Murder By Death at the Stanley Hotel
Estes Park, Colorado 1/2/2015
by Adam Perry for Westword
The moment Murder By Death ended its nearly two-hour set at the infamous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park on Friday night, front man Adam Turla stepped off the front of the stage to chat with the audience, many of whom came from far away for the event. I asked Turla whether my love, Irene, who is a seamstress, could mend his jacket, which we’d noticed during the concert was torn at the right shoulder.
“Oh no,” Turla said. “That didn’t happen tonight. This jacket is over 100 years old. But maybe that’s a good idea; I’ll see you at the bar later.”
“Later” never came for us. We spent the next hour or so the same way we spent two hours before the show: wandering around the 140-room Stanley, which, like Turla’s old black sport coat, is over 100 years old, looking for ghosts and taking photos.
Nine months ago, Murder By Death — a critically acclaimed Indiana-based gothic Americana band — announced a three-night sequel to last year’s two-night run at the Stanley, the setting of Stephen King’s 1977 book The Shining. The 2014 shows were among the first times a rock band had played at the notoriously haunted hotel. The three shows over the weekend, held in a small, detached concert hall, sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale.
We were a little disappointed that the shows were not held in the large, old ballroom adjacent to the hotel bar, as that’s where the ghost of Freelan O. Stanley’s wife, Flora, has reportedly been known to play piano over the years. The ballroom is also just steps from room 217, which inspired King to write The Shining. But obviously a full-on rock concert there would mean loud music taking over the entire hotel. [Note: Turla emailed today to explain that not only does the concert hall have a larger capacity, it is also said to be “the most haunted place in the whole Stanley”]
The concert hall, while lacking in acoustics, was private enough for two hours of alcohol-fueled revelry set to devilish Americana. Turla’s deep voice fittingly conveyed lyrics such as, “spirits are restless / can’t you hear them yell?” while cellist Sarah Balliet played articulate, eerie melodies that gave most songs a cinematic quality worthy of a Tim Burton film.
We met Murder By Death fans from as far away as New Jersey and Las Vegas, most of whom attended just one show (at $50 a ticket) but stayed all weekend at the pricey Stanley. Most of the crowd was dressed to the nines, at the band’s request. Virtually the entire audience sang along to nearly every word, drinks in hand, but barely bobbed their heads. We wondered whether that’s the norm for Murder By Death shows or if the couple hundred concertgoers were staring at the stage, waiting for ghouls to appear alongside the band.
The 22-song set was fantastic. Rather than rely on its most well-known material, Murder By Death only played a few songs – including, of course, “Ghost Fields” – from its most recent album (2012’s popular Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon) and otherwise crept deep into its six-album catalog. The band also debuted a couple promising selections from the forthcoming Big Dark Love. Fans lucky enough to attend all three shows at the Stanley must have heard nearly every song Murder By Death has written.
Irene and I enjoyed a night of great music and mingling. We also may have experienced some of the paranormal activity that drew Murder By Death to the Stanley. Standing in the snow on the hotel grounds an hour before the concert started, we looked down at the hotel bar; we both heard a breathy voice whisper something clear but wordless, as if an invisible man was pressed against us trying to communicate with us. There wasn’t another human within 50 yards.
And after the show, Irene reached into her coat pocket and produced a guitar pick with “MBD” written on one side and images of an eye and a switchblade on the other. Bassist Matt Armstrong threw his pick into the crowd after “I’m Afraid of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe,” but Irene’s coat had been on the floor during the show. How the pick made its way into her possession, let alone deep in her coat pocket, we’ll never know.