The Mission Behind Denver's Mission Ballroom | Westword


The Mission Behind Mission Ballroom

Don Strasburg explains the vision behind one of Denver's favorite live-music venues.
The Mission Ballroom's exterior.
The Mission Ballroom's exterior. Michael Emery Hecker
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When young talent buyer Don Strasburg and his buddy and business partner Jon O'Leary toured the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia during the ’90s, he didn't know that moment would influence the design of a new venue more than two decades later.

"Jon is looking around and he says, 'You know what would be really cool?' and I go, 'What?'" Strasburg recalls. The theater "had all these balconies [that] were all stacked. He said, 'It would be really cool if the balcony connected to the floor. Look at all this air that's sitting here, that would be an awesome seat.'

"I never forgot that," he says.

At that time, the young entrepreneur was still getting his feet wet in the entertainment industry. It was 1992, and he and five other investors had just purchased the Fox Theatre, but none of them knew how to run a venue. "We wanted to have the greatest place in the world, where we could hang out, see the greatest music in the world and have a ton of fun," Strasburg told Westword in 2022. "We were all coming out of college. We didn't feel that the existing [venues] — which were far fewer than they are now in Colorado — really cared about our community and the experiences we wanted. You've got to build it. You've got to make it happen if you want it."

So that's what he did. And despite the many naysayers who were sure the Fox Theatre would crumble, the venue thrived, leading Strasburg down a whirlwind career path that took him everywhere from Live Nation and the Fox Theatre to the Fillmore Auditorium. In 2007, he settled down at Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and in 2019 became co-president of the company.
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Don Strasburg of AEG.
Michael Emery Hecker
AEG is an international entertainment company that manages many of the metro area's most popular venues: the Gothic, Ogden and Bluebird theaters, and Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre. Despite its monopoly of Denver theaters, AEG sought a larger and sleeker venue. So the company designed and built the Mission Ballroom at 4242 Wynkoop Street. With a capacity of 3,950, the Mission opened in 2019 and has since garnered multiple Best of Denver awards, including Best Indoor Venue.

The AEG team was determined to create the most polished customer- and band-friendly venue yet. Strasburg applied his decades of venue experience and insider knowledge (including that conversation in the Trocadero) to the ballroom's design, while the company painstakingly ironed out every meticulous detail.

Most of all, Strasburg tackled issues he has dealt with in previous venues — such as long bathroom lines, long bar lines, no room to dance, no place to sit and limited stage view — head-on.

The Mission's stadium-esque bleachers mirror those of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, giving concert-goers ample room to dance and even a place to sit. "I'm not super tall, so that's also part of the bleachers," Strasburg says with a smile. "I was like, 'Wouldn't it be nice if I could see?'"

Multiple bars and bathrooms, combined with the modern space's massive interior, make Mission Ballroom one of Denver's most prominent (and breathable) venues.

Even the venue's disco ball was carefully constructed. It's not the typical sphere of tiny reflective mirrors, but a technological artwork designed by AEG, mirror artist Mike Lustig and art engineering firm Re: Engineering. Much to the delight of visiting artists, the disco ball can be programmed and fully incorporated into each performance. It rightfully earned Westword's 2022 Best Disco Ball at a Venue.

"Fan experience, the artist experience — that was what was on top of the agenda," Strasburg says. "We kept on saying, 'Our mission is to create the greatest concert venue in the world.' And then we all stopped and just said, 'Well, why don't we just call it the Mission?'"

The 2019 grand opening of the Mission, which showcased the Lumineers, was a smashing success.

"I remember it was opening night, it was literally when the Lumineers were playing, and everything we had thought about, everything that we had so passionately believed in, the audience and artists saw it immediately. Like, bam!" Strasburg says. "And that was the moment when [I felt] that massive wave of relief."

Since then, the venue has hosted such artists as Misterwives, Bishop Briggs, Elephant Revival, GRiZ, Peter Frampton and many more big-name acts.

"I had a call recently with an agent who has a really amazing artist," Strasburg adds with glee. "And he said, 'I gotta tell you, I never get phone calls from my artists about shows. They don't call the next day. They only call if it's it was the worst experience ever, never book me there. Usually, no news is good news. I don't get phone calls like this, where they call and say it was the best venue they've ever played.'"

The young Strasburg, who dove into the business head-first, didn't know his career path would lead him to an opportunity where he could help create his dream venue.

"I dreamed it, but I also wasn't convinced," he reflects. "I think my 23-year-old self would be pretty frickin' pumped to see how it is today."

Find upcoming concerts at the Mission and at more Denver venues at our concert calendar.
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