Colorado Springs has a hard reputation to wrestle with, what with the Air Force base and Focus on the Family so near. And for a bunch of punk-rock and zombie enthusiasts, it seems like a hard kind of place to throw a good party, let alone one with enough cred to pull anyone else into it. But when even death can't stop you, chances are you have enough motivation to make it happen, and Colorado Springs' Zombie Fest has made it happen five times now.
Held at the Missile Mountain Roller Derby Rink 20 minutes outside of the downtown Springs, the fest braved even the rain -- something about fake blood always puts people in a good mood. Add that to the roster of seven local, standard-issue punk bands, ten kegs and one blood-and-guts wrestling pit (ladies only!) and clearly, you'll get to see many a happy zombie.
Greeted to a chorus of "Uuuuuuuuuhggs," the first three bands, Night of the Living Shred, Ugly Bumpers and Bleached in Black, played outside the warehouse-turned-rink in an appropriately post-apocalyptic, barren backyard. Zombies of all ages and persuasions, among the best a pink prom queen, hillbilly couple and two Amy Winehouses, meandered throughout the area, snacking on hot dogs and sipping PBRs. One medical patient zombie, Zach Barnhart, casually made a full-length sand skeleton in the volleyball pit while everyone chain smoked and watched the coming storm brew up along the mountainsides. As low-key as the whole affair began, the mission statement was clear from all participants: Activities like these are important, especially here, where kids may simply not have anywhere else to go.
Started by three friends in a basement -- Sebastian Nutter, along with brothers Victor and Mike Carbonell -- the first zombie party started out as a simple theme party for friends, with friends' bands playing. Every year it grew, however, until the fourth year running they were forced to move to an actual venue.
"It was just an excuse to get drunk and have bands play in the basement," Victor said of that first year. "Last year, we got a venue, and the response was just amazing -- it was overwhelming. We had twelve bands and hundreds of people all in one place. We really hit a nerve with the CO Springs music scene and zombie scene."
"This is the first year we'll likely make a profit," Nutter added, "All of which we'll use to fund next year's zombie fest."
"Everything so far, even with this one, has been word of mouth and Facebook," Carbonell said, saying that the group avoided any radio or flyer promotion. They came by Missile Mountain Derby through a mutual friend.
"They're excited just as we are," Nutter said. "They wanna see the scene grow just as much as we want to. Colorado Springs doesn't have much of a music scene as far as punk rock goes, so we're trying to put it on the map. We've got people from Denver, Pueblo and even Kansas and Nebraska coming in just for this event."
Enter Jeffrey and Nissa Ramirez, owners and managers of the Missile Mountain Roller Girls and longtime alt-community supporters. Seeing something of themselves in the enthusiastic, punk-loving, non-christian group, they offered to host the event this year. This gave our zombies far more space to be zombies, far less things (and people) to accidentally endanger, a chance to set up a concession stand and decent stage and, most importantly, a waiver for attendees to sign.
No lie: this waver even had the participants forgiving the organizers of chance-encountered death, let alone injury. It also included a clause for following federal and Colorado laws (read: No pot) and making sure to pick up after themselves.
"We're really happy about the waiver," agreed the Carbonell brothers and Nutter, who noted that past Zombie fests had seen a concussion and a broken leg.
It was clear from all that the festival itself was near to their hearts. Attendees ranged from the devout to the first-time, but all were clear on their love of the event and the Springs community's need for more alternative events like it.
"Me and my wife are tattooed, pierced Harley people," Jeffrey Ramirez said. "It's kinda hard to find that place for us. The tattoo community is really big because the art community is really big in Colorado Springs. There are 40,000 soldiers in town [at any given time], from all over the world... and they wanna have a good time, but they wanna see this side, too. It's enjoyable for people like us. My wife always jokes, 'Well, I was a nerd, and this gives me a place to be a nerd still.'"
And the crowd agreed. Audience member Katrina Paschal elaborated, lamenting on the Springs' lack of cultural diversity. "Everything gets flocked toward Denver. And I'm not shunning Denver, but with travel, expenses, finding parking, finding some place to go, and then usually shows get sold out... This needs to be out there. There's really not much. The Black Sheep and V Bar have stuff, but those are bars. That was the most trouble I had, and everyone has, is that time between high school and your first couple years of college. Finding someplace to go, hang out and be you. That's the time to be you... we're supposed to be having a good time. I mean, look at that, is that a hillbilly zombie?"
While their weren't any roller girls participating, which was a bit misleading from the buzz around the fest, there were a couple practicing in full zombie getup once it really started to rain and everyone was forced inside. The rain is actually what sparked the wrestling to start up, and the crowd was more than enthusiastic to watch a zombie Indian girl take down not only another female zombie, but a young man dressed as a zombie Joker from Batman, who clearly took delight in the beating.
Oddly enough, once the stage and bands were moved inside, the crowd finally seemed to be in the mood to give the long-awaited circle pit a try. First band to play inside was 3 Grams Over An Ounce, who killed with their fast-paced, heavy-on-crowd-participation style, finally on the same level as the bouncing, buzzed zombie kids who loved them; 99 Bottles followed them, to much the same reactions and revelry.
By around midnight, however, the wind seemed to have been taken out of most zombie's sails, and the crowd began to drift off. Final bands Arach Attack and Split Resistance took it hard, but played their hearts out for the remaining devoted few, who, despite their dwindling numbers, continued to run and bash each other in circles.
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It was, by all means, a perfect night for a zombie party. Everyone had a buzz, no one got hurt and those involved were incredibly happy with the results. All in all, a very good night indeed.
And if you can believe it, their wasn't even one zombie-Jesus joke overheard.