The Story

Where it all started

15 Years In The Making

Penny Lane Coffee Shop

September 2004

I was sitting in a basement working on music in Golden, Colorado for over a month, trying to meld and weave melodies with my voice and guitar into the early mornings.

One morning, I woke up with an itch and decided I would drive to Boulder, Colorado and finally bring my craft to the stage.

The Lottery

I landed at the prestigious, run down, eclectic Penny Lane Coffee Shop that evening a few minutes late for the open mic lottery.

While reaching my hand in to the hat I prayed I wouldn't be the first to go nor the very last. It seemed the universe had something to teach me that night. I pulled the last 15 minute slot for the evening.

Finally after some genuinely talented and cringe worthy acts it was my turn. Unfortunately, a few acts had gone over their allotted times and I only had 8 minutes before the coffee shop closed.

Performance Anxiety

I hadn't performed in front of anyone in over 4 months. The anxiety of messing up combined with my increased heart rate made my fingers shaky and my voice insecure. I fumbled over the first song. I started exploring new rhythms and jamming to whatever came to mind in the hopes of warming up my fingers and lessoning the gripping anxiety. I made it through, and with a few golf claps I was ready to bring one of my newly established songs to the mic.

It was awkward and thrilling to hear my voice through the microphone. My fingers knew where they were supposed to be. Right when I took a deep breath and was about to step into my powerful chorus the sound was cut and the manager said, "We're closed!"

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jose ramas and lori crotser

The Strangers

I was pissed off and depleted. The one day I felt the confidence to come to the stage and show off a level of vulnerability!

I began throwing my strap, picks, and capo into my guitar case and with a slam began latching the hinges.

I tall young man approached the stage and said, "So my friend and I have a bet. Did you make up that first song on the fly?"

My initial response was to tell him to go away. What does it matter? I stopped myself as the words began to leave my mouth and I said, "Yeah, I did. Who wants to know?"

We Played & Talked For Hours

Jose Ramas, Lori Crotser and I sat outside Penny Lane for what felt like a whole night jamming, talking, smoking cigarettes and  exploring what it would look like to record our music and go on tour.

I didn't know that in this evening my whole life would turn on itself. I found a new family of friends, musicians and community.

Jose, Friends & Community

Jose (or Joe), took me in and introduced me to the many beautiful friends he called his community. We recorded a few of my songs. He got me my first job at the Brewing Market Coffee Shop where I met one of my best friends to this day. We started a record label called Red Penguin Records. He taught me the importance of knowing we can't do everything on our own.

I finally felt like I had a supportive community and foundation in which to step further in to my music. Jose invited life and explored every nook and cranny he could to bring the light out in himself and every person he came in contact with.

red penguin records photo

Music School

September 2008

It was this relationship that took me to University of Colorado at Denver. I studied music business, copyright law and voice. I developed my craft more and more.

I began to realize that going to school for music and trying to make a living while playing music was going to be a dance in itself.

I studied music all day and once I was done, I didn't even want to pluck a string. It was as if I signed up to learn all the intricacies of music and found myself less passionate at the end of the day.

This was my demon. If you were to tell me that I would have felt this way when I began school, I would have laughed straight in your face.

Final Project & Graduation

September 2011

Everyone who was in music school had to take a final project class. The project was ultimately trying to help guide those who had no idea what to do with their education once they graduated.

It's the typical "I went to school for this, so now what do I do when the real world comes knocking?"

European Tour

I chose to develop my project around touring the United Kingdom, Scotland and Ireland. I called it, "The Musical Backpacking European Tour."

It outlined all the available open mics, pubs, venues along a designated route. It pulled in hundreds of resources and individuals who would be contacted when my EP was done.

The flights, tour schedules, destinations, directions, even the weather was broken down for a month-long backpacking music tour. I was excited to think it was possible, and yet It scared me at the same time. To not know anyone; pouring my music and vulnerability out to complete strangers. Not only that, it was uncharted territory, something I feared deep down inside.

I got a C-, by the way.

The end result... well, keep reading.

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the rat raceboulder circus center hoola hoopsboulder circus center dancing jose ramas

The Last Performance

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

When something traumatic happens in one's life, it undoubtedly forces you to re-evaluate your path.

4 years had passed since graduation. I was living in a bed bug-infested downtown Denver condo by myself, still stewing over a broken heart from a past relationship.

Jose reached out to me a few months prior to ask if I would like to play in a show he was performing in at the Boulder Circus Center.

At this point in my life I wasn't performing much. I was merely playing the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday rat race. So I said, "Of course!" It was a change of pace and it allowed me to re-connect with an old friend I hadn't seen for some time.

Boulder Circus Center Show

It was beautiful. I felt a surge of energy come back into my life. All those friends I had met back in 2004 welcomed me back with open arms and introduced me to new friends.

The stage was set and the performances were amazing! My part, quite small, was nothing to boast about. I played a simple melody before and after the curtains opened and closed, but it wasn't the actual performance where the true artist(s) came out.

The Trixie Room

I sometimes have difficulty when I have to much stimulation. I become a little nervous and/or agitated. I've learned to take a walk or find a quiet place to sit down and breathe for a few minutes.

I walked into an empty practice room at the BCC with my guitar and sat up on a few tumbling mats piled against the back corner of the room.

I played. I played as if no one was around. I played like I had been playing every day for the past 10 years. It was as if the smoldering wood that was music inside me just had an atomic bomb dropped on it! The acoustics in the room from the guitar and my voice sounded amazing! I closed my eyes.

15 or 20 minutes must have passed and when I opened my eyes I saw a room full of my friends dancing with one another. Playing with their acrobatic performances, juggling, exploring the space with new friends. Jose was front and center, and I knew that he was the energy that beckoned everyone else to join in on the festivities that evening.

I loved everyone that evening. I loved myself and especially loved Jose.

There was no better way to end that night.

We Lost Two Beautiful People That Night ...

September 2019

We lost Jose and his lovely girlfriend Stacey later that night to a young boy who was intoxicated behind the wheel.

There isn't a day that doesn't go by where I don't wish my mentor, friend, brother from another mother wasn't still here with me.

NOW

September 2019

Time has passed. Some wounds have healed. I have made mistakes. I have learned what is important to me. That is not to be confused with what the world wants of me, but the honest and hard questions that drives my own path... the path I can finally see from the work I have done for myself. That same work allows me to be present with friends, family and loved ones. That same work creates the confidence in myself to share with you my story.

I would not be the man I am today if it wasn't for all of you in my life. With hand in Samastitihi - Thank you.
sean o'brian thank you hands