Music News

Grateful Dead-Themed Club Owner Attacks Employees and Musicians

Club owner Jay Bianchi had a violent start to the week, punching his staff and attacking musicians. Now the music community is blasting him and his Grateful Dead-themed venue, Be on Key Psychedelic Ripple, online.

It began on the afternoon of Monday, October 22, when Bianchi's staff dragged an overdosing man into the green room of his club. While the man was ultimately taken to the hospital and saved, Bianchi says the situation sent him into a rage. He screamed at his club's doormen and repeatedly punched them, he says.

Seeing the guy on the brink of death brought back memories of his brother and his brother's girlfriend dying from overdoses at his home in 2016, Bianchi says.

“We did punches,” Bianchi confesses to Westword. “But I hit like a girl. I did punches to them, but it was not the strongest punches, and it looked worse than it was.”

Bianchi maintains that he has strong relationships with his employees despite the attack. “They’re friends," he says. "Most of my friends, I’ve had fights with. We’ve had punches and are like, ‘Okay, cool.’ It might look bad to someone else, but I don’t think that’s bad.”

After the afternoon fisticuffs, things simmered down at the bar — at least for most of the night, until guitarist Aidan Pagnani, lead of the Aidan Pagnani Band who'd played at the venue before and was headlining his first paid gig for the Mystery Mondays event, found himself in a tiff with a bartender.

“The bartender was giving me shit about other people not tipping when I gave them drink tickets,” Pagnani says. “I don’t even know why that was brought up with me. That was part of the deal. It was in our contract — in an email contract — that we get drinks and get paid.”

The bartender “comes up to the promoter, while he’s about to pay us before we go on stage. He’s paying us on stage. [The bartender] says, these bands aren’t tipping,” explains Pagnani.

The show went well, but afterward, Pagnani and the bartender started feuding again.

“I asked him for a beer at the end of the show and told him he was really disrespectful to the bands,” says Pagnani. “I had a mini-argument with this bartender. I don’t think he or I thought this was close to a physical fight. It was basically, ‘You’re a douchebag. I would have tipped you.’”

Things simmered down. The group began to gather its gear and exit around 2:30 a.m.

“At the end, when it was all over and they were walking out," Bianchi says, "we were sitting at the front and the musician [Pagnani] did an aggressive glare, like, ‘You’re a dick.’ I saw that. I said, ‘Well, fuck you, man. Just get out of here.’ I grabbed at him. He pushed at me. Then it became an all out you-stop-you-stop."

As Pagnani tells it, Bianchi grabbed him by the shirt as he was headed out the door and lifted his hand to punch him.

“I can tell Jay’s going to sucker-punch him,” says Mark Wilkolak, who had played with Pagnani. “I just start screaming, ‘Stop. Just stop. We’re trying to leave.’"

Staff separated the club owner and Pagnani, but just as the group started to leave again, “Jay loops around the bar to take another pass at Aidan,” says Matthew Wilkolak, Mark's brother, who also sat in on the gig. “Aidan sees this coming and sticks both of his hands up in the air to signal he doesn’t want to fight. Jay was yelling at everybody, 'Get the fuck out!’ I said, ‘We’re musicians. We need to get our gear.’ He said, ‘Leave it.’”

Mark tried to intervene, but Bianchi stopped him. "He caught me off guard, pushed me over the bar stool," says Mark. "Jay was reeled up, ready to punch me, and somebody stopped him.”

After trying to prevent the musicians from taking their gear, Bianchi says, he backed down and they packed up and left.

“Musicians feeling entitled and being bitchy caused me to react that way,” says Bianchi. “It’s a cultural teapot. Sometimes things boil over and get weird. Maybe the combination of all those things caused that.”

The next morning the musicians took to Facebook to let the music community know what had happened.

Pagnani wrote:
Jay Bianchi grabbed my collar and tried to sucker punch me last night while I was loading out my amp and guitar after his bartender John refused to serve our drink tickets because they were upset how the crowd was tipping. This happened inside his bar Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple. The only words Ive ever spoken to him were “thank you for letting us play” and he tried to hit me about 85 seconds after that.

I’m new to town, I’m small peanuts, but I would like to say with EXTREME CONFIDENCE that if any musician finds themselves having to put up with seemingly powerful promoters like this to “make it”, you don’t. There are other scenes, other venues, and the musicians will support you. Jay bianchi is a douche bag and I look forward to building my Denver music career with out his cross-eyed ass. None of us need him.
Mark Wilkolak wrote:
To all of my friends and colleagues in the Denver music scene: I would highly advise against playing at any venue run by Jay Bianchi. These venues include; Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple, Quixote's True Blue, and Sancho's Boulder Arrow. Jessica Holloway had mentioned his erratic tendencies in an earlier Facebook post, however, last night Frederick Aidan Pagnani and myself were physically attacked by him when we were trying to load out Aidan's gear. Everyone is alright, but please be safe my friends. Myself and Matthew Allen Wilkolak will not be seen at any of these venues again.

And his brother Matthew wrote:
Last night, at Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple, Jay Bianchi physically attacked Frederick Aidan Pagnani and my brother, Mark Wilkolak. In the past, he has been known for ripping off the local musicians that work for him, but now it seems that it has turned into physical violence. If you are a musician reading this, I highly advise that you cancel any gigs you have booked with him.
Other musicians offered their own stories about Bianchi’s violent behavior and his failure to pay them.

Bianchi took to Facebook with his own explanation of what had happened:
Normalize, normalize, normalize.

July 14th, 2016 I get a phone call from an anonymous number saying you should check on your brother, we were partying hard with him and just check and see if he is okay. So i walk into his room and walk into the bathroom and he is face down in the bathtub and his body is cold. I pull him up and blood is stuck to his face, a pool of blood is on the bathtub, dark and sticky. It is congealed mainly. His face is blue. He is dead. His friend Challys Maybee had just died the week before on the patio. She had needles in her arm. It wasn't his fault, but he asked me, he asked me if people thought he killed her. He adopted her as a friend, gave her a place to sleep, tried to save her, he wanted her to be happy. I wanted him to be happy.

Sometimes we can not make people happy.

October 22, 2018 I walk into Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple and was told that someone was brought into the bar from outside because they were sick and they were turning blue. I do not need to see this. I do not want this to be part of what I do. I can't see this happen to another person and am not okay with this happening at my place.

This is a nice, young kid and I can't watch people die. I am livid! I ask who brought the kid here and tell them it is not okay. I never want to see this again. This is not okay, I would rather not be open if this it what it all comes down too. If people want to do hard drugs in their homes, that is their choice, but when they bring their bad choices to my place I am going to fight like damn to get them out of there. I am going to fight like damn to get the people enabling them to get out of the bar. I don't want another one of my friends to die this way. I don't want to be the one to explain to someones mom or dad what happened. And if hard love is what it takes to drill it into peoples head that this is not okay then that is what I will do.

And after all this and everything settling down, we have and entitled band member ask my bartender for a beer and he says to him just wait a few minutes, and the band member calls him a pussy and says he is weak.
And again as he leaves he glares at the bartender pushing as many buttons as possible. Yes, he probably wasn't aware of went on and the intensity of the situation. And yes we all live on different planes of existence. And yes it could have been handled differently. I am sorry that I reacted that way.

Excoriate away, but it is not something that I take lightly when someone comes this close to death. I deal with it a lot, and it does not look like it is going away. There is a lot of awesomeness in this scene, but it is scary to see people gamble with their lives for a good time.

Stay safe!

Some venues' patrons came to Bianchi’s defense on social media, accusing the three musicians of “slander.”

“We are simply stating the facts as they happened,” responds Mark. “We’re not looking to slander anybody. We’re looking to tell the facts as they are to keep the music community safe.”

The musicians filed a police report on October 23, reporting that Bianchi had attacked them two days earlier but stopped short of pressing charges, according to a Denver Police Department spokesperson.

“Maybe it makes me look bad, and I need to have my heels cooled every now and then, too,” Bianchi says. “People make mistakes. As long as people learn from them, that’s good.”

All three musicians say they will not play again at Be on Key Psychedelic Ripple or any of Bianchi's other clubs, including Quixote's True Blue, Owsley's Golden Road and Sancho's Broken Arrow, again.

"I would fear very heavily for my physical well-being if I ever went near that place," says Pagnani. "I am never playing there again. I don’t need to. I don’t want to. I’m all set." 
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris