson’s Program, Open Space showcase of Colorado choreographers, our classes serving the beginning to professional level dancer, and our educational outreach programs which support young art makers.


3rd Law Dance/Theater performs a retrospective of their work in the Arvada Center Main Stage Theatre on June 1. Come celebrate Colorado dance – tickets are on sale today!

Heather Gray Photography

8 songs to get you ready for summer

Summertime and the living is easy at the Arvada Center! This year’s 2019 Summer Concert Series features some crowd-favorite rock and pop legends, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, local dance troupe favorites, and a couple who are in a genre all their own- Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo. So roll down the windows, let the sun hit your face, and turn the volume up as you listen to the following great tunes- you may even hear them this summer at our outdoor amphitheatre.


  1. Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo “Heartbreaker” – July 15

The breakthrough single from her debut album, “Heartbreaker” has hard rock guitar riffs and sassy, confident sneers that are every bit as relevant and fresh today.

  1. George Thorogood “Boogie Chillen”

Off of George’s first solo album, “Boogie Chillen” shows him at his raw, stripped-down best and proves that you don’t have to be loud to rock.

George Thorogood and The Destroyers perform August 4, part of the “45 Years of Rock” tour!


  1. Squeeze “Up the Junction” – September 6

Shot in John Lennon’s kitchen, “Up the Junction” shows a 1979 Squeeze as they straddle the line between English folk and London New Wave.


  1. Big Brother & The Holding Company “Combination of the Two”

Rare footage of the Big Brother classic from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival when Janis Joplin was still in charge of vocals. Big Brother & The Holding Company perform a throwback to Woodstock on August 29.


  1. Orquesta Akokan “Mambo Rapidito” – June 29

Daptone Records’ resident Cuban big band collective produces a full-bodied sound with explosive brass on “Mambo Rapidito.”


  1. Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long” – August 17

Classic old footage of the blue-eyed soul legend Felix Cavaliere and his highly influential 60s band The Young Rascals.


  1. Mike Dawes “Somebody That I Used to Know (Gotye cover)”

Finger-picking mastermind Mike Dawes mesmerizes with a poignant cover of Gotye’s 2011 smash hit about breaking up. He’s performing alongside Justin Hayward on August 14! 


  1. Colorado Symphony Comic-Con “Jurassic Park Theme”

When the Colorado Symphony star conductor Christopher Dragon donned a T. Rex costume to conduct the Jurassic Park theme song, the entire internet took notice. They bring their Symphonic Tribute to Comic-Con to the Center on July 21.


Arvada Center classes aren’t just for kids!

Ever since the Arvada Center opened its state-of-the-art Digital Creative Arts Lab (DCAL), patrons of all ages have been able to take a modernistic approach to the arts, learning and exploring new skills using 21st-century technology. Whether you are an adult hobbyist looking to get into the digital arts or an amateur artist who yearns to go pro- the DCAL studio is equipped to take your digital education to the next level.

Painting on iPad class

Once we graduate school, as adults it can often feel like our education is over, and work begins. Your time for learning is not over yet, though! Here at the Arvada Center, we believe that acquiring and becoming invested in new skills helps deepen our connection to the world around us, allowing for a more fulfilling life. This summer in the DCAL, we have many options for adults to learn the digital arts.

  • Looking to take your photography and editing skills up a notch? Explore everything from photo-editing to collage art with the Photoshop and Artmaking class.
  • Heard all about these 3D printers, but never had a chance to see one or experiment with it? 3D printing is changing design processes around the world, and at DCAL, we have TWO 3D machines ready to take a 2D sketch and breathe life into it through a simple CAD program to create a tangible 3D sculpture.
  • Do you own an iPad? You are already halfway to creating amazing works of art digitally, and you will learn video-making, green-screen technology and digital painting in our Digital Art with an iPad class.

We spoke with Digital Creative Arts Lab coordinator and instructor Tobias (Toby) Fike about the options and classes that DCAL provides to adult art appreciators of all ages.

Q: What advice do you have for an adult wanting to get into the digital arts (photoshop, filmmaking, 3D-printing)?

A: I guess, just go for it. I know it can seem intimidating, but the basics are easier than you might expect and you have to start somewhere. One of the great things that we offer is shorter workshops that can introduce you to some of our various options without too much of a time or financial commitment.

Q: Knowing Photoshop is a valuable skill to have in the Information Age. In what ways do you see it being used most effectively?

A: That’s a tough question. It can really do so much. I suppose I like using it to enhance and make photos look that much more polished and professional.

Q. What benefits do you see from drawing on a digital tablet versus paper?

A: It is different and might take some getting used to but first off, it doesn’t waste paper. You can also undo anything so there is no fear of messing up. You don’t treat it as precious and that is liberating and freeing, allowing you to try more and get experimental with your art making.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing you have seen come from using the 3D printer?

A: There is so much potential with the printers, it is fun to discover new things to print all the time. Right now I’m trying to find ways to make molds for slip casting in ceramics.

Q: What do you hope to see in the future of DCAL?

A: I want to have even more talented instructors to diversify the things we can do and offer beyond what I can even imagine right now. Besides that, I want to keep having fun with the students who are already taking classes.

The Real Life Inspirations Behind the Characters of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical

The Real Life Inspirations Behind the Characters of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical

Harlem in the 1930’s was filled with lively music, delectable soul food, and most of all- larger-than-life inhabitants that not only inspired people around the country, but also the characters of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical. We spoke with Gary Holmes, Co-Bookwriter and personal friend of J.C. Johnson to talk about the real-life inspirations behind these warm, funny characters.


Gary Holmes: I will tell you about the characters, but first, this: J.C. told me many stories about Harlem that helped form the whole structure and feel for the show, not just the characters. These range from the heavy presence of and respect for the church, to the idea of a successful businessman helping out others (this was VERY BIG in J.C.’s life). The church suppers, the ballrooms, the migration from the South, the Tree of Hope, the Renaissance Ballroom- all were parts of stories J.C. told me and I then did research further on…..


THE CHARACTERS: Well, I also got most of the characters and their names from the stories J.C. told me about folks he knew or worked with.  I used them as jumping-off points for the stories told in the script, but never intended for them to be ‘documentary-style’ representations; more of an homage to J.C. and his world.


GEORGE – J.C. told me many stories about him and his best buddy, Fats Waller, with whom he co-wrote (sometimes with Andy Razaf, as well) over 50 songs, among them the famous “The Joint Is Jumpin.” J.C. was quiet and reserved, Fats was always the life of the party, and as J.C. put it, “Wherever Fats was, there was a party.” So, I tried to think of George as being halfway between Fats and J.C., a mix of fun, very gregarious and the thoughtful and reflective.  Which, by the way, is how I always saw the whole show; a lot of fun, but also thoughtful and heartfelt.

By the way, George is named after George A. Whiting, who, while not a Harlem composer, was a great friend of J.C.’s and collaborator on dozens of songs, as well. J.C. (and J.C.’s wife, too) told me stories of Mr. Whiting and of his total intolerance of intolerance and how kind and true a friend he was to J.C. I did run through all of J.C.’s collaborator’s names, from Fats to Chick Webb, and not only was George a perfect name for that character, but it honors Mr. Whiting, as well.



BILLIE – Named in honor of Billie Holiday. The first song she sang (a whole story to that) was J.C.’s “Trav’lin All Alone.” However, the character’s story came from a lady named Pigfoot Mary, who was a street cart purveyor of boiled pigfeet. She came up from the South and eventually, through her entrepreneurship and good cooking, became a very rich lady, ultimately owning her own restaurant in Harlem. Pigfoot Mary, however, was a person from the 1910s into the 1920s.

It was my friend Micki Grant,  who directed the first staged reading of TRAV’LIN at the York Theater in NYC that got us from pigfeet to fried pies. While directing the reading, she advised me on many aspects of Harlem and African American life that I would not be directly familiar with. Among the gentle suggestions she gave was that the whole idea of pigfeet being a street cart item, especially in the 1930s, was wrong. And a modern audience would not respond to them well.  And that we should instead make them fried pies. Which we did – and it works extremely well, not only in a historical context but in fitting the idea into the script as a whole.

Natalie Oliver-Atherton (Billie) and Milton Craig Nealy (George Walker), Matt Gale Photography 2019



ARCHIE – Is based on J.C.’s own numbers runner (who may have been named Archie, but it could have been Eddie). J.C. described how he was a nice guy, just a neighborhood businessman, really. And how he would come by every Monday (I think) morning and how J.C. would be waiting for him. That the stage Archie is a scamp came from J.C.’s stories about the fighter Joe Louis, with whom J.C. had a great friendship.

Joe Louis

Archie is a bit of a lady’s man, as very much was Mr. Louis, but not to the same extent. Archie is more of a flirt and a big talker, but far less real action.  (TRAV’LIN is a 1930s style romantic musical comedy, after all!)


ROZ – Is modeled after Rose Morgan, a very well-known and successful hairdresser who worked her way up to owning the most successful hairdressing salon in Harlem. AND…she was also married – for a time – to JOE LOUIS! (The rough template for Archie!) However, Roz and Archie make out much better and happier than Rose and Joe did, so it’s just the basic set-up that I copied.

A side note: For a time, we tried to have Roz also be based on Madam C.J. Walker, who was a very successful businesswoman in the early 1900s in creating various hair straightening formulas (popular at the time) and fashion items. But it was dropped for two reasons – all of her success happened 20 years before the time frame of the show (so it was old hat) and also the whole “inventing a formula” sub-plot was slowing down the main love storylines. So, we stuck with Roz being the nascent shop owner and dropped the Madam Walker storyline.

Erin Willis (Roz) and Ian Coulter-Buford (Archie), Matt Gale Photography 2019


NELSON – Started out theatrical life as Darryl (the name of a good friend of J.C.‘s, as I recall) – an insurance man.  J.C. told me stories about buying weekly insurance from him; He would stop by J.C.’s apartment like clockwork.  This storyline changed, as there was little development in what we could do with that character. So we created a new character, this one NOT based on  J.C.’s stories, but for plot reasons had to be a “trav’lin man,” one who George could help along, and it would be good to tie him into the church. So the Bible salesman came to be. The name Nelson is to honor my own best buddy, Nelson, who passed in a car accident, and who was always helping with TRAV’LIN and anything else I needed help with. And it turns out the name “Nelson” fits the character perfectly.

Nick Gordon (Nelson) and Tavia Riveé (Ella), Matt Gale Photography 2019



ELLA – Is named in honor Ella Fitzgerald, three of whose first recorded songs were written by J.C. and who not only co-wrote a song with him, but also recorded several more. However, Ella started out her stage life very briefly as Alberta.  This was in honor of Alberta Hunter, who also sang many J.C. Johnson songs. The whole idea of Ella going to nursing school comes from Ms. Hunter’s own later-in-life decision to give up singing and go to nursing school herself and in fact become a nurse for something like twenty-five years before going back into a much-heralded late-life return to the stage.

Alberta Hunter