Photos & story by Shannon Shumaker
This isn’t an easy article to write. In fact, I’ve been dreading it since Forty Fathoms took the stage at The Marquis for the final time on Friday night, but all good things must come to an end (or bad things, as their t-shirts said) and this unfortunately includes this influential Denver band’s seven years together. The only problem is, I don’t quite know how to convey just how much passion went into the band’s performance, nor the amount of camaraderie and friendship they felt with fellow locals who packed the stage, green room and crowd (and later, even their practice space) with them that evening. I can’t even begin to explain it – you kind of just had to be there. This would be a sucky review if it was one, but thankfully it’s not. This is a love letter to Forty Fathoms, a thank you note for a band who has helped shape the Denver music scene for years and will continue to inspire other artists for even longer. And in order to do just that, we have to go back to the beginning. Or at least, the beginning for me.
Around six years ago, I found myself at The Shelter, a DIY venue in the basement of a church off of 72nd and Wadsworth, where Forty Fathoms was playing with a few bands that I don’t quite remember. All I do remember is that it was my first time photographing a concert, and also my first time seeing the band live. I had just bought a new flash and had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but after nervously taking a few photos, I was in love, not just with photography, but with the passion and energy that Forty Fathoms had on stage. It was that exact moment that really sparked my passion for concert photography and inspired me to become involved in the local music scene. What I didn’t know was that I would continue to photograph and watch Forty Fathoms grow over the years.
Fast forward six years, and I have photographed the band countless times and have had the chance to see them live even more, so when they announced their breakup earlier this year, I was definitely disappointed, but also incredibly excited to see what the future would hold for these talented guys. Immediately, I knew that I wanted to document their final performance together, as well as the hours leading up to the show, and thus, this project was born. There wasn’t necessarily a goal or a mission statement, I just simply wanted to capture something worth remembering. And as I look back on that evening and try to come up with the words to describe it, many come to mind, the first being friendship.
When I arrived at The Marquis Theater a few hours before Forty Fathoms was set to take the stage, they had just finished sound checking, and were getting ready to run some errands before doors opened. So with my camera in tow, I followed Taylor, Kyle, Jeff, Ryan, Evan and Josh down to Walgreens, and on the way, their excitement for the evening was palpable. Throughout the entire walk, all they could talk about was the show, the inside jokes they had planned in-between songs and the ridiculous antics that they’ve gotten into throughout their seven years together. On the way, we snapped a few photos of the band’s current and final lineup, as well as all of the former members together, and although it made things feel a bit final, it was also apparent that, despite lineup changes over the years, these guys are still best friends.
When we arrived back at the venue, doors had just opened and friends, fans and family were already inside and eagerly awaiting the show to come, and again, the feeling of community and friendship was apparent all over again. As more and more people arrived, it started to feel less like a show and more like some sort of high school reunion. The band’s final performance brought countless friends new and old (some that are still involved in the local music scene and a few that haven’t been around as much lately) back to The Marquis, and there wasn’t one strange face in the audience. Nearly everyone knew each other in some way or another, and it was incredible to see just how many people Forty Fathoms was able to bring together. I even got to reconnect with some friends that I normally wouldn’t see otherwise, and it was in that moment that it was obvious that this wasn’t just any other show, just as Forty Fathoms aren’t just any other band. But if you’re reading this, you already knew that.
Kicking off the night was Colorado Springs melodic hardcore band, Dead Set, followed by South Dakota group, Souls. Although people were still trickling through the doors as both bands played, it was apparent that Forty Fathoms keep good company, and this was only proven further when IAMTHESHOTGUN and The Burial Plot (along with quite a few of their friends) took the stage. Making things even better was watching as members of each band, including Forty Fathoms sang along to one another’s songs. There was a palpable sense of community in the room, and one that I won’t soon forget.
Later in the night, I sat in on an interview that the band did, and while I won’t give much away, one thing that really stuck with me was their lack of negativity as they reminisced on their past seven years together and shared their favorite stories as a band. Even when they talked about their breakup, they were quick to assure that it’s not because they hate one another (despite jokes about fighting each other and a wrestling match that happened later in the evening) but because it was just time to move on.
When it was almost time for Forty Fathoms to take the stage for the last time, the bittersweet finality of everything really began to settle in, but thankfully, the mood was quickly broken as members of the opening bands came to joke around and give the guys their well wishes. It was hard to be sad about the end of an era, as everyone was quick to make jokes about the end of the band (among other things) to lighten the mood. Despite the impending final performance, everyone was in high spirits. And when the lights finally dimmed and the crowd cheered with excitement, Ryan and Evan (who remained backstage while the rest of the band went ahead of them) smiled at one another one last time before taking the stage.
What resulted was over an hour of relentless energy, ridiculous inside jokes, passionate performances and most of all, brotherhood. Although they aren’t actually related, it was apparent that the men on stage have become family to one another over the years, and if the constant smiles weren’t proof of that, then the way that they all embraced one another after the show finally came to an end was.
I don’t think there is a simple way to fully express just how much Forty Fathoms has done for the Denver music scene in their years together. This band has inspired countless local musicians to chase their dreams, brought many people together to form unlikely friendships over the years, and has continuously been overwhelmingly supportive of other artists, even a nervous, eighteen year-old photographer who was just starting out six years ago. The reason that The Marquis was completely packed on Friday night (aside from the fact that five incredible bands were performing) was simply because Forty Fathoms embody what the Colorado music scene is and should be about: community, friendship and most of all, fun.
Our local music scene won’t be the same without Forty Fathoms, but it will be forever changed by them, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for these guys next. I’ll leave you with some goofy photos that I took of the band celebrating with their friends after the show, along with some notes from friends and fans. If you’d like to contribute at all, feel free to leave a comment to show your love for the band and say goodbye.
“It’s funny because when Forty Fathoms first started out, we were in competing bands and there was a lot of tension. I started off resenting them a lot because of their success in the scene. Six years later, I had the unbelievable privilege of filling in on bass for their farewell tour. Without exaggeration, they were some of the best few weeks of my life. Taylor, Jeff, Kyle, and Ryan are four of the best, strangest, funniest, and most welcoming guys I’ve ever met. At no point did I feel like an outsider or like a “fill in,” they treated me like one of the band members from the second we pulled out of Taylor’s driveway. I can’t put into words how much they have impacted me, first out of competition to be a better musician and then out of friendship to be a better person. Their impact on the Colorado scene can’t possibly be measured, and they will be sorely missed.” – Brandon Kemp
“I don’t even know what to say. It’s hard. Like I said on Friday night, this is the end of an era. Forty Fathoms were one of the first local bands to support the endeavor that became The Prelude Press, and they were one of the last bands remaining from when I was playing in local bands. Thank you guys for everything you’ve done for our scene, and I can’t wait to see what you do in the future!” – Dom Vigil
“I used to live in the middle of nowhere and getting to shows was near impossible. But, I would do everything in my power to make it to every Forty show. Years later, they went from being one of my favorite local bands, to being some of my favorite people. Each one of those boys is amazing in their own way. And when you bring them all together with their quirky personalities and infectious attitudes, it’s impossible not to smile and have a great time.
Just like everyone else, I’m not excited that Forty Fathoms is breaking up. But every member is talented, passionate, and driven. So I can’t wait to see what else these brilliant boys come up with, together or solo. I really do love you guys, you’ll always have a place in my heart.” – Rijael Kleiman
“My favorite memory of Forty Fathoms is seeing them play on the 2012 All-Stars Tour. They were the perfect band to open for that show, and they ended up being one of the best there. Forty Fathoms was one of the bands from Denver that gave all of us other aspiring musicians hope to transcend the local barrier and become something so much more. Their music, their words, and their energy inspired me to become a more confident and comfortable performer. They will always be one of the most memorable bands to come out of Denver, Colorado. Thank you Forty Fathoms, you will be missed but always remembered and respected.” – Steven DiYorio