Strasburg told me the story on Chair 10.
Used to be a dedicated reader could tell what was going on, a subscription to “Billboard” was enough. Not anymore. There’s no music publication that will hip you to the business. Today you’ve got to know the people, and that’s a damn hard thing to do, because they’re working so damn hard.
You know I’m not a big fan of music business schools. They teach you how to be middle managers. When the music business is run by entrepreneurs, all unique, all self-starters, they’d be successful at anything they chose to do.
Don Strasburg promoted a Phish show when he went to Colorado College. And by time I met him, before the roll-up of 1996, he was a super-passionate promoter out of Denver. I mean we all know Chuck Morris, but this twentysomething giving me burned CDs of Robert Randolph and…
Strasburg was relentless.
But Don cares. He views a concert as a party, that’s what he tells all his charges to never forget, to see it through the eyes of the attendees.
And Don used to book the Denver Fillmore, but then he, Chuck and Brent moved over to AEG and they didn’t have a venue that size.
Now AEG’s got plenty of venues in Denver. And today Don’s territory is not limited to the Mile High City, but Don wanted to fill this niche…the only issue was money, could he convince the bigwigs to go for it?
And it’s always about money, you can’t afford everything, that money could be used to buy Outside Lands…
Now if you know Don he’s scruffy. He said he wasn’t gonna shave his beard until the Mission opened. He ended up looking like a lumberjack, with a beard maybe eight inches long, but he stuck to his guns.
Now what you’ve got to know about Don is he’s passionate, he cares, he’s not a company man. That’s what’s wrong with the music business today, too many company men (and women!) The basic question is…have you ever risked your own money? The losses hurt. And they still hurt. Don told the story of losing 250k, maybe a little less, on a recent date. He’d been arm-twisted into doing it. During the gig a worker asked if they should let those on the grass down into the seats, Don said no. Because he wanted the act to play to empty seats, to show its representatives that they were wrong.
This is the nitty-gritty, this is not what they teach in school. Every show is a risk. And you don’t always win. The landscape is littered with dead promotion companies, it’s damn hard.
So Don had a vision. He laid it all out on the chair. He called me about it. We spoke about it every time we were together in Vail. Hell, wanna get to know somebody? Ski with them. Of course you can play golf, but that’s competitive, skiing is not. And actually, Don snowboards. He loves to go into the trees, like in WTF. I’ll let you try to decipher what that stands for, let’s just say it’s at the far end of Sun Up Bowl and it used to be off the map. I was recovering from shoulder surgery, I did not want to hit a tree, and the average person would classify WTF as the woods/forest. Then again, Don tore his ACL in the woods at Winter Park and extracted himself and drove home before he had surgery.
So the concept of the Mission Ballroom, the layout…
Let me just say it’s rectangular, but it’s encircled, like the Colosseum in Rome, by bleachers a la Red Rocks. Maybe you haven’t been to Red Rocks, you should go, it’s unique.
(Check out the Mission’s layout here: seating map)
And nothing is ever finished on time. When I asked Don if the August 7th opening was firm, he said ABSOLUTELY!
So we went.
This is not an old building with charm, this is brand new construction, and the vibe is created by the acts on stage.
Now, the side seats, on the second floor, they’re open to the hoi polloi, insiders sit/stand behind them. The Mission Ballroom is egalitarian.
And there are the usual bars, Don and his compatriots have learned a lot about what is needed in their decades of shows.
But first and foremost this is a music venue. And we ain’t got many of those. We’ve got the Forum, the best arena in the country because it’s only about music, there are no sports teams. But many of the other venues are multi-purpose buildings. But in the Mission, the infrastructure is permanent, for the music. The lighting rigs can be moved back and forth, same deal with the stage.
But really, it’s all about the music.
And Denver’s a music town.
You think everything is happening in New York or L.A., but you’re wrong. Hell, the Lumineers moved from New Jersey to Colorado to make it. This is how far we’ve come. In an era of mass communications, we know so much, but we know so little. The truth is, music is more regional than it’s been since the sixties. Maybe not in radio, but live. Unless you’re there, it’s hard to know what’s going on. And Don hears it first, because Denver/Boulder is inundated with college students and Don also runs clubs. He told me about Maggie Rogers nearly a year before most people heard of her, before the press began. And when you go to the show, you get it.
The people were there for the music.
Now the Lumineers are a hometown act, and they had a big radio hit, but still…this was not your typical arena show, all flash and on hard drive, this breathed.
And “Ho Hey” would not get on Top Forty radio today, no way. But it did back in 2012, SEVEN YEARS AGO! That’s right, there’s a return to musicians, the Lumineers have been doing it since 2005. The major labels promote ever younger “artists” who burn out before they are twenty, and the older people in most cases don’t even need a label, and they have an audience.
Now you have to be over 16 to get into the Mission Ballroom, but most of the people were in their late twenties and thirties. I didn’t feel old being there. But I was envious of the enthusiasm, these were true fans, they sang along.
So maybe it can be about music again. Maybe it all doesn’t have to sound like the Spotify Top 50. Turns out there is an audience older and more sophisticated who will devour different acts, if you make them aware of them.
And if the acts are good, they graduate up the building ladder, and one step on it is the Mission Ballroom, with a capacity of 3,950.
There’s no MTV keeping us all on one track. And sure, there are not only Top Forty radio stations, but we live in an on-demand world, radio does not drive the business like it used to.
It’s about word of mouth, friends, social media. You hear about it and want to check it out.
The only problem is it can be hard to become a member of this chain.
But you can start by checking out who’s playing at the Mission Ballroom.