Venue Voices is a new monthly series shining a spotlight on all the incredible venues Denver has to offer and the people who keep them running. Denver is one of the greatest music cities in the country, having become a mandatory destination for some of the biggest names in music while fostering a vibrant, thriving local scene made up of artists of all types. The over 30 venues that exist in Denver and the surrounding areas make this fact possible for there would be no music scene without places to dance with those you love the most and strangers alike. From massive stadiums to intimate rooms, Venue Voices will take a deep dive into a different Denver venue each month, speaking to the people who run them in order to learn each venue’s history, challenges and triumphs while also taking a look at what the future holds.
To kick the new series off, 303 Magazine sat down with Scott Morrill, owner of Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom since its humble beginnings. Cervantes’ — often referred to as Cervs by its regulars — has been a staple of the Denver music scene for over 20 years now. The historic building with its iconic marquee has lit up Welton Street since long before Five Points became a hot spot to spend a night out.
Morrill opened Cervantes’ when he was 26 years old and he had no idea it would become the beloved destination it has today. Of course, the goal of any venue is to bring in quality live music but Morrill’s vision runs deeper. He doesn’t want you to visit Cervantes’ just because of a specific performer; he wants to create an environment that patrons are excited to visit no matter who is playing. He said, “We have a lot of regulars who have called Cervantes’ their ‘home base’ for many years. It’s a big family between the staff and fans and musicians that is very special and is the result of everyone caring about the venue that they’ve had so many magical experiences in.”
Maybe some of Cervantes’ success can be attributed to the rich history buried under its floorboards and stuffed behind its walls. From the 1920s to the 1990s the building operated as Casino Cabaret, a historic Jazz club that all the greats played when they passed through Denver. Iconic acts that graced Casino Cabaret’s stage included James Brown, Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald. The Cervantes’ stage still reverberates with the memories of these legends, their ghosts still dancing happily with the patrons each night. This long, rich history created an abnormal sense of peace for Morrill when he took ownership of the venue.
Once a financial analyst, Morrill eventually came to realize that the desk job life wasn’t for him. Morrill told 303, “I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I realized that being a financial analyst wasn’t for me. I didn’t hate it but it just felt really repetitive. I thought, ‘This isn’t me. I need to do something.’” Over time, Casino Cabaret became Club Pure and when it went up for sale, Morrill seized the opportunity.
Looking back, Morrill appreciates his younger self for not overanalyzing the situation before taking out a second mortgage on his home to purchase an old building to start a career in a new industry. He said, “If I had been 10 years older and presented with the same opportunity, I might have been like, ‘This is crazy. I’m not doing this.’ But thank God, I wasn’t. I was just ready to go. And I was ready to take the risk.”
After a few minor renovations — including the removal of a DJ booth that was cemented into the stage — Cervantes’ was ready for business. Morrill opened Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom on January 16, 2003, and their second stage, Cervantes’ Other Side, in 2004. Morrill is currently joined by his eight business partners Duncan Goodman, Josh Sonnenburg, Adam Stroul, Diana Azab, Nick Houchens, Jeff and Kristin Swager and Evan Marks.
In those early years, Cervantes’ struggled to bring in the crowds they needed to pay the bills. Many shows ended up actually costing Morrill money. There were times when Morrill couldn’t get a band booked for the night so he’d form one on the spot out of local and national musicians, friends, patrons, whoever was around and available. He’d even find himself DJing when the situation called for it. Despite these rough beginnings, Morrill fully believed in Cervantes’ and was committed to pushing through the hardships. “If I wasn’t so young and naive, I probably would have been a lot more scared,” he said. “But I was ready to take the risk and if I failed, I was going to go down fighting.”
Cervantes’ exists because of Morrill’s love for music but it’s his love for people that really carried him through the rocky beginning. He used to think he wanted to be a psychologist but he later realized there was a less traditional way he could consistently help people. On any given night, Morrill witnesses his customers forgetting their worries as they become lost in the music, his staff caring for each other like family and his artists growing in their craft. Seeing the smiling faces walk out of Cervantes’ night after night gave Morrill the encouragement he needed to keep going in those early days.
Cervs is well-known and well-loved for many reasons, but their reputation for finding up-and-coming talent is a big part of why so many remain loyal to them. You know that feeling you get when you show a friend a song that you know they’re going to love? Morrill gets to experience that feeling tenfold when he brings in a new group and watches the crowd fall in love. He’s seen bands go from playing a crowd of 100 on the Other Side to playing for a thousand in their Masterpiece Ballroom to headlining Red Rocks within just a few years.
“It’s really difficult. Being a professional musician is really hard. So anytime I can help a band get bigger and actually make a living, I love to do that.”
You can find a variety of live music almost every night at Cervantes’ and most shows are 16 and up. Oftentimes you’ll find two or three shows happening simultaneously between their Masterpiece Ballroom, the Other Side and their magical patio. The patio was built in 2012 with rescued wood from the floods in Lyons with help from Tommy Lyle from Wood of a Kind. Cervantes continues to keep the character of their historic building while also making continuous updates to make the concert experience more enjoyable for everyone. Over the years, they’ve also re-arranged their back bar, redone their greenroom and recently raised their entire ceiling.
Cervantes was named after the author of the epic Spanish novel Don Quixote. The message of this book can be summed up as this: “One must live life in a genuine way, passionately, in spite of what other people think.” Morrill is certainly living in this way and continues to help others do the same with his community-centered ethos.
Check out Cervantes’ full calendar here and don’t miss these events that Morrill is particularly excited about.
Broke Mountain Bluegrasss Band 20th Anniversary on December 1st 2023
Cervantes’ 21st Anniversary Party on January 19th and 20th 2023