Amanda Capper — who died on Monday, December 9, after a four year bout with cancer — couldn’t accept that anyone would write songs and not share them.
I first met Capper when we were in our early twenties and both tour guides for Coors Brewing Company. She struck up a conversation with me in the cafeteria. Soon we discovered we were both musicians: she an already budding songwriter and me a sloppy punk drummer.
While I was convinced I’d be relegated to that role indefinitely, I had, at the time, begun writing songs in my bedroom, with no intention of anybody hearing them. But in Amanda’s mind, music was for everyone, and she soon convinced me to come to an open mic with her at the Icehouse Cafe, next to the Little Bear in Evergreen.
We drove together in my Toyota Tacoma, and before we went in, I told her I was nervous, that I had never played guitar or sung in front of people. Amanda had a solution for that, and she hopped in the bed of my truck with her guitar. She started singing and playing as loudly as she could to unsuspecting passersby, making the world her stage. After she was done, she said it was my turn, handed me the guitar and told me to close my eyes and sing like nobody was listening. I did, and I could feel the nerves melt away. After that, the open-mic crowd seemed a little less intimidating.
Amanda and I made the open mics a regular thing and hung out constantly that summer. Someone would always win the Icehouse Cafe open mic for a shot at an opening slot at the Little Bear. Amanda won it several times, but I never did. Regardless, she encouraged me to continue to write songs and perform as much as possible. In Amanda’s eyes, there were no winners or losers, just people who loved music. And dammit, Amanda loved music.
After that, we still kept in touch and hung out but started to run in separate musical circles. Amanda would go on to form the group Remember May with current LipTruce guitarist Kim O’Hara and drummer Ben Loshin of Rozi and SOHN.
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“She was always so fun and always had a way of bringing out the wild in me,” O’Hara recalls. “Amanda has always been a believer — a dreamer. She continued to pursue music year after year and forced doors open, sometimes with sheer will. Even after all of the cancer showed its face, Amanda kept living. She was such a fighter and such a beautiful, strong soul.”
Remember May, bolstered by the strength of Amanda’s Joplinesque voice and stage presence, moved audiences and fellow musicians every time the band played. Angie Stevens, a longtime and accomplished Denver songwriter, was one of those musicians.
“I met Amanda fifteen years ago at a Tempa jam,” she says. ”We were sharing a microphone for a song, and as soon as she started to sing, I backed up in awe. We became instantly connected and spent many nights out with our amazing music community or at my house playing songs and figuring out all the world’s problems.”
In 2012, as many ambitious songwriters do, Capper moved to Nashville, playing constantly and even singing on the Grammy-nominated album Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Sound, behind Delbert McClinton. Unfortunately, her time there was cut short after she was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in 2014.
After this, Amanda moved back to Colorado to be closer to family, still playing shows. She’d post meditative, peaceful pictures of herself after treatment, telling everyone how thankful she was for them. She found perspective, embraced the world and everyone around her. At times she seemed more concerned with the Broncos’ record than her failing health.
Yet Capper remained optimistic in the face of cancer, defying the odds and the doctors’ predictions.
“She also captured the hearts of anyone she met by breaking through small talk within minutes of meeting, including the docs and all the amazing staff that helped her along this journey,” Stevens says. “She fought cancer so hard that the doctors were in constant awe. She’d be so determined, cracking jokes and never succumbed to any negativity, even as cancer took over her body.”
During this time, Amanda’s music community threw benefit concerts for her, including one at the Walnut Room in February 2019. Though she was fresh off a round of steroid treatments, Capper performed. While her big voice was not as powerful as in years past, she was still mesmerizing on stage, cracking jokes about her “steroid face” and bemoaning the Broncos’ recent struggles.
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After the show, I waited out a line of well-wishers to say hello. She gave me a long hug. I asked her how she was feeling, and she told me fine, as if nothing was wrong.
That night we realized we hadn’t shared a bill since our beginnings at the Icehouse. We made plans to fix that, to play a show together soon. That was the last time I saw her.
Sharing a bill is far from the only thing I will regret not getting to do with Capper again. I wanted to continue to watch her flourish. There’s so much about her passing that convinces me that the world is unjust and not fair, but I know she wouldn’t want me to dwell on the negative, so for her, I will remain positive and driven. We all should.
“I hope we can all carry on the legacy of her music, her incredible will to fight for her life, the emphasis of community and the tenderness of her vulnerability through it all,” Stevens says. “Her laugh will forever ring in my mind, and I am so ridiculously grateful that I was a part of her larger-than-life existence. Our girl is making her appearance on stage at the concert in the sky. Look out, Janis!”