Forget the massive building, the stadium seating, the stunning acoustics, the murals by a who’s who of Denver street artists, the Red Rocks-style benches and that big disco ball that’s supposed to light up but didn't during the Mission Ballroom's grand opening, a Lumineers concert on Wednesday, August 7.
Sure, that’s all glitzy, and that's what people have been talking about at Anschutz Entertainment Group’s new 60,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Denver venue that fits 2,220 to 3,950 people and has been “the best room in Colorado" by its promoters.
But that’s not what stood out at the grand opening. I was drawn to the small stuff that the promoters nailed: the hearing protection, the water, the breathing room.
At the end of the bar was a Costco-sized plastic barrel of earplugs available for the taking. While most die-hard music fans diligently bring their own hearing protection to every show they attend — and I, for one, am haughty about it — sometimes we forget. And when we do, our ears take a punishing.
You’d think that more promoters would care about protecting their fans’ hearing, and that earplugs would come with the often steep price of admission. And perhaps — yes, I’m going full-blown nanny state here — they should even be required. But at the very least, they should be offered prominently, and they too rarely are.
Kudos to the Mission for saving fans' hearing, one pair of earplugs at a time.
Then there’s easy access to water. Booze dehydrates. So do drugs. And while drugs aren’t permitted, it’s smart for the promoters to plan ahead, because fans trip, roll and get high anyway, and having free water available makes surviving a show without fainting much more likely.
Mercifully, water bottles are permitted in the space, and there are stations — the kind you find in an airport — where you can easily and efficiently fill them up. This is both environmentally friendly, cutting back on single-use plastics, and good news for heavy sweaters like me who need to keep their fluids replenished.
While other venues, including the Ogden Theatre, which is run by the same promoter, have received complaints about stuffing their spaces with way too many people, making breathing, moving and dancing impossible, the Mission Ballroom offers concert-goers plenty of space to move — even when it's sold out, as the August 7 event was. For the price of a ticket, we should be allowed to breathe, and on that point, the Mission delivered.
If one spot on the floor got overcrowded — and it did, with obnoxious bros who’d rather be screaming about their workout plans than enjoying the Lumineers' songs about addiction (if that was you, buddies, go suck an egg) — it was easy to find another spot with an excellent sightline and escape the chatterers.
AEG brass promised me it would never get much more crowded than the sold-out Lumineers show, and I hope they keep their word.
Then there’s the sound. While plenty of Colorado rooms offer mud from the speakers — yes, Pepsi Center and 1STBANK Center, I’m looking at you — the Mission offered clear sound from every part of the room I explored.
I know the Lumineers’ music well, and I could hear every word, every piano line, every subtle tap on the rim of the snare. If only I could mute the boorish dolts who should have been lumbering up the streets of LoDo instead of yakking at a concert, the sound would have been perfect.
The only design problem I saw in the venue, and it’s a hilarious one, is that the line going into the bathrooms divides the sinks from the paper-towel dispensers, forcing people who want to dry their soaked hands to awkwardly push their way through people trying to hold it. That inspired one guy waiting to take a leak to shame another man for failing to wash his hands. "I'm not going to wash them if I can't dry them," the accused said.
Standing outside the Mission after the show and glowing from the successful opening night, AEG Senior Talent Buyer Brent Fedrizzi assured me that the bathrooms would be reconfigured. While I was chatting with him, a sharp-looking guy from AEG’s Los Angeles offices started sniffing the air in disgust.
“What’s that smell?” he asked.
“Cigarettes?” Fedrizzi asked.
“Nah,” the guy said.
“Dog food?” Fedrizzi asked.
The guy nodded. He'd whiffed one of Denver’s nastier realities. And that’s the other issue with the venue, though it’s one that haunts much of northeast Denver. The smells of the Purina factory waft over North Wynkoop, the neighborhood in the making where the Mission is located. This doesn’t matter much for concerts, which are held inside. But before and after a show, the stench is disgusting, and it does suggest that outdoor offerings at North Wynkoop might stink.
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The location of the Mission is surreal. As someone who used to wander around the train tracks that are now adjacent to the venue, climb the roofs of the industrial buildings and frequent shows at Rhinoceropolis, Glob and the other DIY venues nearby, I find the muscular presence of the international entertainment giant AEG in an old punk stomping ground almost chilling. But not unexpected: The city's booming.
Even the Lumineers, the opening-night band that moved to Denver from New York City a decade ago and got their start playing Tuesday open-mic nights at the Meadowlark a couple miles away, talk about how Denver has changed.
Every time they come back from a tour, the city’s different, says Wes Schultz, the band’s lead singer.
Says Schultz: “If you build it, they will come.”