Sexual assault allegations against Jay Bianchi splinter Denver’s jam-band scene
Bonnie Utter and Kylie Heringer considered themselves the newest members of a close-knit family at the Grateful Dead-themed bars Jay Mitchell Bianchi founded, including Capitol Hill watering hole Sancho’s Broken Arrow.
Bianchi, 53, has become synonymous with Colorado’s jam-band scene over the past 25 years, booking thousands of acts while hiring hundreds of employees at his “Don Quixote”-inspired venues such as Quixote’s True Blue, Dulcinea’s 100th Monkey and Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom.
But Utter and Heringer describe a darker scene inside Bianchi’s coterie of establishments. Heringer, a 24-year-old sound engineer, and Utter, a 25-year-old singer, sound engineer and college student, alleged that incidents of sexual assault and drugging contradict Bianchi’s hippie platitudes about peace and love.
In November 2020, Utter went to Denver Police with allegations against Bianchi. She said that, after a Halloween party, she woke up in the basement of Sancho’s, at 741 E. Colfax Ave., on Nov. 1 having been drugged and sexually assaulted by Bianchi.
She was naked from the waist down and had no memory of the previous night after a certain point, she said.
“I remember getting there, and I remember sitting at the bar, but I don’t remember deciding to stay,” Utter told The Denver Post. “I don’t remember going into the basement. The next thing I do remember is Kylie having to shake me awake in this basement I had never seen before. … I could feel that somebody had touched me and somebody had had sex with me, and I didn’t remember it happening.”
Bianchi has denied the allegations in interviews with The Denver Post, comparing them to the Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism. He said he had consensual sex with Utter on the morning of Nov. 1, 2020.
“It’s the opposite of who I am, and the opposite of the whole Grateful Dead aesthetic,” Bianchi said of the allegations.
Utter’s friend Heringer said she was also sexually assaulted by Bianchi in the offices of So Many Roads Brewery — Tyler Bishop’s new, Dead-themed bar at 918 W. First Ave. — later that same day (Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020). She too filed a complaint with the Denver Police.
“I have been getting harassed by his crowd and they’re banding together trying to discredit us and lie on the stand if it gets that far,” Heringer said. She shared Facebook messages and texts from some of Bianchi’s supporters that warned of violence unless she and Utter rescinded their allegations in writing.
A Denver Police Department spokesman confirmed the existence of open sexual-assault investigations at the addresses of Sancho’s and So Many Roads. They declined to name Bianchi or comment on other aspects of the case — including why it remains open nearly eight months later — citing the integrity of the ongoing investigations. The department also declined requests to provide copies of the police reports from the alleged Nov. 1 incidents.
So Many Roads owner Bishop, who also bought Sancho’s from Bianchi last year, was part of the half-dozen or so people partying at Sancho’s on Halloween. He said Heringer and Utter falsely accused Bianchi to save face after a night of brazen sexual advances they made toward Bianchi. He and Bianchi said the women did not appear to have been drugged.
“He’s definitely Jay and has had his moments,” Bishop said of Bianchi. “He can be a little aggressive with people sometimes, but not necessarily women.”
On March 22, Denver musician Sarah Mount posted a message on Facebook inviting people to share their stories of Bianchi as an alleged “violent predator.” It has generated more than 350 comments, including dozens of alleged instances of verbal and physical abuse, along with accusations that Bianchi withheld pay from musicians playing at his establishments.
Bianchi and his supporters pushed back, chalking up the allegations to the fact that he’s an easy target, having been in the scene for so long, and being admittedly moody and “violent” at times, Bianchi said of himself — but not toward women.
Until Utter and Heringer, no one had said Bianchi sexually assaulted them. But the two women’s accounts are not surprising, according to interviews with more than two dozen local musicians, Sancho’s patrons, former Bianchi employees and Denver Deadheads. No matter what Bianchi does, the scene always seems to welcome him back, they said.
“It seems like there’s a pattern of behavior in Bianchi’s (alleged verbal and physical abuse),” said Dave Flomberg, a musician and former Rocky Mountain News columnist who covered Denver nightlife during Bianchi’s reign. “And it seems like the cycle is perpetual.”
Past arrests, assault charges
Police have arrested or issued warrants for Bianchi’s arrest nine times in Denver and Boulder over the last three decades, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Most were for misdemeanors, such as a 1991 traffic violation and 2007 misdemeanor assault charge, the latter of which was dismissed.
In 2014, Bianchi was put on supervised probation after he was found guilty of another misdemeanor assault charge. In 2018, police arrested Bianchi three times for his failure to appear in court for driving under a restricted license, according to CBI.
Amid more convictions — including possession of dangerous drugs (cannabis concentrate) and driving while ability impaired in 2010 — Bianchi was cited on April 24, 2020, by Denver police for opening Sancho’s in violation of the city’s COVID-19 mandates, and for “hindering an investigation.”
They later noted Bianchi was compliant with their orders, and Bianchi claimed the violations were mix-ups. The gatherings were actually private parties and overzealous regulars, he said at first.
On May 20, 2020, Fox31-KDVR investigative reporter Rob Low asked Bianchi if he was “intentionally flouting the city’s COVID rules because he needed the money.”
“That could be part of it yeah,” Bianchi told him.
Early on the morning of May 27, 2020, one week after Bianchi was cited for opening his Uptown venue Be on Key Psychedelic Ripple against city orders, a fire engulfed the bar and its mini-mall at 17th and Logan streets. While investigators found that the blaze began in the backstage green room of Be on Key, the cause was classified as “undetermined,” and the case is officially closed, according to the Denver Fire Department.
“They found no accelerant, so my guess is it was ashes,” Bianchi said. “And why would I cancel my insurance two weeks before that if I was going to try to burn the place down?”
Bianchi’s finances appear troubled. He has been ordered to pay a total of $367,098 following civil judgments over the past two decades. That includes $336,403 to creditors in Boulder and Denver, in 2017 and 2018, and $30,695 for the release of federal tax liens in 2009.
Bianchi has said he has no plans to reopen Be on Key, and in August 2020 sold Sancho’s to Bishop and business partner Timmy Premus for $120,000. He blamed police citations and a lack of revenue as reasons for the sale. Despite the low sale price, the new owners pay him a stipend, which Bianchi did not disclose, in order to use the bar’s name and Bianchi’s collection of Grateful Dead memorabilia, he said.
“We agreed it would stay the same and if it doesn’t, I can take my stuff,” Bianchi told The Post at the time. “That’s kind of the agreement, so it doesn’t feel like it’s really lost. It’s like it’s continuing.”
Sound engineer Heringer worked at the most recent incarnation of Quixote’s, at 2014 S. University Blvd., for about two years without running into owner Bianchi, she said. Her friend Utter sometimes filled in for her while also singing with bands at Sancho’s and Be on Key. Last year, they came to know Bianchi as a party-buddy, they said.
After Heringer finished her sound-engineer work at Quixote’s on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, Utter picked her up and drove to So Many Roads — Bishop’s bar that opened that weekend. They met Bianchi and Bishop to discuss the last-minute brunch gigs they’d work the day (Sunday, Nov. 1), after which Bianchi and Bishop invited them to a party at Sancho’s, the women said.
That’s how they ended up at Sancho’s around 11 or 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, still dressed in their Halloween costumes — Heringer as Hunter S. Thompson, and Utter as Jigsaw from the “Saw” movie franchise.
“The bar wasn’t open, but Jay was partying upstairs with some regulars,” said Utter, who did not plan to stay the entire night. “They weren’t my crew prior to last summer, but I got along with a lot of those people.”
Utter remembers taking a shot or two of liquor as people moved between Sancho’s and Bianchi’s apartment upstairs. She did not see Bianchi drinking much alcohol because he rarely drinks, she said. Within an hour or so of arriving, Utter said her memory went blank.
Heringer also said she remembers the early part of the night, including sipping on her first drink at Sancho’s and deciding to stay for the party. But she has only flashes of memory after that. One was dancing inside Sancho’s and laughing with Utter, and later watching Bishop jokingly urinate in the women’s bathroom. The last one was with Bianchi.
“I have this vivid memory of him trying to pull me down and make me cuddle with him in the basement,” Heringer said. “I said, ‘No, I have to work,’ and left. The next thing I know, I’m in a car heading to So Many Roads with Tyler Bishop and his wife … I didn’t realize Bonnie was still at Sancho’s.”
Feeling disoriented and anxious, Heringer fumbled her sound engineer duties at So Many Roads. It didn’t take long for venue owner Bishop to relieve her of her job, she and Bishop both said. Heringer felt ashamed that she wasn’t up to running sound because of what she assumed was a hangover from the previous night’s partying.
“I started crying because I was so embarrassed,” she said. “So Tyler brought me back to his office (at So Many Roads) and assured me Jay wasn’t mad, because he didn’t even yell at me.”
After a few minutes, Bianchi entered Bishop’s office and asked Bishop to watch the front door at the bar, Heringer said.
“He shushed me saying, ‘Hey, hey, it’s OK. Sound people don’t cry,’ ” Heringer said of Bianchi. “He’s touching me and then he put his hand in my crotch area, because I was sitting on a chair sobbing into my knees. He moves my hand up to my breast and turns to kiss me. After he left, I just stood there and was like, ‘What the (hell) just happened?’ ”
After a few shocked minutes, Heringer said Bianchi returned to the office to tell her Utter was still at Sancho’s. Heringer immediately left for Sancho’s, texting a friend at 1:58 p.m. to say she feared Utter had been raped.
“The two bartenders that opened had told Tyler Bishop that Bonnie was wandering around high as a kite and didn’t have pants on, so they put a blanket on her and put her in the basement,” Heringer said.
After pleading with one of the bartenders to let her downstairs, Heringer wandered around the “creepy labyrinth” until she found Utter, she said. She did not have an answer for Utter’s tearful question of why Utter wasn’t wearing underwear or shorts.
Utter’s scant memories of that night — and the way she said she woke up the next morning — led her and Heringer to believe they had been secretly given drugs that blurred their memories and rendered them unconscious. Three other women interviewed for this story, who have asked not to be identified, believe they have also been drugged at Sancho’s in the past, although none of them said they knew who may have done it.
“I got in my car, and still had fake blood and my face makeup on from my Halloween costume,” Utter said. “I think I was just in shock. I was driving to work at the studio (at the University of Colorado Denver campus) and started to realize what had happened. I parked in the parking lot at school and just started screaming and crying.”
After calling Heringer and friend Carter Keller, who drove her to the hospital, Utter was given a sexual assault forensic exam (also known as a rape kit) at Denver Health. She watched Denver police officers bag her fake-blood-stained Halloween costume as evidence. After receiving antibiotics to protect her from any sexually transmitted diseases, she gave blood for a toxicology screen.
It showed that she had Ambien in her system, she said, a drug she did not remember taking the night before. She gave her statement alleging sexual assault against Bianchi via phone a couple days later. After nearly eight months of silence from Denver Police, Utter said Officer Michael Goodfellow finally contacted her via phone in May. He apologized for the lengthy wait on her rape-kit, she said, and that she should expect a call with final test results in six weeks.
Goodfellow did not respond to requests for comment, even as Heringer and Utter are still waiting for their reports and medical results. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann’s office “has neither refused nor filed any cases involving sexual assault charges against Mr. Bianchi,” according to a spokeswoman.
“He’s admitted to having sex with me,” Utter said of Bianchi. “He was covering his tracks before I even came to terms with what happened to me. … Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what was or wasn’t in my blood that night. (But) as soon as the results of my rape kit are shared with me, I will share them openly.”
Bianchi and Bishop confirmed the timeline for Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, but denied Utter and Heringer’s allegations of sexual assault or drugging. They alleged that the women — still awake from the previous night’s partying — spent the morning of Nov. 1 seducing and, at times, making out with Bianchi until they led him into the basement at Sancho’s. After they were down there for a couple of hours, Bishop said, he and his wife drove Heringer back to So Many Roads at 11 a.m. so she could get to work.
Bishop’s wife, Rebecca, said she remembers Heringer laughing about the supposed events of the previous hours.
“She said, ‘Yeah, Bonnie’s over there making out with Jay,’ ” Rebecca Bishop said. “And Kylie said, ‘I’m jealous. I wanted to make out with Jay.’ ”
Heringer and Utter are not surprised by the stories, which they believe were concocted to protect Bianchi.
“Statistically, a lot of what is to come will probably disappoint us,” Heringer said. “I recognize that my case is difficult, if not impossible.”
The Colorado Musician’s Union, which was formed partly to address the litany of Facebook complaints against Bianchi, will continue to support Utter and Heringer regardless of police action, co-founders Sarah Mount and Aidan Pagnani said. Following a June 12 protest at So Many Roads that prompted the band Ferguson, Carbone & Peck to cancel shows there, a July 1 CMU picket of So Many Roads was rained out. It was the same date that Jerry Garcia Band icon Melvin Seals began a four-show run. Seals did not respond to requests for comment.
That same day, however, Bianchi released a statement saying he was stepping down from his booking duties at So Many Roads. In addition to recounting his quarter-century in the music scene, he decried the “rumors and lies” that led to Pagnani and Mount’s “vicious attack.” He also said Heringer and Utter should “retract their statement, but it seems like they are trying to get the most mileage out of their fabrication.” He tagged Utter in the post, which invited several comments fiercely critical of her.
Utter and Heringer don’t regret pressing charges, but are steeling for more verbal abuse and threats from Bianchi’s supporters.
“If it hadn’t been both of us, I probably wouldn’t have said anything,” Utter said.
“I probably would have kept working there if not for (Utter’s alleged assault), because that’s how tight that community is. It sucks you in,” Heringer said. “But they’re all out for blood now. … I thought they were my friends.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault or domestic violence, call Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255, or the National Sexual Abuse Hotline at 800-656-4673.
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