Pueblo has a much more storied and vibrant underground and alternative music scene than many even involved with said scenes in other parts of the country could ever know.
Now-popular alternative bands such as AFI and the Aquabats and so many others have come through Pueblo on their way up the ladder to eventual successes.
One of the most appealing parts of the Steel City is while you may not get the biggest acts coming through at their peak, there is a chance the next big thing is a local dive bar.
For decades, small, yet fierce, numbers of dedicated music fans have traipsed to venues all over the city for a fix of music that was, until the advent of Al Gore’s internet, hard to come by and even harder to keep active. With Phil’s Radiator’s dirty, dive-y walls now a distant memory, Pueblo had been struggling, needing a steady alternative-minded venue, one that didn’t shy away from the abrasive and loud — a venue that could serve as a new meeting house and playground for the scene.
The Rainbow Bar, at 309 North Santa Fe Ave, has since become this venue, as the new monarch in a long lineage of now-infamous Indie music spaces. Open for more than 70 years it wasn’t until this past decade, since Phil’s changed owners, has the Rainbow become the go-to for those that want something a little different or aggressive to see play live in a 30-plus mile radius.
That’s thanks to its new manager Justin Taibi.
“My great uncle bought it in 1944 as the Rainbow,” Taibi says. A native of Pueblo, Taibi is quick to call himself “more of an overseer or operator” of the bar than an owner, adding he has full-time work all throughout Colorado as a CPA, but still comes back nights to manage the family business.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” he says. “I have a busy schedule, but I always like coming back to Pueblo. I mean, this is my hometown; so I always enjoy coming in and putting smiles on people’s faces and trying to bring some music to them.”
“We’re pretty much open to whatever here. We’re not here just to pack the bar and to have everybody here have a miserable time,” Taibi says of a typical night of music at the Rainbow.
“We’re here for pretty much any band to come in and get some playing time and exposure in; for you and your friends and everybody to just have a good time, drink a few beers on me if you’re playing that night, and to maybe sell a few t-shirts.”
“We’re a good stopping point between Colorado Springs or Denver and Albuquerque for bands,” Taibi says, noting “we’ve seen all kinds come through on tour.”
He says that this newfound swarm of bands and activity is in no small part due to a man named Sword.
For almost a decade, Mike Sword, a Pueblo musician and an engineer of everything audio, had been twisting knobs and championed sound for bands as the resident soundman for Phil’s Radiator; But after its somewhat sudden closing, both Sword and the scene at large were left without a place to go.
“It was kind of nice at first,” he says of his break in-between venues. “I needed a break from the constant shows; my ears hurt, and my liver was shot.”
But that vacation soon wore thin as it became difficult to find places for his bands and projects to play out live. “It was almost like ‘What should we do?’ ‘Should we scrape together some house shows?’ The home team hasn’t seen us for a few months.”
“Justin has been very cool and very gracious about all of this crazy music coming into his bar,” Sword says of the new partnership that has blossomed at the Rainbow. “I’ve actually wanted to make shirts with a picture of his face superimposed over a saint, Because he really has saved the underground scene here. This is probably the only way we would be functioning.”
“A saint may be a bit too far,” Taibi laughs as we talk briefly about Sword’s canonization of him.
“I love people showing their appreciation for the bar, and whatever I can do to help out with the local scene I love to do,” he said. “I’m a music lover and consider myself and the bar a part of it.”
When asked about the recent string of rather successful events at the bar, Sword has an idea of why. Nearly all of the shows at the Rainbow Bar are no cover events, a move that Sword thinks is beneficial for attendance.
“Our economy sucks,” he states plainly. “I think the pressure of not having enough cash to get into a show can turn some people away. But having the shows free makes it so that even if you’re broke, you can still come down and be supportive and have a good time with your friends.”
This sentiment is echoed by local musician Shanon Sinclair, who plays in Might of Henry and the newly founded Last Reel Hero, both punk rock & ska/reggae groups.
“I love and appreciate the fact that the Rainbow never charges for entry to see the bands play,” he says via a quick message to an old bandmate (read: me). ”It makes itself stand out as a place where everyone can come in and enjoy a night of live music even if you can’t afford to.”
“Most of the venues in town are kinda genre specific,” he adds when asked about what makes the Rainbow different from playing at any other bar locally. “But the Rainbow transcends those lines much in the same way the late great Phil’s Radiator did. It’s absolutely integral to our music community.”
“It’s been a great team at the Rainbow, too,” Sword adds. “All of the bartenders are cool and supportive, even if they don’t exactly dig on everything that comes through the doors.”
Not that the Rainbow is all crazy music all the time. Not dead set on only offering up moshable music, the space offers up differing styles and genres when the opportunity presents itself.
“We have had some stellar outlaw country and western bands come through,” Sword says. And indeed, recent posters for indie-rock acts and singer-songwriters on the walls currently at the Rainbow add to the anything-goes attitude of the space.
Bands from the world over are starting to take notice of said space. With music acts and artists recently gracing the Rainbow’s stage (or floor as it were) from Europe and South America, as well as bands from all over the continental U.S., the Rainbow has put itself on the map for the underground touring circuit.
Most of these bands are usually only looking for a place to play and hopefully some gas money. “They never expect it when they walk in,” Sword says. “As far as venues go, the Rainbow is almost a closet. But plenty of bands walk out letting me know that we give some of the best sound and best shows they’ve had on tour. Because Pueblo has always been just ready for a good time. We try and take care to get the best sound we can out of it. I mean, my soundboard is probably as old as I am, but it still sounds great.”
“It’s not Madison Square Basement,” he adds, noting he borrowed the phrase from a friend, “but it is what it is, and we’re making it happen.”
The Rainbow is new a home for new and old bands alike in the local underground to hone a sound and build connections with touring bands in a way that is as unique as the Pueblo scene.
The bar itself has always been best at doing a lot with a little, doing its own thing while letting musicians do their thing, but first and foremost doing it for the love of music paired with the finest can of cheap beer.
More about the Rainbow Bar and their schedule of events can be found at facebook.com/rainbowbarpueblo.