Illegal Pete’s on the 16th Street Mall shut down all day Monday so that employees could mourn the death of their 26-year-old co-worker Brittany Strummer. The staff blasted her favorite music: Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” Dillinger Four, Against Me!, The Gaslight Anthem, Jeff Rosenstock and The Lawrence Arms.
“I think we’re all feeling a little bit lost,” says musician Chris Windermere, a longtime friend, who says Strummer helped him get a job at the restaurant while he was at the lowest point in his life, shortly after his punk band, The Windermeres, broke up.
“As far as when I played in the band, she went to most of my shows. She was there a lot and really supportive of what I was trying to do,” he says. “She was a positive person when it came to other people and their passions.”
While some people became famous by playing in bands, Strummer, whose cause of death has not been confirmed, was known worldwide as the ultimate fan. She gained recognition for good taste in music, commenting on the punk message board the Mosh Pit and contributing to punknews.org, which published a roundup of memories of her from around the world today, April 2.
Through her online presence, she befriended big-name musicians, from Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! to Rosenstock and Mikey Erg of The Ergs!
At thirteen, Strummer started corresponding with Grace; the two developed a close friendship, and every time Against Me! came through town, Strummer would be at the show.
In her last public post on Facebook, a day before Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers played the Marquis Theater, Strummer wrote, “this will be the first time i haven’t seen Laura or Against Me! in 10 years or so in denver. give her all my love.”
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When Grace dedicated her Monday night set to Strummer, the crowd roared. For those who knew her, the show became a wake for another Denver punk who died too young. Fans of the Devouring Mothers fans sang along, flailed their arms, punched toward the sky, surfed the crowd and threw themselves into the music. The band played fiercely, nailing every song off of its debut album, Bought to Rot, a few from Against Me! and a couple covers of The Mountain Goats — all brutal anthems wringing joy from despair.
Despite the grief of many, the crowd raged like Strummer would have had she been there.
“She chased fun,” says her friend Britt Reiser. The Monday night show was the first time she’d seen Grace play Denver without Strummer in the audience.
Over the years, Reiser lived with Strummer, traveled to The Fest in Gainesville, Florida, with her, collaborated with her on punknews.org, and watched her build a network of friends around the world.
“New York knows her. Chicago knows her. Gainesville knows her,” Reiser says. “In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard from Chicago, New York, the U.K., California.” As for the impact of her death, “This is really big. It’s extraordinarily big.”
Virgil Dickerson, the label director at Greater Than Collective and the owner of Suburban Home Records, met Strummer when she was an enthusiastic teen punk looking to start a music website. The two became close friends and collaborators over the years.
“She was the most passionate fan of punk rock,” he says. “She had certain bands you knew she’d be at every show.”
Andrew Windermere, Chris’s brother, first encountered Strummer when he was handing out fliers outside a show. She approached him and began to grill him about his own band, the Windermeres. Over the years, the two became drinking buddies, and while he valued their friendship and going to Avalanche games together, he was always aware that her reputation extended beyond Denver’s scene.
“In a way, she was a culture arbiter — being that person who was an editor at Punk News,” Andrew explains. “I know a lot of people that were friends with her. They’ve never met her, but online they knew her as a person who had great taste in music."
Music, he explains, was her bible. “It’s what she lived by. I think she took that to heart and lived the words and the meaning behind the songs.”
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And while her early death has left many of her loved ones stunned and confused, they still remember her as a joyful person who rescued them when they were broken — even as she faced her own struggles.
“She’s the definition of positive mental attitude,” says Reiser. “We all have our demons. She’s no stranger to the demons, but she was the most positive person, and always there to pick you up if you needed the support.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Strummer's age incorrectly. She was 26 at the time of her death.