“What do you think of all the changes?”

Published on: October 10th, 2019

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Kamasi Washington at Mission Ballroom
Via Mitch Kilne for the Coloradis

The question hung in the air like a balloon filled with wet cement. I wanted to answer, but realized my feelings on the matter were so conflicted that I didn’t even know where to start. The person posing it was one of my closest friends going back to when we were in high school together and she was the world’s worst chem lab partner, who never showed up for a lab. Since then, we’ve seen each other through multiple relationships, two weddings, one divorce, the loss of my father and countless other holidays on her trips back here from her home in Manhattan.

I’ve lived in Colorado since my Pop moved here for a job with Martin Marietta back during the Carter administration. I was a young child. My sister was born here shortly thereafter at Rose. We grew up here. I vividly recall jumping into snow drifts over my head in the blizzard of ‘82. Playing video games at Celebrity Sports Center. Shopping at Zeezo’s in Cinderella City. Buying comics at Buckingham Mall. Standing in line for Rich Karlis and Gary Kubiak’s autograph at North Valley Mall on New Year’s Day in 1987.

All that’s to say, I’ve seen the changes. I remember when they tore down Rainbow Music Hall. I remember the Caribou Ranch Fire. I remember when the Fillmore Auditorium was still called the “Mammoth Events Center.” I covered the re-opening of the renovated Gothic Theater. And now I see a state I barely recognize in so many ways. And to be honest, not all of them are bad.

I had the pleasure of playing horn with Head For The Hills on a couple show this summer — one of which was opening for the California Honeydrops at Chautauqua Auditorium. Got to chatting in the green room with the guys from the Honeydrops and it was their opinion that Colorado’s music scene was the best in the nation right now — bar none. That claim might be a touch hyperbolic, and it would certainly seem so to long-time residents trying to make a living as a musician, but I’m inclined to agree. It IS pretty amazing. And another example of that came to life this summer in the shape of the stunning new venue in RiNo, the Mission Ballroom.

I decided to make my inaugural trip to Mission for a show I marked on my calendar several months earlier — the Herbie Hancock/Kamasi Washington tour. I wanted to give the venue a chance to put its best foot forward with a show I couldn’t wait to see. And as live shows go, it was pretty close to a perfect night. From Washington’s eager, youthful, hip-hop-flavoring-sprinkled-on-top-of-acid-tinged, straight-ahead jazz, featuring — two full kits on stage with drummers who never got in each other’s way — to the living legend-slash-icon-slash-jazz-giant Herbie Hancock’s unmitigated perfection, the show was indelible.

And a big piece of that is thanks to this venue. It’s scalable from 2,200 to almost 4,000 seats, depending on the room the act wants to reserve for seating or a dance floor. The enormous, lighted-from-within mirrored ball is magnificent. The sound was perfect. Truly.  There were enough bar points that I never had to wait for a drink. There’s next to no parking, but they have ride-share traffic management down to an art form now. There’s a pre-gaming outdoor patio designed for socializing and meeting friends. It’s a slam-dunk venue.

Sure, there are plenty of things that aggravate me about all the changes in Colorado over the last few decades. The traffic is nightmarish — especially up and down I-70 during the weekends. There’s way too much terrible architecture in new builds. The homeless problem is abhorrent. Our wages have not kept up with the cost of living and affordable housing is a dire problem as well.

But there are good things too. There are plenty of new faces to meet every day. There are a lot of jobs. There are a lot of people who love this state as much as I do. And the music scene here is a gem.

As is the Mission Ballroom.

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