How a Wannabe Sam's Club Manager Became a Denver Music Powerhouse
Damian Burford of the Mostly Harmless podcast and Don't Panic festival.
February can be a dead month for live music in Denver. Damian Burford wants to inject some life into the sluggish winter season. To do so, he's joined forces with 3 Kings Tavern booker Vincent Fasano to throw Don't Panic: A South Broadway Music Festival, a two-day event boasting a mob of mostly punk rock bands hailing from Colorado.
The festival germinated in Burford's mind during a recent trip to a punk festival called The Fest that takes place the last weekend of October in Gainesville, Florida. While walking around and hobnobbing with bands and attendees, Burford decided to pitch the idea of a two-day punk festival at 3 Kings, the hi-dive and Mutiny Information Cafe to Fasano.
The booker had little on the books for February; neither did the hi-dive or Mutiny. Burford secured the venues and went about doing something he hadn't for half a decade: convincing bands to play.
Burford grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the ’90s. He wrote zines and ran an online message board called Shrevepunx, where locals could find out about punk shows in the area. In doing so, he built connections with Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords, who were putting out some of the most popular ’90s punk bands. To see the shows he most wanted to see, like the Nobodys at a VFW hall in Longview, he would travel three hours to Texas.
He befriended the band Raised Under Reagan and secured a gig as its manager. “I didn't do anything, really," he jokes. "But no manager does.”
In August 2001, Raised Under Reagan moved to Colorado Springs for family. Burford went along. But shortly after landing in the Springs, the band moved to Los Angeles, where they had some success before breaking up. Burford stayed behind. For more than a decade, he lived in the Springs, working retail to pay the bills.
He had run-of-the-mill goals in life: become a mid-level manager at Sam's Club, buy a house, get married and have kids. Those plans didn't last long.
“I went on tour with a band called Harrison Bergeron and thought, 'I never want to work another day of my life as long as I live,'” says Burford. “I just loved the road, the freedom, travel...I found that what I had thought were the logical steps from adolescence into adulthood were not for me, and that there isn't really a right path, and you can take any direction you want to. I would have been a mid-level manager at Walmart now and miserable had I kept to that path."
Burford started moonlighting in the music industry, first as a booking manager at the Triple Nickel, where he says he hit a glass ceiling after booking his favorite singer-songwriter, Chuck Ragan, for a well-attended 2011 show. Then Burford worked as assistant manager of the Colorado Springs club the Black Sheep. That job gave him ample time to direct his creative energies elsewhere.
He listened to podcasts to pass long hours working a tech warehouse job in 2011. There he stumbled across Marc Maron's WTF podcast and imagined doing something similar. Within the year, he had moved to Denver and quit working at music venues. Instead, he launched the Mostly Harmless Podcast. The title is a reference to Burford's favorite book in high school, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That project allowed Burford to interview musicians — a more personal, creative and productive way to participate in the music scene, as he tells it. The first episode was with Chuck Ragan in 2011, and the most recent, episode 134, is with Meat Wave.
Burford also started writing for New Noise and Vice, though he prefers producing the podcast: Recording is easier than transcribing interviews.
“Doing zines, I hated typing up interviews,” says Burford. “A twenty-minute interview takes me two or three hours to transcribe, and I hate the sound of my own voice.”
His work in clubs, his connections to musicians and his experience booking gave him the skills needed to organize the Don't Panic festival — whose title is also a nod to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
“It's kind of the accumulation of everything I've done and the perfect storm of the right place, right time, right person, right idea,” says Burford. “Me and Vincent had done a show with Austin Lucas this summer, and we were biting our fingernails thinking we might lose our ass."
"Everybody got paid, and we walked out with twenty bucks a piece," he says. "We felt like we won."
That taste of success pushed the duo to find a new project. At first, he wanted to produce Don't Panic alone. But Vincent "kind of won't let me — in the best way possible,” Burford says.
Visit the Don't Panic website for more information and to buy advance tickets, which are $25 for both days and $12 for individual shows. The festival runs February 17 and 18. The shows at 3 Kings and hi-dive are 21 and over. All shows at Mutiny are all-ages and free.
The festival's full schedule is still being drafted; below is a list of the confirmed acts.
Off With Their Heads
The Raging Nathans
The Blackeyed Saints
The Swindlin Hearts
Jack's Smirking Revenge
All Waffle Trick
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