This year, the Denver music community mourned the sudden, tragic losses of several of its members. These folks served different roles — musicians, bookers, venue owners, photographers and ardent fans — but all of them are gone too soon. Below, in alphabetical order, Westword remembers some of those figures of Denver music who passed away in 2017. Follow the links to read more about their lives and contributions.
Bill Barwick was known for his deep, smooth voice, which he applied to cowboy songs and spokesman campaigns for major companies and groups like the Alpine Search and Rescue Team. Born in North Carolina, Barwick moved to Colorado in the 1970s after he was named the Country Music Association Disc Jockey of the Year. Regularly recognized with awards from Western music associations, Barwick frequently performed at Denver's historic Buckhorn Exchange and recorded nine albums of cowboy songs and originals. He died in November at age 71.
Matt Bellinger was the founding guitarist of beloved post-hardcore band Planes Mistaken for Stars, which adopted Denver as its home base and broke into national renown in the early and mid-2000s. After leaving the band in 2006, Bellinger continued to make music with Ghost Buffalo and Il Cattivo. The forty-year-old father of two passed away in September.
Phil Bianchi was the co-owner, with his brothers Jay and Aric, of multiple Denver venues dedicated to the music and fan culture of the Grateful Dead. A Dead expert and fanatic, Bianchi is credited with creating a welcoming atmosphere at Quixote's True Blue and Sancho's Broken Arrow. Bianchi died on July 14, 2017, at age 51.
John Koontz was an avid fan of local bands and dedicated rock photographer. A father of two and mathematician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, he will be remembered by musicians as a chronicler and champion of the Front Range music scene. In May, Koontz was attending a show at the Larimer Lounge by one of his favorite bands, Hot Apostles, when he suffered a heart attack; he died en route to the hospital. He was 63.
Pam Puente had been a force in the Denver punk scene since the 1980s, when she was a teenager; she was a singer, guitarist and songwriter who fronted several bands, including the Double-Barreled Slingshots and the Dirty Lookers. The mother of two passed away in March. In a 2001 profile of her band, Double-Barreled Slingshots, Puente said, "We know it's all been done before, but we just want to do it right."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.