About The Bash
The Neal Cassady Birthday Bash is held each February to celebrate the birth and life of Neal Cassady – who described himself as “Denver’s unnatural son.”
Neal Cassady’s influence on literary and pop culture is well documented. He was the archetype Beat writer, the protagonist of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” muse for Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, and driver of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ bus “Furthur.”
Throughout his life Neal exuded a style and distinct Denver, western “cool” which secured his stature as a true American original.
The Bash is organized with the cooperation of the Cassady Estate and often features Neal’s “kids” Cathy, Jami, and John Allen, reading from his letters and sharing memories of their dad. They are joined each year by a variety of notable Beat scholars and poets like the Rev. Steve Edington of the Lowell Massachusetts Celebrates Kerouac committee and core faculty members of the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. The 2014 Bash featured poet, manager of the MC5 and founder of the 60’s White Panther Party John Sinclair. The event also regularly features the best of Denver’s poets and musicians like Molina Speaks, Suzi Q. Jones, Ed Ward, Marty Jones and Janet Feder. Close friend and collaborator of both Neal and Jack, David Amram and his quartet are also perennial guests at the Bash.
REVIEW OF 2017 BASH:
8th ANNUAL NEAL CASSADY BIRTHDAY BASH
The 8th annual Neal Cassady Birthday Bash went off with a bang at Denver’s Mercury Cafe on February 10th of 2017, with a variety of Bohemian attendees and presenters. I was pleased and surprised when Bash founder band guru Mark Bliesener asked me to read something this year. My friend Becca Mhalek (Jane Doe, ex-Nightshark, others) agreed to accompany me on her saxophone, and Mark had us open the show. I read something cobbled together from my proposed 2nd edition of The Denver Beat Scene, my recently published novel, Overgrown, and some other writing of mine. Becca’s intuitive expertise enabled the combination of our forces in what poet Jerry Smaldone (Fatto a Mano, All Flesh Shall See it Together, others) called “the best pairing of words and voice I’ve heard.” That’s him saying that.
The next presenter was Neal Cassady’s eldest living known son, Robert Hyatt, star of the 2017 Birthday Bash, giving the first of two readings including excerpts from his newly published Beat Bastard: An Adoptee’s Portfolio (2017), in which he displayed his pragmatically empathetic intent in the first by answering the questions he felt the audience would likely want the answers to more than anything else—questions like how are he and Neal different? How are they similar? In his second reading later in the show, Hyatt detailed the protracted process of discovering his biological parents identities (Hyatt never learned his biological father’s name until he was himself 66 years old). Creds to Robin Stratton of Boston’s Big Table Publishing for bringing Bob’s memoir to the public arena, and creds to him for writing it.
Other performers that night included Gunslinger author Ed Dorn’s widow, poet Jennifer Dunbar Dorn (Manchester Square, others), poet Nick Haberman, Chicano noir fiction author Manuel Ramos (My Bad: A Mile-High Noir, The Skull of Pancho Villa, others), Denver poetry scene stalwart Ed Ward, who read a story called “All Shook Up“ accompanied by Dean Roquentin on guitar and voice, City Park Advisory Committee. spokesman, Andy Sense, who announced the plans for rain-activated Cassady quotes in City Park–what a great idea—(contact him here with your favorites: email@example.com), and singer-songwriter Marty Jones, who brought down the house with three or four rousing numbers to close. The lineup changes every time. None of Neal’s other children and their families made it to Denver this year, but are sure to return for the next one, or send a representative. Best to them always.
I’m glad to see Denver finally honoring its influential son, as manifested in recent practical occurrences like those rain-activated Cassady quotes throughout City Park landscape, and plans for a Platte-side luxury hotel in Neal’s name, despite uneasy juxtaposition with Neal’s own flophouse childhood. My reading ended with my idea for establishment of a self-sustaining local creative scene in the coming year involving civic recognition and appreciation.
I’m thankful for the homegrown tradition of the Neal Cassady Birthday Bash, paying tribute first, and most organically, by far. Thank you, Mark Bliesener. Thank you, everyone who performed this year. Thanks to all who attended. Thank you, Marilyn Megenity, for providing a home for the Bash at your worthy establishment, the Mercury Café, all these years, and indefinitely into the future.
Until next time.
Others in Denver Take Note:
In 2011 and 2013 Mayors Hickenlooper and Hancock, noting how, “Cassady’s unique outlook, philosophy, and worldview shaped by his Denver upbringing, still interest and inspire new generations,” proclaimed the date of the Bash as “Neal Cassady Day” in Denver. In conjunction with the 2012 Bash, Denver East High School granted Neal his high school diploma citing “Cassady’s major impact on American literature.”
Cassady, who died in 1968, would have been 91 years old on February 8, 2017.