Until recently, Sunday nights in Pueblo meant everything to kids who were into the city's music scene. Phil's Radiator was the only all-ages venue within a thirty-mile radius, and the old mechanic's shop would fill up with teenagers displaying Xs on their hands and band names on their Converse All Stars. But on January 12, after twenty years in business, Phil's quietly closed its doors, leaving everyone to wonder what's next for live music in southern Colorado.
"It was devastating," says D.J. Polivka, a 24-year-old Pueblo resident and former lead singer of the small town's screamo band Dorian Gray. "All of my close friends are into music, and that was the place that got them started. It was a starting point for a lot of people's lives here, including mine."
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Polivka lives with former Dorian Gray bandmate Adam Gallo, and the two walk down to their basement to look at a few photos hanging on the wall. Polivka laughs as he steps over Gallo's guitar case and points out the eight-year-old Dorian Gray stickers still barely clinging to it.
"One of these photos was taken of us in front of Phil's Radiator with Draft, and the other was with In Blood We Were Bound," Polivka says, noting that these were some of Pueblo's biggest bands in the mid-2000s.
While it's been more than five years since Dorian Gray played in Phil's concrete room (there was no stage, only a drum riser), Polivka remained dedicated to the live-music scene in Pueblo and fears for what might become of it now that the venue is gone. When asked if he thought teenagers from southern Colorado towns would make the trip up to Colorado Springs or Denver for a show, Polivka said he couldn't be sure anymore.
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"A lot of people just liked to hang out at Phil's because it was like home," Polivka says. "On one hand, bands might be willing to drive up to play the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs because they're just looking for somewhere to play, and for them it's all about the music. But this might be the end of an era of kids from down here going to see shows. Whether or not they'll be willing to make the trip is a really good question."
The closure has hit a lot of people close to home, particularly those whose musical influences and music careers were launched there. Facebook feeds have lit up in the last couple of weeks, with current and former Pueblo residents sharing memories of Phil's and agreeing that the music scene is going to be significantly different now.
"What I will never forget about Phil's Radiator is the support for live music," says Pueblo resident and musician Carlos Gomez. "That was a place you could see a local high-school group opening for an international act. I'll miss the intimacy of the venue. It just created such a good vibe."
The owners of Phil's were not available for comment, and their phone has been disconnected, but rumors have been circulating throughout the small town, including one about water damage in the building that would cost thousands of dollars to repair. The most surprising thing, according to Polivka, wasn't that Phil's closed its doors, but that the closing was so sudden.
"Their last show was just the same as any other show, but not everyone knew that it was the final one," Polivka says. "Nobody really knew that it was closing, because the owners never said anything. It's like getting out of a long-term relationship when the other person just breaks it off: Suddenly something you're so familiar with is gone, and everything changes. That's how it is for us now -- we don't know what we'll do for live music."
While Phil's Radiator couldn't compete with the size or amenities of many of Colorado's venues farther north, the old mechanic's shop was one that touring bands continually wanted to hit on their way to Denver.
Cheers to all of you former emo and scene kids who spent one cold Sunday night standing against the chain-link fence outside of Phil's Radiator, pretending to smoke cigarettes while you waited for the members of DragonForce to pull up in their van. I was right there with you, and somewhere in a box labeled "Scene Queen's Fave Shows" is a photo to prove it.
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