Music News

RIP: Brethren Fast's Don Messina Never Lost His Passion for Music

Don “Dynomite” Messina was the guitarist and singer of the renowned Brethren Fast for the past two decades. He died on August 16, at the age of 47, after a car accident on Lookout Mountain.

This Sunday, eight bands will play a benefit show at Herman’s Hideaway, with the proceeds going to Messina's two daughters, Jolie and Nona. Cindi Gardner, who’s been supporting the local music scene for the past 25 years, organized the event, called “In Memory & Support of Dynomite Don.” Thief River, Jonny Barber, Brian Hornbuckle, Luke Schmaltz, Chris Laplante, Brent Loveday and the Dirty Dollars, National Blues Arsenal and Johnny Got Rox, who all shared the stage with Brethren Fast somewhere along the line, will play. In addition to 45-minute sets by each of the acts, there will be raffles for gift certificates and Avalanche and Rapids tickets, as well as a silent auction for donated artwork. In addition, a Go Fund Me page has been set up for Messina’s family. 

Gardner says the event will “focus on Don’s contribution to the Denver local music scene and get everybody together for a good time.”

And having fun was essentially what Brethren Fast was all about from the get-go.

“Brethren Fast was always just a good time,” says Barber. “Showing up, ready to do it. They just loved to play every chance they got.”

When brothers Don and Mik Messina formed the band more than twenty years ago, they picked their moniker because, well, they were brothers and they liked fast cars, fast motorcycles and fast women. They played what they dubbed “electrified hillbilly hotrod funk,” which was fueled by funk, country, rockabilly and rock. 

“People in town thought Brethren Fast was rockabilly,” says Barber, “but they played all kinds of kinds of funk. It was weird, because they had these kind of rockabilly haircuts. They had sort of the pomp haircuts and the sideburns and the whole look. And they’d always get on these bills with me, because people would be like, ‘Well, find another rockabilly band. Well, we’ll get Brethren Fast.’ And then they’d show up and they’d start playing like P-Funk. It’s like they were heavily influenced by Johnny Cash and Elvis but also by Sly and the Family Stone, P-Funk — you know, funk guys. Isaac Hayes driving a beat-up Ford, that’s Brethren Fast.”

It didn’t take long for thr group to catch on around the state and around the country, getting sponsorships from Budweiser, Harley-Davidson and American Crew. They got to play for the Colorado Avalanche at the Stanley Cup, opening day at Invesco Field (now Sports Authority Field at Mile High), the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and Arizona and Daytona Bike Weeks.

But while Brethren Fast became a legendary act around town, the fame didn’t necessarily go to Messina’s head.

“Even though they were becoming rock stars, that never went to his head,” Schmaltz says of Don. “As far as my experience went, we were still buddies. It was never like, ‘Well, I’m too cool for you now because look at me.’ He never took on that attitude. It was always, ‘We’re a working band,’ and they really set forth a fantastic example as far as work ethic goes.”

Schmaltz adds that Messina was always very warm and gentile, eager to shoot the shit and have a beer.

Messina’s wife, Michelle, whom he married a decade ago at the Graceland Chapel in Las Vegas, says he was funny but also had a very soft side.

“He was just a kind soul,” she says. “He cared a lot about people. He’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back at any time. He would do anything for anybody. He liked helping people. That was a big thing about Don. He would never tell people no."

Schmaltz remembers the smile that Messina’s would sport when he was on stage.

“He always had a smile where you got the idea that he knew something that you didn’t,” says Schmaltz, “not that he was hiding it from me, but like he knew some kind of surprise that you didn’t know about. That’s what kind of made him great to watch, because he always had that goofy little grin going on. I don’t know — you always wondered, 'What’s he smiling about?' I mean, if you’re having a good time on stage, it’s natural. But for some people, it’s like, well, sometimes you can tell that someone’s faking it, but it never seemed like it with that guy.

“He was definitely attuned to something that was making him happy. As somebody who was inspired by them, I was like, ‘Wow, I want to know what’s it’s like to have that automatic — I wouldn’t call it a smirk, but that little grin to where you’re like, ‘Yeah, man, there’s more to meets the eye that’s going here, probably because I’m being truly fulfilled by what I’m doing. It’s not like I’m slinging at a job right now that I’m not enjoying. I’m swinging an ax at a job I love.’”

Mik Messina, who declined to comment at this time, said he plans to organize another event in the future, with fifteen to twenty bands, to celebrate his brother's life. 

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon