Boulder’s Fox Theatre Shaped Colorado’s Music Community and Sonic Identity

Fox Theatre
Photo by Adrienne Thomas.

There are a few key people and places that have grown to define the Colorado sound and daring musical initiative, and it’s fair to assume that Colorado’s sonic identity and reputation would not be the same without the Fox Theatre, which was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in December 2021. Opened in 1993 by Don Strasburg — who’s now the Co-President of AEG Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest — the Fox Theatre represents Colorado’s musical culture and sound in every way. It’s a place where music goes to thrive and community comes first.

Shortly after graduating from Colorado College in 1991, Don Strasburg had a mission: to bring his favorite bands to Colorado. So, at 23 years old, he opened the Fox Theatre in Boulder, a city that Strasburg described as “the oasis of everything I thought was cool.”

Although Denver maintains a renowned reputation as a primary touring destination for national and international acts today, the Mile High City looked very different 30 years ago, when Boulder was the place where culture was shaped.

“Denver was very, very different from Boulder in 1992. We didn’t want to go to Denver. We wanted nothing to do with Denver in 1992. Now I think people look at Denver in the same way we looked at Boulder back in the day. Denver didn’t impact Boulder, Boulder impacted Denver.”

Fox Theatre
The Wallows at the Fox Theatre. Photo by Adrienne Thomas.

Boulder and Denver’s musical community have been shaped by a few key players in the industry, including Don Strasburg, who now books the majority of Red Rocks shows and is largely responsible for AEG’s takeover of Colorado’s live music industry. His remarkable reputation has been built over the past three decades, but when he first opened the Fox Theatre, he was just a 23-year-old music lover who wanted to provide a home for his favorite bands to play in his favorite city. How did he do that? By putting sound and community first.

“Unequivocally, sound was the difference. Sound is the difference. I wanted to help create a home for the music and community that I believed didn’t have a home yet.”

Those first few years at the Fox Theatre weren’t easy. Money was tough, and owning a music venue had a pretty steep learning curve. Strasburg even remembers taking a loan from his grandparents one year to keep the venue alive. Looking back though, Strasburg recalls those early days with gratitude and joy. 

“There’s something pure and honest at the beginning that you can’t ever replicate. Yeah, we made believable mistakes. We had unbelievable successes. I think we succeeded because we really saw a true need for the community rather than seeing [The Fox Theatre] as a business enterprise.”

Fox Theatre
Photo by Adrienne Thomas

In the early ’90s, a daring, wholly original new genre began to break into popular culture — hip-hop. The hip-hop sound was raw, unfiltered and provocative, which made investing in this new movement a financial risk. Strasburg didn’t care and the Fox Theatre embraced this new culture with open arms, becoming one of the first venues in Colorado to aggressively book hip-hop acts. 

A few years later, a new movement began to take over called Electronic Dance Music or EDM. A genre almost entirely deprived of lyrical content, many people didn’t understand the appeal when the term “EDM” was coined to describe this new relatively new sound. Strasburg and the rest of the Fox Theatre staff, however, saw potential and passion in this new movement and gave electronic performers a chance to introduce themselves to Colorado. Fast forward to 2022, and Denver — now known as the bass capital of the world — has become an essential touring destination for bass artists across the globe.

Colorado’s musical notoriety didn’t happen overnight. It was built on the backs of passionate people and relentless effort. The Fox Theatre is a perfect example of how much impact a single place can have on an entire community, as Strasburg explained:

I’ve grown to recognize what we created at the Fox Theatre has set the entire Colorado community onto a road that is flourishing today. We set a bar that everybody had to reach or at least fight for every day and that changed the landscape of our community, I believe, with tremendous positivity.”

Atlas Genius at the Fox Theatre. Photo by Meg O’Neill.

With the entire world still recovering from COVID’s devastating impact on the live entertainment industry, small music venues play a more important role than ever before. As we transition back into a social world, Strasburg believes that live music has taken on new importance in our society.

“I think [the lockdown] has reminded people that what you get at the Fox Theatre is something you can’t get in any other way. It’s something really special and not to be taken for granted. I think that as we come out of this people have realized the things that are important in life are gathering with our friends and our family and dancing. When you take that away it sure makes life a whole lot more bland.

That’s not to say the Fox Theatre is neglecting the harsh realities of COVID. Their staff works tirelessly to ensure each concert abides by CDC and state regulations. Regardless of the precautions, however, the risk is never negated completely and there’s still lingering anxiety about reintegrating into social spaces after chronic isolation. So, to get people to come to shows in 2022, the music better be good, and the performance better be great.

“You can tell when the music’s compelling [enough] that people will overcome their fears and remember what’s important.”

Tyler the Creator at Fox Theatre. Photo by Darian Simon.

Throughout the past 30 years, Colorado has evolved into an American oasis of good music and good people. That’s what defines Colorado, and that’s what defines the Fox Theatre.

Colorado is still changing, and will always continue to do so. Similarly, there’s no one moment that defined Fox’s legacy and its story is still being written, but there’s no denying the Fox Theatre’s impact on the Colorado music community we know and love today.

“Change is something that you can’t put a finger on the exact moment until a long time later when you can go back and analyze it. You could maybe pick out certain moments, but a moment in itself is not a story.

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