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Jim Norris and Jerri Theil hanging out before a show at 3 Kings Tavern on Friday, December 4, 2009.EXPAND
Jim Norris and Jerri Theil hanging out before a show at 3 Kings Tavern on Friday, December 4, 2009.
Aaron Thackeray

COVID-19 Put the Final Bullet in My Favorite Rock-and-Roll Shithole

Once upon a time, Denver had a very different music scene. I’m not talking about a few months ago, before COVID-19 hit. Long before that. Even before AEG and Live Nation rolled into our cowtown.

There were little shithole underground bars all over this city, from Rock Island to Cricket on the Hill to the 15th Street Tavern. It was some weird ’90s shit. It was angry and raw and wrapped in flannel and dressed up in babydoll slips and Doc Martens. And it was glorious.

I started working in the music business in Denver during that time, and by working, I mean throwing some legendary shows here. I personally oversold a Pantera gig at the Mammoth Events Center, where the Fillmore is now. The concert was a sausage-fest, and sinks and urinals were ripped off the walls. By the time I left at 4 a.m., the venue looked like a scene from Carrie.

Those were the days before Marilyn Manson wore makeup, when Maynard had a real mohawk. There was still a chick in White Zombie, and both brothers in Oasis toured together. It was the Wild Wild West.

I was working for Nobody in Particular Presents then. We were an indie concert promotions company that ran three theaters — the Ogden, the Bluebird and the Gothic — but we also booked the Botanic Gardens summer concert series, Chautauqua and plenty of shows at Red Rocks, too.

It was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And we partied like rock stars. We rode Harleys across the stage at the Ogden in the middle of shows. I drank Lemmy under the table after a show. Back then, the UMS was held at the Bluebird, and it was all local bands. We did after-parties for Pantera at Shotgun Willie's, and A Perfect Circle held court at La Bohème.

As hard as we all partied, when it came to working, we were the best of the best.

Did I see some shit? Yeah. We all did.

I was working a Neko Case concert when a chick in a bathroom stall OD’d. Another time, a guy at a Linkin Park show at the Coliseum fell out of the balcony right in front of me. And then there was the infamous Damageplan show in Colorado Springs where a chick in the pit took a nosedive onto the blacktop. It’s all fun and games...until somebody gets hurt. We had to deal with any curveball that came along.

I was working an Allman Brothers show when tour manager Burt Holman told me my head was up my ass. Of course, I lost my shit plenty of times on my production guys. It was hard and thankless work. And definitely for the thick-skinned.

But the moment I was backstage at Red Rocks — some show almost over — and I looked up into the crowd, my heart nearly stopped. It was the most beautiful thing a person could see. And in that exact moment, I knew that all our blood, sweat and tears meant something to every person there...even if they didn’t know it.

It was the ’90s, and I was living the dream, doing shows every night. Rock and roll was paying my bills.

But good things don’t always last. NIPP became embattled in a lawsuit with Clear Channel and then started to downsize. The corporate giants swept into our cool little city, and eventually the theaters that NIPP controlled were leased to AEG.

In the downsizing, Jim Norris, Jeff Campbell and Marty Killorin lost their jobs. Together, they decided to try to start their very own punk rock shithole, and they called it 3 Kings Tavern.

Marty, Jeff and Jim pulled together cash to launch at 60 South Broadway and immediately started putting up galvanized steel and painting the walls red. A few months later, I found myself at the opening. They were so proud of that shithole. And you know what? So was I.

But owning a shithole bar is hard. I should know. A few months later, I opened my own shithole, Rockbar, which I always thought of as 3 Kings' cool aunt. Some nights at any bar, taps quit pouring, toilets overflow, talent doesn’t show or the soundboard or the lights won’t work. Sometimes all of the above. All that maintenance is the grimy, slimy underbelly of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But at the end of a show, load out finished, you climb in your car, tired as shit, and drive home, the sun coming up, and you know you have the best job ever.

I’ve seen thousands of bands at 3 Kings: Machine Gun Blues, Epic, Robb Dogg in Boylesque, Dragondeer and Tin Horn Prayer. The list goes on. There were birthdays and New Year’s Eves and Halloweens with Itchy-O. One snowy Christmas evening, Jim set up the record players, and we spun Hall and Oates and danced and laughed all night.

I dragged everyone there: agents and managers, other promoters and bands. Shannon Boyles and I took the members of Public Enemy there, and rumor has it somebody took a video of us hula-hooping on stage with them. (Between you and me, that rumor’s true.)

My friend Nicky Venom played his first show — which was also his last — at 3 Kings, and it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. A few months later, I was back there toasting him at his memorial.

I booked my own first Red Rocks show, Disco Biscuits, with concert promoter Barry Fey’s family company, Feyline. It was a success, and I celebrated at 3 Kings. Barry called me the night of the show, and I got to look up at the beauty of it all and tell him “thank you” for me being able to do what I do. The next day, Barry killed himself.

When I was happy or bored or lonely or sad — something all of us know way too much about these days — I would go to 3 Kings.

Whenever I was there, I bumped into someone I knew. I’d be sitting at the bar and Slayer’s production guys would walk in. Or Karen Cuda, off tour with Nashville Pussy, would end up having beers with me. Or Shawn Stokes would swing by after a 1STBANK show wrapped up early. Or NIPP’s owner, Doug Kauffman. Or my old security guys. Or Chris Goddard from the Paramount.

I would sneak out of high-society events and show up there in my pink party dress and Ariana Grande ponytail. Yes, folks, I’m soooo punk rock. I’d tiptoe down that godawful ramp to the office in my high heels, and Jeff Campbell would load this giant pipe called the BROHAMMER. And it was just so…fun. So Easy. And so Real.

At 3 Kings, we, the misfits of Denver, celebrated our lives.

A few years back, Jim left 3 Kings and moved down the street to sell comic books and coffee. Last week, the remaining owners announced they weren’t going to reopen.

We all knew this was bound to start happening to bars and venues during the stay-at-home order. This bullshit virus has managed to fuck everyone some way or another. For bars and venues already struggling with gentrification when COVID-19 hit, it was the nail in the coffin. The final fucking bullet.

So when things reopen, there’s a lot to miss about 3 Kings. There’s Tetris. And pinball. And that secret bathroom that you needed balls to use, because you’d have to sneak behind the bar to get the key, and you would if you knew about it, because God only knew you didn’t want to use the real bathrooms there.

If there is ever a movie of my life, 3 Kings will be in it. Just as it appears in Luke Schmaltz’s book The Belcher. And I’m not alone.

Yeah, it was a shithole bar on South Broadway. But it was our shithole...and COVID-19 took it away.

So from the island of Denver misfits, here’s a message: Fuck you, COVID. Fuck you.

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