DIY music pioneer, Campus West Pinball Jones closes its doors

Maddy Erskine

Growing up in this town, Pinball Jones has always been one of my favorite places, both as a venue and an arcade. In high school, my friends and I were always checking the schedule to see if they had a show that week we wanted to see.

During the last few years, so many people I know and care about have played shows there. When I finally got the courage to join a band, our first real gig was opening for someone at Pinball Jones Campus West.

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It was one of the most exciting moments to see our band’s name on a flyer for a show. Unfortunately, the show was canceled due to COVID-19. And now, Pinball Jones has sadly announced that their Campus West location will not be reopening.

The closure of local venues and bars isn’t a surprise with COVID-19. Many of these places are struggling to make ends meet since their businesses rely on drawing crowds and hosting large groups of people. 

Pinball Jones Campus West has been open since 2017. They have dozens of arcade and pinball games and have been a hub for local music over the last few years. 

“I think it (Pinball Jones) felt so special because it really worked alongside all the artists in the area to create a community where everyone felt comfortable. I always felt good about playing a PBJ show because I knew I would see countless familiar and friendly faces when I got there.” -Lucas Wood, bassist for Satellite Pilot

The downtown location also has dozens of pinball machines and arcade games and remains open. There is a possibility that, once it is safe again to have shows, live music will resume at this location.

The closure of Pinball Jones Campus West has many local bands heavy-hearted. It was known for being a DIY venue for anyone to play shows and share their music with the community.

“I think (Pinball Jones) felt so special because it really worked alongside all the artists in the area to create a community where everyone felt comfortable,” said Lucas Wood, bassist for Satellite Pilot. “I always felt good about playing a PBJ show because I knew I would see countless familiar and friendly faces when I got there.”

Satellite Pilot is a Loveland-based psychedelic indie-pop band who played over 10 shows at the venue, including both of their album releases. 

“My favorite show at PBJ was our second album release,” said Jeremy Long, Satellite Pilot’s auxiliary percussionist. “Our friends in the Crooked Rugs pulled off such an incredible Beatles cover set that directly complimented a swamp themed Valentine’s Day show. I’m telling you, if that show were anywhere other than PBJ, it wouldn’t resonate the same.”

Lead singer Caleb McFadden of Chess at Breakfast said that he feels Pinball Jones pioneered the DIY scene by creating a safe place for people to share their music. It showed that if you want to have a place for live music, all you need is a spot that’s big enough for a band and a community that wants to be a part of it. 

“It was almost like a pop-up,” McFadden said. “And it was a really good symbol for like, (putting) a venue wherever the f*ck you want. You know, ‘this space is big enough, let’s do it here.'”

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Chess at Breakfast played plenty of memorable shows at Pinball Jones, including one where they opened up for the Illuminati Hotties, a touring band from Los Angeles. 

“Every night there’s music happening there,” said Mike Davis, drummer for Chess at Breakfast. “So if someone wants to hear live music — boom, that was the place to go.”

Former Pinball Jones sound engineer Joe Wood said that he also feels that the venue was so unique because of its commitment to the DIY scene. He said all the money people paid at the door went to the staff and bands, not to the venue. Finding a place to play as a local band is one thing, but finding a place that will pay you helps start a career in music.

“Pinball Jones supported this community, and sometimes it felt like it was the only place that did, other than a few house venues,” said Noah Shockley, drummer for Satellite Pilot. “Pinball Jones will be remembered as the place that did it right.”

With the closure of so many venues, it’s hard to see what the future might hold for musicians, especially smaller local bands. Most of the venues that played predominantly local music are gone or are struggling to stay afloat right now. 

“It’s gonna be a little more disappointing when we get the go-ahead to (play shows) again,” McFadden said. “Where are bands gonna go? Like, Pinball Jones is gone, Hodi’s is gone, Artery’s gone.”

According to a study from the National Independent Venue Association, 90% of independent venues will close permanently in the next few months without federal funding. On top of this, most of a musician’s money also comes from live shows, so the entire scene is struggling. 

“Everybody’s hurting financially so you don’t even really wanna be like ‘Hey, send us money,’” Davis said. 

However, this isn’t an end to the music scene. In a place like Fort Collins, where there’s a large community of musicians and fans, the scene should bounce back. It will take time and a lot of hard work, but it is possible, and most local musicians are ready to take on the project. 

“Of course you have venues to support what was going on, but it’s not like the venues made it happen,” Joe Wood said. “It was the community that made it happen.” 

As McFadden said, Pinball Jones pioneered the spirit of finding a space and turning it into not just a venue but a community for live music. With this spirit, there are hopes for a revival of our music scene when things begin to reopen.

Maddy Erskine can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @maddyerskine_.