Strange Things Happened When Murder By Death Played the Stanley Hotel

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

The moment Murder By Death ended its nearly two-hour set at the infamous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park on Friday night, front man Adam Turla stepped off the front of the stage to chat with the audience, many of whom came from far away for the event. I asked Turla whether my love, Irene, who is a seamstress, could mend his jacket, which we'd noticed during the concert was torn at the right shoulder.

"Oh no," Turla said. "That didn't happen tonight. This jacket is over 100 years old. But maybe that's a good idea; I'll see you at the bar later."

See also: How Murder by Death Is Bringing Live Music to Colorado's Most Infamous Hotel

"Later" never came for us. We spent the next hour or so the same way we spent two hours before the show: wandering around the 140-room Stanley, which, like Turla's old black sport coat, is over 100 years old, looking for ghosts and taking photos.

Nine months ago, Murder By Death -- a critically acclaimed Indiana-based gothic Americana band -- announced a three-night sequel to last year's two-night run at the Stanley, the setting of Stephen King's 1977 book The Shining. The 2014 shows were among the first times a rock band had played at the notoriously haunted hotel. The three shows over the weekend, held in a small, detached concert hall, sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale. We were a little disappointed that the shows were not held in the large, old ballroom adjacent to the hotel bar, as that's where the ghost of Freelan O. Stanley's wife, Flora, has reportedly been known to play piano over the years. The ballroom is also just steps from room 217, which inspired King to write The Shining. But obviously a full-on rock concert there would mean loud music taking over the entire hotel.

The concert hall, while lacking in acoustics was private enough for two hours of alcohol-fueled revelry set to devilish Americana. Turla's deep voice fittingly conveyed lyrics such as, "spirits are restless / can't you hear them yell?" while cellist Sarah Balliet played articulate, eerie melodies that gave most songs a cinematic quality worthy of a Tim Burton film.

We met Murder By Death fans from as far away as New Jersey and Las Vegas, most of whom attended just one show (at $50 a ticket) but stayed all weekend at the pricey Stanley. Most of the crowd was dressed to the nines, at the band's request. Virtually the entire audience sang along to nearly every word, drinks in hand, but barely bobbed their heads. We wondered whether that's the norm for Murder By Death shows or if the couple hundred concertgoers were staring at the stage, waiting for ghouls to appear alongside the band. The 22-song set was fantastic. Rather than rely on its most well-known material, Murder By Death only played a few songs -- including, of course, "Ghost Fields" -- from its most recent album (2012's popular Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon) and otherwise crept deep into its six-album catalog. The band also debuted a couple promising selections from the forthcoming Big Dark Love. Fans lucky enough to attend all three shows at the Stanley must have heard nearly every song Murder By Death has written.

Irene and I enjoyed a night of great music and mingling. We also may have experienced some of the paranormal activity that drew Murder By Death to the Stanley. Standing in the snow on the hotel grounds an hour before the concert started, we looked down at the hotel bar, we both heard a breathy voice whisper something clear but wordless, as if an invisible man was pressed against us trying to communicate something. There wasn't another human within 50 yards.

And after the show, Irene reached into her coat pocket and produced a guitar pick with "MBD" written on one side and images of an eye and a switchblade on the other. Bassist Matt Armstrong threw his pick into the crowd after "I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe," but her coat had been on the floor during the show. How the pick made its way into her possession, let alone deep in her coat pocket, we'll never know. • BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
- 50 Photos That Prove Red Rocks Is the Most Beautiful Venue on the Planet
- Photos: Musicians Buying (Legal) Weed in Denver
- The Ten Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Rock
- 50 Ways to Support Your DIY Music Community

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.