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Those who regularly attend Denver Joe's Monday-night shows at Cricket on the Hill usually know what they're in for, and the stragglers and neighborhood folks who happen by quickly find out. Amid a gloriously gritty country-music backdrop, the well-seasoned -- and typically well-sauced -- guitarist launches insults and zingers at the crowd at a Don Rickles rate, and everyone loves it. The Denver Joe show offers cold beer, "Whiskey River" and head-throbbing happiness -- as well as one of the few places you're likely to see folks from disparate local-music genres hanging out in the same dark room.
Yet on August 30, something went wrong at the Cricket. A barroom brawl of hideous proportions left two people in the hospital -- one stabbed, another badly beaten -- and the music community shaken, freaked out and rightfully pissed off.
Several of the people involved are understandably hesitant to speak for the record, but here's what is certain, according to witness accounts and police reports: The primary organizer of the fifth annual Rock Out AIDS event at Herman's Hideaway spent the better part of that Monday night placing fliers for the event on cars in areas where local music fans were likely to hang out. (This person, incidentally, has been a major local force in AIDS fundraising activities, this year coordinating 28 local bands to play last week's four-night event, as well as raising tens of thousands of sponsorship dollars during Colorado's AIDS Walk.) She put up fliers at several local clubs and on many vehicles. On the night in question, she made the unwitting but woeful error of putting a flier on a much-loved motorcycle belonging to a new face at the Cricket, someone who obviously didn't share her passion for raising AIDS awareness.
The motorcycle's owner discovered the flier on his bike. He didn't like it. He came back inside the Cricket and, during a break between Denver Joe's sets, took the stage. According to witnesses, he then asked the crowd who was responsible for putting "faggot shit" on his bike. The husband of the Rock Out AIDS organizer (who also happens to be a former Cricket employee) boldly tried to explain to the agitated guy that the event was for a good cause and nothing to be upset about. Apparently, the biker was in no mood for a lecture on social sensitivity, and neither were his buddies, all five to eight of them. Instead, the group proceeded to assault the man.
Then things got uglier, according to a member of a local punk band who found himself in the middle of the melee.
"Everyone in the bar was involved," he says. "We were just trying to get those guys out of there." Once they managed to kick the antagonists to the curb and shut the bar's door, they made a grim discovery: The organizer's husband was in bad shape, having been kicked repeatedly with steel boots. He had broken ribs, and his earlobe was nearly torn off. One musician had been stabbed twice in the back. Friends took the stabbed bandmember to Denver Health Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery to stop internal bleeding and repair a pierced spleen and diaphragm. He was initially listed in serious condition and was not released until three days later. The husband spent two days in Porter Hospital with two broken ribs, cuts inside his mouth that required stitches, and glass embedded so far in his knee that he may suffer permanent damage.
Whoever did the stabbing was long gone by the time police arrived, and as a result, nobody was arrested. Though an investigation is under way, few witnesses have come forward to name names, either because they simply don't know who was involved or because they fear retribution from what is reportedly a young, aggressive and violent limb of an old-school motorcycle club. "Right now all we know is that there was a fight and a guy was stabbed -- and I'd like to find out who stabbed him," says Detective Frank Reno.
Since the incident, many different versions of the story have emerged -- some true, some not so true. One of the most common misconceptions, witnesses say, is that local roots band Brethren Fast was somehow involved. Though bandmember Mik Messina stopped by the Cricket with his girlfriend for a couple of beers early in the evening, he was nowhere near the club when the violence began and hasn't a clue as to who was involved. "I know some guys in motorcycle clubs," Messina says, "but they're mostly older guys in their sixties. The worst thing they do is ride bikes fast."
Most people who observed the fracas say that the aggressors at the Cricket were new to the club, the scene and even the Capitol Hill area where the venue is located. There's no question that alcohol was involved; though witnesses say the men hadn't quite "reached their full potential of fucked-up-ness," they were drinking, and they were poised to get pissed about something. Seems it didn't really matter what it was. That's part of what makes the whole thing so strange and frustrating to those directly involved and others who've been sharing thoughts about the incident since last Tuesday morning. Passing out fliers is a common way to promote local music, and people are stunned that because someone put a flier on a vehicle, two men are badly hurt. Because someone saw the word "AIDS" and immediately thought "faggot," a good-vibe event like the Denver Joe show has been tainted, temporarily at least.