Features, Print January 15, 2019

Open Fire – A Bond Forged By Metal

by Dan England

During a rare quiet moment in what Dave Klein calls the “Dave Cave,” a basement devoted to metal music in his Evans home, three members of Open Fire remember the day Dave MacKenzie sent out the news that his son, Tyler, was killed in Iraq.

Klein, the drummer, and Fernando Escobar, a guitarist, still remember that day in 2005. Just two months before, they’d had so much fun playing their first big gig before thousands at the first “Thunder in the Rockies,” even after Escobar tore a knee ligament during an ego strut on the band’s final song. Escobar called it the coolest knee injury ever, flashing a crazy sense of humor that won MacKenzie over despite a rocky start, when MacKenzie thought Escobar was kind of an asshole.

The music helped win them over, too. It was the music, after all, that brought Escobar and Klein together. Klein wanted to start an all-80s, hard-rock band that dabbled in heavy metal, his only requirement of the other musicians being that they had to enjoy the music. He didn’t want a skilled country-western guy to come in and just endure it. He wanted the band to be fun, not caring if they simply jammed together a couple times a month.

Klein’s wife at the time, Wendy, suggested Escobar – he and Klein spent an hour talking about metal during their first phone call. He joined them a year later and the chemistry was there almost right away. The bond still runs strong: the band celebrates their 14th anniversary Saturday, January 26 at the Moxi Theater.

Four of them are in their 50s now, and McKenzie is the old man at 57. But they all remember those early days fondly, particularly playing Tesla’s “Comin’ Atcha Live.”

“We played that song five times in a row just because it sounded so good,” Escobar laughs. “It took so long to rehearse because we were having such a great time playing the music.”

They were fast friends because of their shared love for hair metal and the fact that no other band was doing what they were doing. When MacKenzie sent out the email about Tyler’s death, they realized how important the band was to all of them, even as they were essentially just getting started.

“It became that outlet. It was therapeutic,” MacKenzie said. “It was a perfect example of how we could have a shitshow outside of the band, but when we were on stage, it was all about the music.”

That was true last year for Klein too, who went through a divorce and entered a 30-day treatment facility in Texas for his anxiety and alcohol use. “I talked to each of them individually about it,” Klein said. “When I was allowed contact on the outside, there were always there, checking on me.”

The band enjoyed more success than they thought they would. Expecting to get four gigs a year, they played more than 25 annually at their peak, even writing and performing original songs. They had something: They were the only band playing strictly 80’s hair metal and hard rock. They opened for nostalgia tours by Winger, Warrant and headlined the Greeley Stampede’s free stage.

Other tribute bands would eventually emerge to honor that era, but Open Fire was the first. In fact, many of those tribute bands (Rush Archives, Project: Foreigner and VanWholen) were started by members of Open Fire. They’ve learned over 60 songs and have 15-20 in their back pocket.

“Everyone who listened to that music had gotten married and had kids,” Escobar said. “They wanted a break from parenting and a way to relive those times. We hit the niche.”

The niche takes work, and the expectations are higher than you’d think of a hair metal group. Everyone knows their parts before rehearsal, and the rehearsals can take hours in Klein’s metal cave, where harsh opinions are exchanged if musical standards aren’t met. It can be exhausting.

The band took two long breaks over the years, after a retirement and while Klein got better. Both times they reunited because they just wanted to play. They missed it. They missed each other. They just wanted to be a metal band, but they became a family.

“They’re the brothers I never had,” Klein said. They hang out, go to shows together and even play in other bands together. They still rehearse and give each other crap because it’s so much fun.

“I’ve never been in a situation that I’ve been with these four guys,” Escobar said, “and I don’t think I ever will again.”

Open Fire play Saturday, January 26 at the Moxi Theater, 802 8th St. in downtown Greeley. Tickets at moxitheater.com.