High Plains Underground Archive

For a Few Great Years, Sidewinder Hosted Denver's Most Adventurous Music in a Bar

On the first weekend of November, 2015, The Globe opened for business in the former home of Sidewinder, a longtime Globeville dive bar that later enjoyed a short run as a cozy little bar and music venue, after it was bought in 2012 and managed by Fernando “Fez” Guzman's family. Guzman is known to many in the underground music world as the former drummer of Fissure Mystic and Fingers of the Sun; he's currently playing in psychedelic prog band Tjutjuna. While it was being booked by Guzman's bandmate Robert Ballentyne and by Goldrush Music Festival founder Crawford Philleo, Sidewinder felt like a place where you could regularly go see more adventurous music outside the usual DIY-venue circuit. And as a musician playing the venue, you could be sure you'd be taken care of, with a quality meal from the kitchen and drinks.

Still, Sidewinder definitely faced struggles as a music venue; there were few bars and venues anywhere close (other than the now-defunct Crash 45), and getting there required a bit of a trip for a lot of people. But the trip was always worth it, because this was one of the few bars in Denver that felt comfortable in the way that Gabor's used to — even for non-imbibers of alcohol. That's partly because the food was decent and partly because Sidewinder lacked the vibe of low-level desperation that so many bars possess.

Following the soft open of Sidewinder on November 30, 2012, it quickly began hosting shows and events in both the bar and the adjacent venue space for the next year and a half, including the 2013 edition of Goldrush. But then Guzman's mother, Kyle Ramirez, was injured when part of a wall collapsed in the century-old building. And the next year, some disagreements over managing the venue resulted in Guzman and Ramirez withdrawing from operations. At the time, Brandy Darling was already booking shows through her Girl Wreck Presents promotional company; she continued to do so into 2015. Since I was out of town during some of Brandy's time booking at Sidewinder, I didn't shoot any photos of those shows, unfortunately — but here are some images from Sidewinder's first two glorious years as a music venue.

*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive:
In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at the Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back.

Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed — at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005, when I got my first digital camera, that my extensive photo archive started. In this series, High Plains Underground Archive, I will share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of those photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver from 1975 to the present.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.