THE CHOPPING BLOCK: One night in Rico
Sometimes the seeds of the underground take root and sprout in the most unlikely places. Rico, Colorado, isn’t the most punk rock place on Earth, at least at first glance. But the town planted at 8,825 feet above sea level without central sewage and a proper police force hosted one of the rowdiest punk rock shows in the Rockies recently when Telluride trio Punk Sux and ska vets Warsaw Poland Bros. played the Enterprise Bar & Grill one damp and dark summer night.
The historic building has welcomed such music before, thanks to the owners’ penchant for hosting good times, but it’s always an event whenever space for alternative music is made in this corner of the jam-band-obsessed world.
Dodging deer on the ride out to Rico, my friends and I arrived shortly before the 9 p.m. start time unscathed and ready to get down. The sandwich board resting near the bar’s front door warned us, “Kitchen closes @ 8 pm we start rocking this joint @ 9 pm.”
Roxy Cox, Mully and Cueva were still setting up, which pushed back the beginning of the evening’s festivities, but Punk Sux didn’t miss a beat once the amps came to life.
“Play this like you're running from the (expletive) cops!” Mully demanded before striking the first chord.
Dressed like a drag queen, the bassman looked a bit rough around the edges in his tight summer dress and hot pink wig. But punk rock isn’t about being fashionable.
Playing a set of originals and covers, Punk Sux shook the ghosts awake. The dim glow of the lone bar light above them swayed back and forth like a makeshift metronome. Roxy had trouble with her guitar pedals, and Mully’s mic wasn't working well. But punk isn't supposed to be polished and pretty sounding.
The room of about 30 regulars and rockers began to move in an awkward and sinister way. The music did something to their minds, severed their spines. The brains were no longer controlling their bodies. A Black cowboy wearing a mechanic shirt with the name “Wesley” stitched to the left breast pulled a woman off a nearby barstool and began slow dancing along the worn wooden floor. If it wasn’t for the loudness, I imagined the moaning of the old boards being the only soundtrack to the couple’s strange first dance. The man and woman continued to smile as Roxy screamed in their faces.
A young man dressed liked a Vietnam draft dodger with a white headband and army green jacket started a one-man moshpit. His bloodshot eyes rolled back into his skull with every headbang. Whether he was truly listening to the music at that point was irrelevant. The boy with the patchy blonde beard had let go of earthly constructs like embarrassment and rhythm and allowed himself to be brainwashed by the band.
Even the elk heads, permanent patrons gazing down on it all with dust-covered glass eyes, seemed to enjoy the spectacle. The lights flickered with the sound of distortion. I wondered if the building’s old bones could handle all this energy. Sound waves began to bleed out of the longstanding structure’s wounds of architecture and age. The rain and smoke outside couldn’t stop the vibrations either. Punk rock permeated the town in its search for more eardrums. By the end of Punk Sux’s set, the sounds proved successful in attracting more revelers. The barroom was near capacity, if not exceeding it, as the crowd doubled in size before Warsaw started.
I sat at the end of the bar, near an open door, during a brief break in the action. A large woman stumbled forward out of the mass of humanity, our teeth nearly smacking together. She caught herself by gripping onto my thighs. I noticed her mermaid skeleton earrings and assumed she pulled them from the nearby river.
“Thank you, you did a good job,” she said.
“I didn’t do anything.”
Then her boyfriend stumbled past us and deposited the contents of his stomach onto the concrete outside in one wet wave. The mermaid huntress removed her hands from my lap and ordered another round. She grabbed the two beers and lumbered outside leaving a trail of spilt swill.
A pool table served as Warsaw’s merch booth. Drummer Kevin, the man who goes by “the redneck Rasta,” prints all the band’s shirts at his house and packs them into a wooden treasure chest for tours. No one plays punk rock to become a millionaire, so merch sales and tips are important.
Warsaw, a quartet that likes to employ the electric harp and saxophone during shows, make “gypsy pirate music,” as my friend put it, which is a mix of ska, Celtic folk, mariachi and polka.
As they played, people started “skanking.” The artless motion is similar to what people do at Phish shows, but drugs aren’t a required perquisite. My concentration was taken from the skankers when Roxy ran into the crowd wearing a white wedding dress. She jumped into the arms of Mully, who twirled the punk rock princess around, her head nearly clipping the broken ceiling fan.
A green plastic pot of gold collected the band’s tips. Every time someone obliged, Warsaw played “Joy to the World.” Such change afforded baby angels to earn their wings, Warsaw frontman Crix explained.
A “Warsaw” banner hung askew behind the mad musicians. Not far from it was another sign, “We are kindly asking a 5$ donation to help support live music.” A wreath of legal tender surrounded it.
One woman tossed her arms over her head so hard she fell out of her flip-flops and into the treasure chest, folding in half like a lawn chair. Everyone, including the musicians, laughed.
Crix screamed, “So hoist up your sails, we’re going back to hell!”
The Chopping Block is Rev. Justin Criado's monthly column for the Telluride Daily Planet newspaper. It also appears in the monthly Four Corners Free Press print edition. This piece was originally published on Thursday, Sept. 15.