June 14, 2007 News » Cover Story

Ten gigs in ten nights 

A binge review of the Springs' local live music scene

click to enlarge The Riders were a special graduation party request at - Southside Johnnys. - JOHNNIE ENGER
  • Johnnie Enger
  • The Riders were a special graduation party request at Southside Johnnys.

This started off as an experiment. It wound up more like a test of endurance, the senses and, well, general fortitude.

For 10 straight nights, I took this town head-on. I visited 10 different establishments, took in 10 live performances from local musicians (which, in some cases, proved a loose term) and had more alcoholic beverages than I could count.

I wanted to earn the right to make a strong statement about what Colorado Springs' lesser-known venues offer in terms of nightlife, musicianship and company. And I wanted to see if any of these were worth the next-day regrets they would sometimes bring.

On the day leading up to the first night, a Wednesday, I was pretty excited about the prospects lying ahead. I'm a drinker. And, at the time, this sounded like a big party.

I was pumped. Even if no one else was.

It seemed everyone at the Indy had heard about the "stupid" project I was about to undertake. (Full disclosure: Originally, this story was called "10 gigs in 20 nights." Until, that is, in a moronic moment of bravado, I upped the ante and announced to my coworkers that I could and, indeed, would do it in 10 days.)

"Nervous?" my coworkers inquired, jerk-ish smirks plastered across their faces.

"Not at all," I indignantly responded to each and every one of them.

And when I finally reached my first stop, Southside Johnny's Restaurant and Bar (528 S. Tejon St.), at about 9:30 that night, I was ready to rock.

Night 1: Wednesday, May 30

Unfortunately, The Riders, the aging classic-rock cover band booked to perform that night, weren't. They were just ... waiting.

I double-checked my notes. Yep, they were definitely supposed to have started by 9. What was the holdup? I asked around and found out that The Riders were booked as a special request by the Air Force Academy graduation party going on in the back room. Apparently, The Riders were waiting on their hosts to emerge before they started playing.

Finally, a few minutes after 10, their set began. Maybe the wait had unfairly generated a sense of anticipation, but by the time they started playing, their soft brand of classic rock just seemed ... tired. And their overuse of cowbell was egregious.

The future pilots and their friends seemed oblivious to it all. They just kept dancing along. The bartenders didn't seem to mind, either this was twice the size of their normal Wednesday night crowd, I was told.

But the rest of the bar patrons seemed as unenthused as I. Actually, I think the largely late-30s-and-older crowd was pretty disgusted by the drunken antics of their younger, celebrating counterparts. Some of them left. Only a handful joined the party on the dance floor.

As for me, I just drank the strong Long Island Iced Teas, which the bartenders assured me was Southside's most popular beverage, and took in the show.

click to enlarge DJ Prominent played old-school hits for the young - Dublin House crowd. - JOHNNIE ENGER
  • Johnnie Enger
  • DJ Prominent played old-school hits for the young Dublin House crowd.

But I could only take so much. I left before the end of the set was in sight.

Night 2: Thursday, May 31

My stop at Dublin House (1850 Dominion Way) started out a little later in the night. By the time I showed up with the Indy's Matthew Schniper and his roommate Kevin, it was 10:30 and DJ Prominent was already spinning a slew of old-school hip-hop records in the larger of the two upstairs rooms.

There wasn't much of a dance crowd for Prominent; only a handful of people trying oh-so-hard to pop-and-lock took to the dance floor before him. Instead, the room was filled largely with groups crowding around tables, engrossed in conversation or, in the case of my crew, a FOX Sports show about the Top 50 sports moments of the 1980s.

"I bet this place is awesome for games," Matthew, usually not a huge sports fan, kept saying.

Apparently, he wasn't feeling the music.

I kinda was, though. I've seen Prominent before, and he does have a good ear for forgotten tracks. Tonight, though, the breaks he took were too long and the changeups he made to the music were too intermittent. And he was being overshadowed by the events just a room over, which was hosting drunken karaoke and a bachelorette party.

All in all, the Dublin House came off quite well. This, apparently, is where the young set from up north heads when it isn't crowding the downtown bars.

Night 3: Friday, June 1

Friday at the Crystola Roadhouse (20918 E. Hwy. 24), it was tougher to place the crowd. In every literal sense.

Despite plenty of cars parked in the lot for this small side-of-the-road watering hole, I counted a total of 23 people in the place. (That included me, my friends, five band members and two bar employees.)

For a mountain bar, though, the Roadhouse has its charms. The log-inspired adornments and antique-laden walls gave the bar a cozy feel as Brickyard filled the mostly empty room with the blues.

How fitting a musical genre it was. Brickyard's lead singer's powder-blue suit was about 10 sizes too big for him (granted, he seemed to be wearing it for comedic effect), and I overheard the harmonica player bitching about the drink costs when I first approached the bar.

Perhaps understandably, considering the tiny crowd, the formality of Brickyard's performance quickly unraveled. Guests were invited onstage to join in. But instead of being cute, it came off lame, like an uninterested garage band fumbling through practice.

I needed a pick-me-up. The Crystola Coffee (hot coffee, Crown Royal, Bailey's and Frangelico) seemed to do the trick; it was fantastic. But then again, it took almost a half-hour to get to me after I had ordered it. I had forgotten about it by the time it arrived.

I drank enough of it to help wake me for the downhill ride back to the city, then handed the rest off to a friend I had dragged up the pass for the night. The Crystola Roadhouse impressed, but its crowd and live music? Not so much.

Night 4: Saturday, June 2

click to enlarge Jeremy Vasquez knows the blues. - JOHNNIE ENGER
  • Johnnie Enger
  • Jeremy Vasquez knows the blues.

I didn't sleep as late as I expected on Saturday. Not sure why I had planned on catching up on the sleep I had already lost and the upcoming sleep I was surely going to lose.

So I wasn't necessarily in the best of spirits when I met up with a friend on the opposite end of town to take in a show at Frankie's Bar and Grill (945 N. Powers Blvd.).

But with N-Tha-Mixx rocking out to "Play That Funky Music" as I opened the door, it was tough to stay down. This group, led by a trio of singers (two female, one male), knew how to put on a show. As they covered the disco, funk and dance grooves of the '70s and '80s and pranced around in unison like a well-oiled Motown machine, it was tough not to be impressed. Their set was like a primer to the samples used as backbeats and choruses on P. Diddy's records.

The crowd, a slightly older set, seemed to love every second. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the women in attendance to conquer the dance floor where they were met with winks and the occasional dance from the male third of the group.

I couldn't stay long, though. I was tired. So tired, in fact, that I didn't believe my tab when I received it. After two vodka-tonics and a house margarita, the bill was only $8. I scrambled to pay it, fearful the bartender would soon notice what had to have been a clerical error.

Night 5: Sunday, June 3

I didn't wake up until 3 p.m. on Sunday. And when I arrived at the Navajo Hogan Roadhouse (2817 N. Nevada Ave.) five hours later, I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

Compared with previous experiences at the Hogan, the place was hopping, and with good reason. Each Sunday, the Hogan hosts the Nothing but the Blues Jam with Jeremy Vasquez, and tonight was Vasquez's birthday. It was cool to see the outpouring of support for the newly minted 27-year-old. Local musicians Jake Loggins, George Whitesell and Tim Zahn were in attendance, among others.

For a place that proudly calls itself "Southern Colorado's original live music venue," it was fitting to see so many musicians signing up in the spiral notebook next to the stage so they could participate. It was an all-ages affair the youngest participants, I overheard, were 15 but also a bit chaotic. Granted, it was a jam session, but it overshadowed Vasquez's vocal and guitar talents. (So did the drunken older woman in the sheer top who was hitting on every guy in the bar and hilariously claiming she was a district attorney.)

It was a lot to take in. And the end of the evening marked the halfway point in my bar run. Matthew, again joining me, helped me celebrate the occasion by downing the Hogan's specialty shot: Harley Oil (Phillips Black 100 and Phillips Root 100). It was strong and not a bad way to end the evening. Once Matthew stopped violently coughing from the fire he claimed had sprung in his throat, we left.

But I couldn't fall asleep when I arrived home. I had slept too much that morning. Needless to say, I was late to work on Monday.

Night 6: Monday, June 4

After two roadhouses in three nights, I needed a change. The Underground (110 N. Nevada Ave.) seemed to fit that bill. DJ Omega was slated to be at the helm of the "alternative" club's sound system that evening, blaring industrial and goth music until the break of dawn. Or, you know, closing time.

I figured it'd be one of those things you just had to see for yourself.

In some senses, it was. The Underground blew me away.

On aesthetics alone, The Underground is the coolest bar in the Springs. Its mix of exposed brick, industrial chic and nightclub posh is a force to be reckoned with. TV screens throughout the venue flash pickup lines and jokes. The patio, usurped from the top level of the Avenue Bistro next door, is pretty amazing, too.

Though Omega's spinning wasn't of the scratching variety, she absolutely killed it with her song selections, playing The Cure, The Cult, Morrissey and The Mars Volta, among others. And she took requests.

click to enlarge Grass It Ups sound helped Front Range Barbeque feel - like a backyard party. - JOHNNIE ENGER
  • Johnnie Enger
  • Grass It Ups sound helped Front Range Barbeque feel like a backyard party.

But the dance floor, as with the rest of the bar, was largely empty, save for a lone dancer who seemed to have cut herself off from the rest of the world. It was disconcerting to see the venue so sparse there were maybe 20 people in the entire place.

There was a reason for the lack of a crowd, the bartender reassured me. Out Loud, the men's gay and gay-supportive chorus, usually regulars after Monday practices, happened to have the night off.

The next day at work was gruesome. No one seemed to mind that I was late to work, again. And my coworkers were clearly lying to me, just to be nice and supportive, when they told me my five-day beard growth looked good.

This experiment was starting to beat me down.

Night 7: Tuesday, June 5

Luckily, this trip was bound to be a little more low-key than some of those previous. And, finally, between my time in the office and out on the town, I was able to find the time to squeeze in a haircut and a shave.

Feeling exponentially refreshed, I headed to Benny's Restaurant and Lounge (517 W. Colorado Ave.) for another open mic blues jam, this one run by Cari Dell and the Hard Drives. After an impressive opening set from solo guitarist Patrick Kratzer of Pueblo, the open mic took on a similar format to that at the Hogan.

These players, who for the most part seemed to have a few years on the Hogan set, were impressively more cohesive. The musicians rotated on and off of the stage area, performing a slew of memorable classic rock hits.

It made for good background music as I took my coworkers and friends to task on the dartboard in-between relaxing breaks around a table on the back patio. And as I drank along with the pace of my cohorts, I noticed another side effect: My tolerance was sky-high. Three Beam and Cokes and a shot of Goldschlager later, I hardly felt a buzz.

When it came time to go to sleep after Benny's, I couldn't. And when I awoke on Wednesday morning, I groggily stared down the scale in my bathroom. Had I really gained seven pounds since starting this experiment?

I was in a constant daze until the nighttime rolled around. Conveniently, the time when I started to wake up and feel better was also the time of day when I started drinking again.

Oh my God. I had become an alcoholic.

Night 8: Wednesday, June 6

Luckily, I felt right at home among the drinkers at Front Range Barbeque (2330 W. Colorado Ave.), where local bluegrass outfit Grass It Up was performing. This weekly Wednesday night performance, staff members told me, regularly makes for Front Range's biggest night of the week.

The crowded patio next to the restaurant was filled with revelers. Here, baldness was an affliction to those both too young and too old to grow hair. The audience members were either dancing or sitting at a table, enjoying their barbecue and $2 drafts. And most of the attendees, it seemed, were regulars. (If they weren't, they were great at faking it, embracing each other as if they'd known one another for years.)

Friendliness reigned supreme as Grass It Up (which includes Indy inside sales executive David Jeffrey on guitar) ran through a batch of original tunes and covers, including an impressive version of Prince's "When Doves Cry."

As the sun set on west side of town, the backyard-party feel at Front Range raged on. Sure, it was a bit of a chilly night, but as the alcohol flowed through the crowd's veins, few seemed to notice.

click to enlarge Union Stations impressive stage and lights display - helped Habituals set. - JOHNNIE ENGER
  • Johnnie Enger
  • Union Stations impressive stage and lights display helped Habituals set.

After Front Range ... late to work again. Oh well.

Night 9: Thursday, June 7

After trudging through another workday, it was off to George's Union Station (2419 N. Union Blvd.) for a night of rock and metal acts. Here, we were met with a shock unseen anywhere else: a cover charge. Five-bucks-a-head later, my friends and I were inside and drinking the bar's "specialty," a bright red/pink sugarfest fittingly called "The Trainwreck." It wasn't necessarily my flavor waaaaay too sweet but it got the job done.

As for the music: The first two acts, Lucid and a touring band called Yard Art Project from Topeka, Kan., weren't terrible, but they didn't seem to blow anyone away, either. The crowds barely reacted to the banter offered up by either band's lead singer.

Later, the headliners, local metal rockers Habitual, were more well-received. As they pandered to the mostly 40-something dance-floor crowd before them (they, too, covered "When Doves Cry"), the venue's manager, Randy Kotterer, looked on proudly. If any band was to break out from the Springs scene, he said, it would be these guys.

I disagreed. They sounded like every other Union Station band to me.

Night 10: Friday, June 8

Heading into the final night, I was optimistic. I was heading to The Thirsty Parrot Bar and Grill (32 S. Tejon St.).

Back when this building was called 32 Bleu, its stage hosted national acts like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Modest Mouse. Anyone who's ever been inside simply gushes about how beautiful the stage still is. But with the new ownership's preference for cheap, local cover acts over national touring ones, how would it hold up?

As soon as I entered the first-floor door, I knew it wasn't holding up well. The downstairs half of the bar was packed. That meant one of two things: Either the upstairs band was so bad that the crowd had chosen to stay below deck, or it was just an insanely busy night at the Parrot.

Turns out it was a mixture of both. The upstairs was surprisingly busy, but the band on the stage, One Man Gone, didn't merit the attention. By the time they rattled off back-to-back covers of The Killers ("Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me") and failed to hit one vocal note, the crowd seemed to clue in and thin out.

That was probably a good thing. It spared the band members the disgrace of starting off their cover of Green Day's "Basketcase" with a reggae feel.

The drinks were fine there's only so much you can do with a Jack and Coke and not that expensive. But nothing seemed to numb One Man Gone. The performance was so bad, it actually came off pretty funny. But for a once-prominent face in the local live music scene, that's no laughing matter.

What was pretty funny, though, was that I ran into a dancing fool here that I had also spotted at Johnny's and the Hogan. He's a bit of a character my friends refer to him as "Guns and Bibles" because he's been seen wearing a black leather vest with that inscription on it and I'm told he likes to get on all fours and shake his butt around in the air. I didn't see any of that in my three encounters with him, but given the other moves he displayed, it wouldn't have surprised me.

Regardless, I'll give him this: He clearly supports the live local music scene as much as anyone else in this town. The guy's freakin' everywhere.

The morning after

Maybe it wasn't fair to end this run with the Parrot. For the biggest naysayers on the town's local music scene, the demise of 32 Bleu is an easy scapegoat. And, yeah, there's something to that. The biggest problem with the Springs music scene is the lack of competition for The Black Sheep (2106 E. Platte Ave.) in terms of national booking. Were the Parrot still bringing in noteworthy acts to its impressive stage, maybe everything would improve.

But that naysayers' stance is an easy one to take. Before this project, I was wholly in that camp. And though I haven't completely abandoned that thinking, I will say this much: There's a surprising number of bands and venues worth checking out in this town. Probably more than you realize. You just have to go out and find them.

Just make sure to pace yourself. pete@csindy.com


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