In Denver music news, as on the national stage, 2016 has been good, bad — but mostly it's been ugly. From the deaths of irreplaceable pop icons to the (forced) closures of beloved venues (R.I.P. Quixote's) and the bizarre antics of artists we can't seem to escape, this year has kicked our collective asses. Before we run screaming into 2017, here's a look back at ten of the most shocking or controversial stories in Denver music that rocked our world in 2016.
On January 10, 2016, just days after his 69th birthday and the release of album Blackstar, David Bowie died, following an eighteen-month battle with cancer. The global pop icon's unexpected death triggered a huge outpouring of grief and gratitude for his contributions to music, art and fashion, and for how his defiance of strict boundaries of genre or gender inspired audiences and other artists.
2. Prince died.
On Thursday, April 21, 2016, legendary American musician Prince Rogers Nelson, 57, died in his home in Minnesota. His sudden death came after health concerns caused his plane to be grounded after a concert. Tributes to Prince's longstanding contributions to popular music and culture, as well as his support of female artists, came swift and loud in Denver: a mural on Broadway, a concert and screening of Purple Rain at Red Rocks, and more. Westword's Michael Roberts recalled his close encounter with Prince in L.A. in 1985. We're not over it, and we may never be.
It ain't always sunny in Colorado, and not every octogenarian karaokes to Frank Sinatra. On this summer's season premiere of America's Got Talent, 82-year-old John Hetlinger, of Broomfield, proved both of those points with his audition. While the panel of judges smiled panderingly at Hetlinger's hiked-up khakis and toucan-emblazoned collared shirt, he cued the band. His performance — of hard-rock band Drowning Pool's 2001 hit "Bodies" — made jaws, well, hit the floor. The former Navy pilot and aerospace engineer is a karaoke enthusiast, so watch out for him around town and get ready to head-bang. Just don't throw out a hip.
Go West, young Juggalo! Whoop whoop!
According to a seminar held on Saturday, July 23, Insane Clown Posse confirmed that its annual festival, the Gathering of the Juggalos, will happen in the Denver area in 2017. The unique festival has taken place in various locations in the Midwest since its inception, including this weekend's seventeenth edition in Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio (after protests from residents blocked its planned event in Kaiser, Missouri). Denver (and Colorado) has long been a locus of ICP fandom, but this news was met with fervent opposition from Westword readers commenting online.
5. TJ Toddler harasses Denver music community.
Local musicians who sometimes perform as the band TJ Toddler were the subject of a Westword cover profile after a series of bizarre incidents involving pepper-spraying a sound engineer and harassing other Denver bands via social-media platforms and other outlets. While some members of the music community credited Westword's exposé on TJ Toddler's activities with highlighting a type of harassment that's difficult to prosecute or avoid, some readers believed the coverage would only encourage trolls to keep on trolling.
Read on for the five most shocking music news stories of 2016.
After a Halloween performance in Denver, Ghostface Killah was being driven home when he asked to pull over after spotting a group of people sleeping on a city street. The rapper approached individuals and offered them twenty-dollar bills. Unbeknownst to him, talent booker Jonny Shuman, aka Jonny Denver, filmed the exchange and posted the video to his personal Facebook account. The video went viral, and when Westword covered the story, many readers had conflicting reactions to the charitable gesture.
Lupe Fiasco has left the hip-hop business before, and he seems to be ready to do it again. The rapper performed at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on Thursday, December 15, 2016, and spent a lot of time addressing controversy surrounding his new song, "N.E.R.D." In the song, he harangues "dirty Jewish execs," a line which has led listeners to accuse him of anti-Semitism. After launching a defense against the accusations, Fiasco tweeted that he would retire, and at the Fillmore, he continued to blast the music industry, reminding fans that he doesn't make music for them: "I never signed a contract for you that said I'd be the soundtrack for your entire life."
After a shooting outside RiNo nightlife spot Cold Crush, which resulted in the death of local rapper Tyrone "Boss Goodie" Adair Jr., the Denver Police Department shut down the venue, citing the unlawful discharge of a firearm in its vicinity. Westword then obtained e-mails among neighborhood residents, members of the RiNo Arts District board, and the Denver Police Department, discussing the shooting and calling for Cold Crush to be held responsible. These documents seemed to confirm what many readers assumed: that the response to violence outside Cold Crush was harsher because it's a hip-hop-centric venue in a rapidly developing neighborhood.
Following a rally in support of the venue, owners met with other local business owners, Councilman Albus Brooks, attorneys, Adair's mother, and others, and Cold Crush was given the okay to reopen, with agreement to enforce stricter security and dress-code measures.
Okay, so we shouldn't have been surprised. Kanye has canceled on Denver the last four times he was slated to or could have performed here. Still, we thought his scheduled November 28th date was going to be his long-awaited return. It didn't happen, but only after West displayed erratic behavior while ranting at several shows about Trump, Jay-Z, Beyoncé and more. After canceling the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour, West was "hospitalized for exhaustion." After all the recent trouble experienced by West and his family, including wife Kim Kardashian, we do hope circumstances improve...but Yeezy could start by showing up in Denver rather than at Trump Tower.
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DIY space Rhinoceropolis, a landmark venue at 3553 Brighton Boulevard in RiNo for eleven years, was evacuated on Thursday, December 8, 2016, after it was deemed unsafe by the Denver Fire Department. There were reportedly five people living in the space, which had a large area for performances and also included lofted rooms in the back of the two-story building.
Rhinoceropolis and its next-door sister venue, Glob, have hosted many performances by musicians and other acts in the DIY community, all without incident. But apparently the Denver Fire Department, responding to complaints in the wake of the tragedy at Oakland's Ghost Ship DIY space, did a quick inspection and determined that potential fire hazards made it an "unsafe building."
Denver's DIY community has long felt threatened as the city develops, and this latest move seemed to confirm the city's attitude toward underground art and culture. DIY may never die, but in 2017, it'll have to find a new home.