Sipping water on the porch of So Many Roads Museum & Brewery, founder and longtime Deadhead entrepreneur Jay Bianchi, his big sister and their childhood friend strain to hear the chants of the Colorado Musicians Union. Two Denver police officers stand watch at a nearby gym, where people are trying to figure out why all these protesters are picketing the brewery next door.
After being told that the union, which was founded a little over a year ago, has launched a boycott against the venue and its co-founder because of two sexual-assault allegations, which are posted to the group's website, as well as claims that he failed to pay musicians and employees and was sometimes physically violent with them, along with accusations of various other misdeeds, one buff man headed into the gym says, "I've never been there, and I'll make sure I never go."
The June 12 demonstration is the union's first big public action, outside of rallying on social media to persuade venues to pay bands a minimum of $100 per musician in groups with five members or fewer and at least $500 total minimum for bands with six or more musicians. Many players say those demands are too low, while Bianchi calls them "silly" — and other venue owners have described them to Westword as unreasonable.
For the first hour of the protest, union members stayed far from So Many Roads, which is located at 918 West First Avenue, setting up shop under a bridge at Santa Fe Drive. Their demand: Jay Bianchi must sever his ties with all Colorado venues and quit working in the state. The members also hope he goes to jail.
Jorge Palacios, who plays music for a Catholic church, says he came to the demonstration in solidarity with his fellow musicians.
"We all benefit from the arts and, specifically, music here in Denver, and we pride ourselves on our music scene," he says. "As long as we allow folks like Jay Bianchi to run establishments like this and continue to undercut musicians, assault employees and make spaces unsafe for people to participate in, we're just going to continue to exclude certain people from being able to participate in the wonderful music-making that's happening here in Denver."
Devora "Cat" Lilly Rainbow, a singer-songwriter, says she's at the demonstration because she believes victims of sexual assault. "I want to get rid of venues like this," she explains.
Union members shout: "Do not go or support So Many Roads Brewery. You're supporting a predator. Do not support Jay Bianchi. He's a sexual predator," and "Jerry Garcia would not approve. Stop dangling his image. You are not keeping it kind."
Between chants, union members strain their eyes to see if it is indeed Bianchi sitting on the venue's porch.
"It looks like him," one says. And it is.
From Bianchi's perch at So Many Roads, the sounds of the rally, overshadowed by the music of the Grateful Dead, are fuzzy. He asks me what the union's saying.
"Jay Bianchi's a sexual predator," I tell him. "Don't go to So Many Roads. They'll drug you there."
"So it's not anything I haven't heard yet?" he asks.
The allegations of sexual assault are false, Bianchi says, adding that he's never raped anyone and that the accusers are holding a grudge and making things up. He also denies that he failed to pay bands, though he acknowledges that over 25 years and thousands of concerts, he's made some musicians mad along the way.
"I'm a dick," he confesses.
Another chant erupts: "Fuck Jay Bianchi."
"What are they saying?" he asks.
"Fuck Jay Bianchi," I respond.
"Well, it isn't the first time you've heard that," says Bianchi's friend, laughing.
How is the boycott against Bianchi, So Many Roads and Sancho's Broken Arrow, another venue he once owned and is still affiliated with, affecting business? If anything, Bianchi says, more customers are showing up: The bad publicity is increasing his name recognition.
"How many times have they said my name over there?" he wonders. "Seventy?"
A few dozen union members are marching to the venue, shouting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Jay Bianchi has got to go." As they approach, middle fingers raised, their accusations become more targeted.
"My name's Aidan, and you tried to sucker-punch me," says Colorado Musicians Union co-head Aidan Pagnani. ( Westword reported that story in 2018.) "Everybody in Denver hates you."
"You raped my bandmate," yells a second union member
"You raped my best friend, Jay," adds a third protester. "Fuck you."
"And that's not ever going to happen again," states a fourth.
One union member looks to the police officers and shouts: "Arrest him!" The police do nothing.
Even Bianchi — who's sitting on the porch, looking exhausted and listening to the accusations — welcomes a police investigation. Only that and a lie detector test could clear his name, he says: "Isn't that how due process works?"
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