The Colorado concert calendar was filled with memorable shows in 2012, though the opportunity to go out of state for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, then head to Las Vegas this month to see the long-awaited comebacks of two of country's hottest stars was too good to pass up.
All that's left is a New Year's Eve date in Denver with the Lumineers and Shovels & Rope.
So, while this list won't include them, representatives of rock, roots, pop and folk music were among my favorite acts of the year. Rank your top choices in the accompanying slideshow.
These 12 acts prove 2012 was a very good year, indeed. Listed in chronological order:
Wilco, Jan. 19 at Fillmore Auditorium, Denver: Touring in support of 2011's The Whole Love, Jeff Tweedy & Co. covered a lot of ground during a 26-song set that included a 30-minute encore. And where there's smoke, there's fire. Tweedy addressed the crowd early on, eager to know: "Is pot legal here? Sort of? Somewhat? It smells legal. It smells very legal."
Honeyhoney, May 8 at Fox Theatre, Boulder: Opening for James Morrison, the hot-blooded combination of Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe only played 34 minutes, but left many in the crowd breathing heavily and wanting more. Here's to high-profile headlining opportunities in 2013 for this pretty, unpretentious pair.
The Civil Wars, May 23 at Ogden Theatre, Denver: Who knew John Paul White and Joy Williams were only months away from putting their act on hold, either temporarily or permanently. Their popularity continued to rise after the release of 2011's Barton Hollow, and they seemed like the perfect couple -- at least onstage. Married to other people (and a very pregnant Williams happily showed off her baby bump), they offered a charming chemistry and wraparound vocals that belong together as long as they can resolve their "irreconcilable differences of ambition."
Lucinda Williams, July 22 at Arvada Arts Center, Arvada, Colorado: Finally getting to see Ms. Americana play was quite a treat, particularly in this venue that might be the best-kept summer secret in Colorado. The passionate performer shed a few tears for the victims of the movie massacre that happened two days earlier in nearby Aurora during an otherwise uplifting summer night with one happy mama.
Jack White and the Peacocks, August 8 at Red Rocks: The highly anticipated show at one of the world's most magnificent outdoor venues was as revved up as Blunderbuss, his first solo album that was one of the best of the year. And while White turned the amphitheatre a cool shade of blue, his backup band of six lovely ladies was red-hot.
Kathleen Edwards, August 17 at Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, Lyons, Colorado: While 12-year-old Bella Betts provided the most endearing moment of the festival, one of Canada's most affecting singer-songwriters battled with her emotions while focusing mostly on songs from Voyageur, another Top 10-worthy album from 2012. Despite its critical success, Edwards went through a tumultuous year and wasn't afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve for all the Colorado folks to see.
Elizabeth Cook, September 2 at Stargazers Theatre, Colorado Springs: Irreverent and ballsy, the fast-talking, wise-cracking Southern belle kept up the energy despite playing for a small, reserved audience. She might be too mouthy to preach the gospel, but her selections from this year's Gospel Plow were pure heaven.
First Aid Kit, October 12 at Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin, Texas: Not too far removed from high school, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg sound more like old souls from Appalachia. And they struck a chord with an enthusiastic early afternoon crowd on the opening day of the festival. With songs like the ethereal "Emmylou" from this year's The Lion's Roar, this sister act is right at home in Americana.
Mark Knopfler, October 29 at 1stBank Center, Broomfield: The former Dire Straits frontman had an ax to grind on the first of two nights in Broomfield, and not because he was opening for Bob Dylan. While relying heavily on material from this year's superlative double album, Privateering, the UK's Sultan of Swing effortlessly turned up the heat while keeping his cool throughout a powerful 75-minute set.
The Vespers, November 18 at the Soiled Dove, Denver: The Fourth Wall never stood in the way of the two Cryar sisters and two Jones brothers, whose breakthrough album was at the top of my 2012 list. The young and committed Nashville natives who proudly call themselves a "band of Christians" knocked down that imaginary wall and touched an audience of true believers that hopefully will continue to spread the good word about this spirited quartet.
Shania Twain, December 6 at the Colosseum, Las Vegas: Nowhere near Nash-Vegas, the country comeback story of the year happened in spectacular fashion at Caesars Palace. The dream queen of crossover spared no expense in making us realize this no-holds-barred start to a two-year residency was well worth the eight-year wait.
Tim McGraw/Faith Hill, Dec. 8 at the Venetian Theatre, Las Vegas: Country's power couple made beautiful music together while pushing their luck and following Shania's lead in Sin City. With Hill as stunning as ever and McGraw's hunky charm, the odds are stacked in their favor during eight more weekends of Soul2Soul shows through April.
Photos by Michael Bialas. Check out more of these and other performers in his concert collection.