Denver's music community is mourning the loss of Billy Bunting, the frontperson for the Denver U2 tribute band Under a Blood Red Sky. Bandmembers confirmed Bunting’s passing on their band Facebook page on Sunday afternoon.
“We are beyond heartbroken to share this news with you. The heart and soul of our band, Billy Bunting, passed away this morning,” the group's post states. “Whether we performed to 200 or 2,000 people, Billy’s devotion, passion, and love for the music and fans was always the same. He was the consummate professional and a driving force in establishing the local tribute scene in Denver.”
The band did not say how Bunting died, but on his personal Facebook page, Bunting, who also went by Billy Bono, wrote that he had undergone surgery earlier this month and was looking forward to better health in the future. He had previously struggled with cancer.
A post on his Facebook page marking his passing had garnered more than 500 comments from friends and fans offering their condolences by Monday afternoon.
Bunting also performed for David Bowie tribute band Loving the Alien, and he and his wife, Tahvory Bunting, owned Denver Image Photography, which specializes in portraits and architectural photography.
Under a Blood Red Sky takes its moniker from U2’s live album of the same name. The album was recorded during three concerts — one at Red Rocks — during the band’s 1983 War tour. An accompanying documentary was also released.
Bunting said in a 2013 Westword interview that he bought a video of the concert as a teenager in 1983 and played it frequently, sometimes singing in the mirror and using a comb for a microphone. After a stint in Los Angeles playing in a “Tears for Fears type stuff” band, Bunting moved to Denver in 1989 in order to be closer to Red Rocks. He would eventually get to perform at the venue.
Under a Blood Red Sky, which performed over nearly fifteen years, took its portrayal of U2 seriously and would design its set lists around specific time periods and match costumes and stage sets accordingly.
In 2018, Westword honored the group as the Best Cover Band in Denver, writing:
The guys in Under a Blood Red Sky take the music of U2 very seriously; in fact, frontman Billy Bunting has been channeling Bono for so long it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two. The band will occasionally arrange its set lists by era, changing outfits and stage visuals to align with what U2 wore on various tours over the years, and has even re-created the legendary 1983 Red Rocks show from which it gets its name.
News of Bunting’s passing was noted by other tribute bands in the Denver area on Sunday. Rooster, an Alice in Chains tribute band, posted condolences on its Facebook page, calling Bunting a “pioneer of local music in Denver.”
“We are so thankful to Billy for the path he paved for many musicians and the love and support he provided to all,” the post read. “Rest easy Godfather! You are loved!”
Guerrilla Radio, a Rage Against the Machine tribute band, posted a photo of Bunting waving a U2 flag during an Under the Blood Red Sky show at Red Rocks.
“He believed in people and the good that exists in all of us,” the band wrote. “He was a true musician, he spoke the language so well. He will be celebrated and mourned by so many.”
Under a Blood Red Sky and Loving the Alien frequently performed at Leftapalooza, a yearly tribute band festival in Longmont put on by the Lefthand Brewing Foundation. The foundation stated on its Facebook page that Bunting played the festival in 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019 and helped find up-and-coming tribute bands to perform.
“His contributions to our shows, community building in Longmont and beyond, and raising money for incredible charities honestly goes beyond reason,” the post stated. “To us Billy was the physical embodiment of love and passion for those around him.”
Friends and family have set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Bunting's memorial service and to support his family.