DENVER — Crowds fell silent and jaws dropped as Kyle Simmons took the stage.
From small local bars to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, Simmons’ shrill voice, songwriting skills and stage presence are left in the hearts of those celebrating his afterlife on Sunday. She was 34 and died of acute liver failure.
Simmons grew up in Denver. At 17, she formed her first band called A Girl Named Kyle. The band played venues around town and sold out the Bluebird Theatre, which set them on the path to a successful music career touring Colorado, Kansas and Missouri.
At a vigil for Simmons on Monday at Blush & Blu, in Denver lesbian bar, friends shared their favorite memories of performing together, growing in their music careers, and feeling welcomed by her warm and inviting presence.
“I know his music will live on, and I think it’s a good reminder to live life to the fullest and leave it all on stage,” said Sarah Slaton, a friend of Simmons and another queer musician from Denver. “Whatever your version of the scene, give it your all.
Simmons was best known for her role as lead singer in Speakeasy Tiger, a Denver-based rock-electro band, which she left in 2010. She has also performed with other bands, including Take to the Oars.with whom she goes on stage at the Red Rocks.
Take to the Oars member Ryan Gombeski said the energy at Red Rocks changed when Simmons took the stage, as fans were drawn to her magnetic charm.
“His voice was so haunting, unmistakable and distinct,” Gombeski said. “There’s no one like her, in this scene or any scene I’ve heard.”
As a lesbian musician, Simmons also brought queer representation to Denver’s musical world, which other musicians believe will be part of her lasting legacy.
“I think she set an example for people in the queer scene, whether they were artists or not,” Slaton said. “People want to see visibility and see a reflection of themselves on stage, and she gave a lot of people that and inspired people to do it themselves.
Another close friend, CT Robinson, said Simmons looked up to older members of the LGBTQ community and was popular with the whole community.
“All the girls wanted to be her or wanted to be with her because she had so much to offer,” Robinson said. “I think we all looked up to her in so many ways, and I think she really created a passion in all of us.”
In addition to music, Simmons enjoyed spending time with friends and caring for animals. Those close to him said his love for animals is a testament to his selflessness.
Simmons’ friend and neighbor Heather Thoma said on one occasion that Simmons parked his car in an illegal location and saw a parking enforcement vehicle approaching, but was petting the dog. Rather than get up to move the car, Simmons continued to pet the dog and accepted the ticket, as it meant more time with the dog.
“She was known for her voice and stage presence, but also her love for animals and nature,” Thoma said. “She always wanted to help everyone.”
Thoma used to sell band merchandise for Denver bands, which is how she and Simmons originally met. Over time, the two developed a group relationship in which Toma thought of Simmons — 10 years younger — as her 20-year-old daughter’s best friend, little sister and mentor.
“She was such a big part of my life and my daughter’s life too,” Thoma said. “She was probably the most genuine person I have ever met.”
The two referred to each other as “soul family”, believing their bond extended beyond physical life.
“Of all the memories I have, there’s not a single negative memory,” Thoma said. “A tiny person with the biggest voice and the biggest heart I have ever met.”
Friends also said Simmons had a way of bringing those around him out of their shells and into moments etched in their hearts as favorite memories.
“She was the kind of person where you could do nothing and have a good time,” said Tavis Alley, another former Speakeasy Tiger member. “Just complete joy that just lit up the room everywhere.”
Alison Berg is a multimedia reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at [email protected].