It’s a busy night at VisionQuest Brewery’s StarWater Wednesday. Sitting at a back table, behind the typical crowd of hug-loving, smile-wearing, hairy eccentrics, are two out-of-place normies.
As performers come to the mic, reading poetry, playing music, making anti-establishment political statements and uttering phrases like “we are all one” with no irony, the normies shake their heads in disbelief.
“This is like a hippie caricature,” one laughs and points out all the dreadlocks in the room.
“Totally,” the other says. “When’s the last time anyone here’s taken a bath?”
StarWater Wednesday — put on by StarWater Collective — is a throwback to an earlier era of Boulder culture. The weekly event, billed as “live people, live poetry, live magick!,” began back in 2013 at the old 303 Vodka distillery and quickly established a loyal following, bringing together poets, musicians, artists and other general bohemian types.
After 303’s closing in early 2016, the event briefly found a home at Sancho’s on The Hill before settling in at VisionQuest Brewery in early 2017. The current venue, located in the warehouses of East Pearl, feels like old Boulder in that it’s welcoming to weirdoes and doesn’t seem to need to impress someone’s rich parents with sleek decor.
The front room is full of old pinball machines and a piano, the walls painted in a zany outer space motif with rockets and astro-dogs. The main room has a typical warehouse-style garage door on one wall, some quirky decorations (bumper stickers, Thunder Cat action figures, flyers for “sustainable dog treats”), and a classic L-shaped wooden bar in front of 12 taps and a modern LED menu with an ever-changing variety of exotic sounding concoctions like “Space Jelly.”
StarWater Wednesday events start with a spoken word/music open mic (usually around 7:30 p.m.), followed by featured music until 11 p.m. They sometimes kick things off with a live interview with someone of interest from the community, such as the organizers of the ARISE Festival (August 3-5, Sunrise Ranch, Loveland).
The StarWater Collective is very connected to festival culture. The group has been auditioning musical acts since the spring for their own stage at ARISE, and their choices have been fairly diverse, from acoustic folk to electric blues, hip-hop to opera and even reggae-harp.
Matt Bovard, aka Dank Phart the Pirate Poet, has hosted StarWater Wednesdays since the beginning. The wild-bearded emcee wears a signature neck-tie around his forehead and always starts by reading his own poetry, which thematically orbits around expanding consciousness, creating permaculture and generally loving one another.
“After four-and-a-half years it feels like it’s just beginning,” Bovard says of the event.
He’s passionate about the power of art to bring people together, insisting, “We want to create so much good energy here they can’t help being a part of it.”
The event’s main organizer, Zoe Clare StarWater, shares this vision.
She looks the part, with purple semi-dreads, dark witchy outfits and tattoos scribbled down her forearm, but she also has a down-to-Earth focus in her eyes. Her intentions are to create a community that provides a regular counterweight to social media culture and an increasingly materialistic Boulder.
“StarWater Wednesday is about people truly expressing themselves,” she says. “Not trying to get attention, not showing off or competing. We call it the open-mind open mic because everyone here is valued for what they do.”
She laughs and rolls her eyes at the notion of it being a “hippie” event.
“I hate that word,” she says, preferring bohemian or counterculture, or maybe even just “collection of misfits.”
She sees the label as a way those in power write off the group.
“They know that gathering in a community like this is the way that real change can happen, and they don’t want that, so they look for ways to undermine us, like, ‘Oh, they’re just hippies,’ or, ‘Oh, they’re just on drugs,’ or whatever.”
On that busy Wednesday night, one of the normies says, “This is so out of touch with reality.”
“Yeah, get a job!” the other shouts at the stage.
Eventually one member of the StarWater community approaches them. The normies tense up like they’re expecting to defend themselves from a scolding, but none comes. Instead, the woman shakes their hands and introduces herself. The three start talking about music and beer preferences, and the normies calm down.
“We’re not usually into this kind of scene,” one tells her, “but I guess it’s cool.”
The whole interaction feels very satisfying given this current cultural climate, in which the idea of We Are All One seems to get fewer re-tweets than We Are One But You Are Another.
If you believe in this kind of connection, and respect any portion of your inner bohemian, you can check-in here each week and have it feel real and validated. At StarWater Wednesday you can drink a beer, read your words, sing your song, connect with others and just maybe feel like things are gonna be alright.
On the Bill: StarWater Wednesday. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, VisionQuest Brewery, 2510 47th St., Suite 2A, Boulder. More info at starwatermagick.org or StarWater Wednesday’s Facebook group.