You may recall reading in the January 16 edition of Feedback about the plight of vocalist Jason Hyland Mather, a member of the band Won Lump Some, who was arrested at Tony's Restaurant and Lounge, a Fort Collins nightspot, after stripping during a performance in the wee hours of December 21. In some ways, the case is on the cusp of a conclusion: Mather has accepted an offer from the district attorney's office in the city and plans to plead guilty at a hearing set for March 28 to charges of attempting to incite a riot (a class 6 felony) and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest. But the repercussions of the Mather matter continue to resonate throughout the Fort Collins music community. Critics of the police claim that three shows (two involving the Denver bands Foreskin 500 and the Hate Fuck Trio) have been canceled since the ill-fated Won Lump Some gig because of police pressure--and intriguingly, a police spokesman offers at least partial confirmation of these assertions with regard to two of the episodes. The result is a palpable tension between musicians and the men and women in blue that many observers expect will have a chilling effect on the Fort Collins music scene as a whole.
The two most thorough accounts of what happened on the evening of the Mather bust come via Fort Collins police officers Garrett Bachert and Kay Konerza, whose reports stretch out over more than ten pages, and Nelson Axelrod, editor of the Fort Collins underground publication Zeitgeist and a vocal advocate for Mather. As an indication of just how seriously Axelrod takes these occurrences, note that the second of his two articles in defense of Mather is preceded by a quote from the book of Matthew: "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known."
Both the police and Axelrod agree that Mather was on stage at Tony's around 1:30 a.m. when he disrobed; however, Bachert and Konerza claim that Mather urged those in the crowd to follow suit, while Axelrod indicates that he merely inserted the phrase "Take your clothes off" into the lyrics of "Piggy Back," the song he was performing. At any rate, a number of those in attendance were stripping at the moment the two cops walked in to the establishment. According to Officer Tim Rothschild, who serves as a liaison between the Fort Collins police and the city's liquor-license authority, such a drop-in should not be viewed with suspicion. Tony's is located in Fort Collins's first district, an area in which more police have been assigned to walk beats, Rothschild says, as "an experiment to create more communication between citizens and the police. They're supposed to be out there where they can work more closely with people and get to know everyone in the neighborhood."
In this instance, the experiment didn't run smoothly. Bachert and Konerza say that, upon noticing Mather was naked, they ordered the band to stop playing and grabbed the singer, who allegedly continued to suggest that the attendees "get naked." They also assert that Won Lump Some drummer Clifford Parker III loudly recommended that the crowd "get the cops," at which point the throng began heaving bottles at the stage. One such projectile struck Officer Konerza on the side of the head. No charges were levied against anyone in the club, probably because officers were unable to determine who was at fault. However, one police report characterized the crowd as "very hostile and uncooperative."
Predictably, Axelrod tells quite a different tale. He quotes witnesses who say that Mather said nothing to the police and that Parker actually tried to calm the angry mob; he adds that the response of the clubgoers was a spontaneous protest against the heavy-handed tactics of the police.
In the melee that ensued, Mather actually broke free of Konerza and Bachert and exited the club as quickly as he could. He returned after about an hour and surrendered to the police on the scene. Mather was later charged with the aforementioned offenses, and while he believes that he is not guilty of either one of them, he eventually decided to accept a plea bargain. "They were so gung ho about the whole thing," he says. "To fight this, it would have cost me $15,000 that I don't have, and if I had gone to trial and lost, there was a real chance that I would've been sent to Canon City, and I couldn't risk that." Despite his decision not to prolong prosecution of the case, Mather certainly was not given a sweetheart deal. The attempting-to-incite-a-riot violation carries with it a two-year deferred sentence that may be dropped after one year if he remains crime-free. As for the second charge, which involves resisting arrest, it calls for a penalty of thirty days in stir, which Mather would most likely serve at the Larimer County Detention Center in Fort Collins. As Mather tells it, the judge at the hearing has some discretion in meting out his idea of justice, but he notes that the DA's representatives are pushing for jail time.
Tony's manager Dimitrios Katopodis--better known in Fort Collins as "Jimmy"--is not in water quite so hot, but neither is he entirely dry: He faces two class 2 petty offenses in connection with the December 21 fracas. One involves a violation of the code stating that no person with a liquor license "shall permit any person to display pubic hair, anus, vulva or genitals" in his joint; the other takes him to task for allegedly allowing "profanity, rowdiness, undue noise or other disturbances offensive to the senses of the average citizen or residents of the neighborhood in which the establishment is located." Jimmy has been ordered to attend a criminal hearing in regard to these alleged infractions in April. Meanwhile, a review of Tony's liquor license has been continued until May at Jimmy's request. At that time, the liquor-license authority will consider four charges made against Tony's in relation to the Won Lump Some show; two of them specifically mention Mather's "anus and genitals" and a third accuses the venue's owner of failing to "maintain his establishment in a clean and sanitary condition and in full compliance with the requirements of restaurants under the supervision of the State Board of Health." Tony Katopodis, owner of the lounge, referred all questions about these pending concerns to Jimmy, who did not return numerous calls from Westword.
These events in and of themselves probably would have incensed many Fort Collins music lovers, but three subsequent controversies have compounded the situation. The first involved a planned benefit for Mather, scheduled to take place at Tony's on January 29. Several Fort Collins performers committed to appearing at the fundraiser, and posters emblazoned with the slogan "Help Save Hyland's Butt" were slapped up around the area. But two days before the bash, it was called off amid accusations of police pressure. Sergeant Pete Gazlay, the District 1 supervisor, uses different terms to describe what went on, but he does not deny that his officers may have played a role in preventing the spectacle from going forward.
"One of our officers got wind of what was going on there," Gazlay says, "and obviously, we were concerned. Our officers had been hit with bottles and glasses just the month before. So we went to Tony's and told them, 'You guys probably need to think through this again. This is coming up before the liquor board, and if there's another riot, it won't look favorable to them.' And later that day, they canceled the show." Gazlay does not consider this tack coercion. "Coercion is too strong a term. But I certainly wanted to influence them not to have the benefit because of public-safety issues. We had a riot there the last time, and the posters had an anti-cop tone to them. So I think it was a prudent decision on their part to do what they did--but beyond asking them to consider their actions, we didn't have anything to do with the cancellation."
On February 1, three days after the aborted benefit concert, Denver's Foreskin 500 was slated to visit Tony's, but that concert, too, was deep-sixed. It's easy to speculate that Foreskin's reputation had something to do with this decision. After all, the band's members are well-known for their willingness to expose skin during their boisterous performances. In addition, the group ran into trouble during its previous visit to Fort Collins, for an April date at the Ramskeller, on the Colorado State University campus. In the May 9, 1996, edition of Feedback, Foreskin's Mark the 3 Kord Scissor King described the previous run-in, which revolved around lead singer Diggie Diamond: "Diggie was doing this thing with Cremora [the non-dairy creamer]--he threw it in the air and lit it on fire. And when he did it, these cops raced up, grabbed him and dragged him off the stage." More recently, Mark added, "They took Diggie outside, and he's standing there in bikini briefs and handcuffs with Cremora all over him. And the cops were acting like they'd nabbed Bugsy Siegel. It was pretty lame and kind of funny--but the drag was that he had to go to court and deal with it." Diamond was charged with public endangerment, a third-degree misdemeanor, and paid a fine.
Given the band's previous treatment at the hands of the Fort Collins police, Mark was edgy about returning to the community. The band was convinced to return by Morris Beegle, a talent manager who, through his Hapi Skratch record label, works with acts such as Fourth Estate and Beth Quist. But Beegle says the trouble with Won Lump Some put a quick end to his planned promotion: "Basically, the police had been giving Tony's a real hard time. They were really harassing them, and it made them think that they'd get their club shut down if they didn't cancel. So they did."
Officer Rothschild and Sergeant Gazlay dispute Beegle's story; they say that they are unfamiliar with Foreskin 500 and its previous troubles at the Ramskeller and have no knowledge of efforts by other representatives of the Fort Collins department to put the kibosh on the appearance. But Gazlay is conversant with the circumstances surrounding a third cancellation, this one involving Denver's Hate Fuck Trio.
The Trio is a regular visitor to Fort Collins; the band's John DeStefano says his group has played there approximately once a month for a year or so. But a February 11 performance at Bar Bazaar, a club located inside Fort Collins's Northern Hotel, was quashed only days before showtime. "No disrespect to the bar," DeStefano says, "but the cops apparently came to them with some fliers that had been put up and said, 'If this band starts any trouble, you're going to lose your liquor license.' And they decided against having us play, just because of all the heat they were getting from the cops."
Bill Starke, owner of the Northern Hotel and Bar Bazaar, frames this anecdote differently. In his version, the root of the problem was the fliers--bold pink placards in which the Trio's name was prominently displayed. "We didn't put up the signs. Someone with the band must have," Starke points out. "They were posted illegally, on lampposts and public property. And one of the places they'd put one was by a woman's business, and she was highly offended. She complained to the police, and they brought the sign back to us. And they were very nice about it."
Starke insists that the police did not tell him to cancel the show, an assertion that Gazlay confirms. "But," the sergeant elaborates, "the name was offensive to a member of the general public, and we asked that all the signs on public fixtures be taken down." Starke immediately directed that this be done, and while he does not deny that the police's involvement may have colored his thinking, he says the choice to drop the Hate Fuck Trio performance was his and his alone: "We're trying to do alternative music on Tuesdays, but I think there's no sense in affronting the public. And I thought it was in very poor taste to post those signs illegally and to have a name like that." When asked if he would allow the Trio to play at Bar Bazaar in the future if the musicians put up their signs in accordance with local ordinances, Starke replies, "Absolutely not. Not as long as they've got that name."
Since this last incident, the simmering conflict between the Fort Collins police and local musicians has been quiet, but it may not stay that way for long. Promoter Beegle has rescheduled the canceled Foreskin 500 date for Friday, March 7, at an all-ages club, Dimmer's. Still, Mark the 3 Kord Scissor King swears that his band will not be baiting the cops. "We were going to play a PG show before, because of the trouble we got into the last time we went there," he says. "And that's probably what we'll do this time, too--unless they cancel us again, I guess."
As for Mather, he can only wait for his sentence. He and his Won Lump Some bandmates were living in San Francisco at the time of his arrest, and even though he likes Fort Collins from a scenic standpoint, he's counting the days before he can return to the Bay area. "I could see myself living in Fort Collins if I wasn't a performer," he allows. "But not if I was. I'd be too scared."
In last week's column, Hakeem Abdul-Khaaliq, producer of a hip-hop/R&B compilation called The Bizness, expressed frustration that the folks at KS-107.5 and KJMN-FM/92.1 (Jam'n) had not yet played anything from his disc and promised to picket their offices until they did so. Since then, the odds that Jam'n programmers would capitulate have gone from slim to none: As we were going to press last week, KJMN switched formats, ditching its urban style for a Spanish-language approach dubbed "Radio Romantica."
Usually when changes like this are made, the executives who push them to fruition claim that their competition had nothing to do with the process. But Mike Murphy, general manager of EXCL Communications, the San Jose, California, company that owns KJMN and another local outlet, KMXA-AM/1090, is refreshingly straightforward. Quite simply, he admits that the determination of Jefferson Pilot--a corporate powerhouse that owns five stations in the Denver area--to put heavy dollars behind its own soulful station, KS-107.5, played a direct part in EXCL's move. In essence, he agrees with a statement recently made in this space (Feedback, January 23)--that Jam'n would have been forced to go to war with KS-107.5. And he believes that such a fight would have cost more than it was worth.
"We had hoped that Jefferson Pilot would not move in the direction of a straight rhythmic contemporary-hits-radio format like ours--but with KS-107.5, that's exactly what they did," Murphy says. "Now, it is my opinion that to make a reasonable profit running this format in Denver, you would need to achieve an Arbitron rating in the mid-threes. We accomplished that in the fall '96 ratings book; we had a 3.3, our best ever. But that was when Jefferson Pilot wasn't really competing head-to-head with us. And when they started up KS-107.5 and supported it with substantial TV advertising and significant cash giveaways on the air, we knew that our shares would erode unless we spent a considerable amount of money. And we were unwilling to do that--so we decided to focus on our core business."
Indeed, EXCL has nearly twenty stations across the country, and every one of them now specializes in Spanish-language broadcasting of various stripes. Radio Romantica is one such hybrid, focusing on an easy-listening style that Murphy says is targeted "at upscale Hispanic women between the ages of 18 and 49--women who enjoy a more assimilated lifestyle than the people who listen to some of the other stations in town. They may be second-generation Hispanic-Americans who are comfortable on both the Anglo and Hispanic sides of Denver life and who have never had a station like this before."
Even though Radio Romantica is essentially a satellite service that's piped to KJMN from San Jose, Murphy emphasizes that there will be a local presence thanks to an agreement with Metro Traffic and a news staff based in Denver. Thus far, he's been able to sell the Spanish-language media on the originality of the station--Univision, for example, provided live coverage of last Wednesday's sign-on, which featured an appearance by international singing star Anna Barbara. Moreover, Murphy's not to be sold short: In a little over a year, KMXA has become far and away the most listened-to Spanish-language radio station in the area, with a market share among Hispanics almost four times as large as that of its nearest competitor. Urban music fans who enjoyed having more than one Denver FM to listen to will no doubt be upset by the disappearance of Jam'n, as will the twenty KJMN staffers whom Murphy let go after installing Radio Romantica. But you can bet the employees at KS-107.5 are all smiles.
And Abdul-Khaaliq? At least now he has only one place to picket.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.