Sometimes you have to poke around to find your local Grateful Dead bar. But once you do, it becomes home. At Dead bars, you'll discover a community encompassing multiple generations, one that embraces others no matter what, and revels in the timeless, unique music of the revered jam band.
That's what I found when I was a freshman in college. I formed some of my closest, most longstanding friendships with those who attended the weekly performance of a Grateful Dead tribute band called the Dead 27's
in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a perfect scene: The Charleston Pour House
deck, surrounded by oaks dripping with Spanish moss and encased by murals from local artists, filled with barefoot, tie-dyed regulars dancing to Dead tunes. We called it "going to church," and reveled in a community tied together by the love of music.
I found a similar bond at So Many Roads
, a psychedelic-rock venue and brewery at 918 West First Avenue, which reopened on December 1. After being cited by the city with a variety of legal and code violations, the venue's owners had agreed to close for the month of November
. Some feared the venue wouldn't reopen at all, after former owner Jay Bianchi wrote this on Facebook: "Unfortunately, this may set off a chain of events that makes it impossible for business to continue...It may be the last month of existence for this museum, this lifetime work, this little slice of paradise."
But it did reopen, and generations of Deadheads flooded the place on its first day back in business. The parking lot was full before 6:30 p.m., two and a half hours before the club's resident Dead tribute band, the Cosmic Charlies
, was set to perform in the room filled with rock-and-roll posters and Dead memorabilia. People were dressed in celebratory fare, from the usual tie-dye and Dancing Bear-patterned outfits to three-piece suits: "You've gotta dress to the nines for the reopening of everyone's favorite bar," explained one dapper patron.
Outside and inside the venue, people were toasting with "Welcome back!" tequila shots. One incredibly excited regular named Moondoggie twirled from hug to hug. "This is a story of resilience," he said. "The entire community waited a month to get together again."
Moondoggie said that when he moved to Denver two years ago, he wanted to live near the Psychedelic Ripple, a now-closed Dead bar. "But then So Many Roads was here; this bloomed from the ashes like a phoenix," he recalled. "And when I come here, I'm home. This is home — this is family."
Having been part of the family in similar establishments, I was surprised when word started going around that the blond girl in checkered pants (me) was possibly a "spy" or a "narc." Seeing my bewilderment, a patron kindly explained why: Many weren't pleased to discover I was a Westword
editor, noting that we, along with other local news outlets, had not only reported on why So Many Roads had closed for November
, but also on sexual-assault allegations made against Bianchi, accusations he denied
even as he said he'd retired from the business in 2021. But eventually, I was welcomed into the fold at what felt like a family reunion.
Some folks had rerouted their travels to make it to the reopening. One woman said she was mostly into hip-hop when her son brought her to So Many Roads a few years ago; she's been a Deadhead ever since. "For most of the Grateful Dead community in Denver, this is their home, this is their place," she reflected.
Another woman added: "When I first moved here, I felt so alone. Then I found this place, and I've found home. I've been so sad without it for the past month."
Even during the closure, Moondoggie noted, the community stayed together. "I spent Thanksgiving with these people," he added. "It's family."
Like everyone else there, current co-owner Jackie Mealey was all smiles, chatting it up with fellow co-owner Tyler Bishop, who welcomed everyone who passed by with a hug. "The most important thing is to keep the community together," said Mealey. "And here comes the sunshine!"
And the sun will keep shining through the door of So Many Roads — as long as the venue stays on good behavior for the next year. (Failing to do so would result in an automatic 45-day closure, and possibly worse.) But for now, this steadfast family is determined to stay together. For them, the music never stopped — and the winds have blown Denver Deadheads safely home.
To find upcoming concerts at So Many Roads and more information, visit somanyroadsbrewery.com.