Denver, Colorado’s music scene has exploded in size and scope over the past 20 years, and Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom (as well as the adjacent Cervantes’ Other Side) has been integral to that expansion. In addition to providing two crucial early steps on the ladder for rising bands in the Denver market, the independent venue has long served as a central hangout for various intersecting music fan communities.

Live music has lived in the Five Points building now occupied by Cervantes’ for the better part of a century, dating back to its time as The Casino Cabaret. When Scott Morrill and Cervantes’ co-founder Jay Bianchi took over the space 2003, it had been operating of late under the name Club Pure.

“I was 26 years old at the time, so I just couldn’t believe that a place that cool with that much history was available for us to take over,” Morrill reflected to Live For Live Music last month in the midst of the venue’s multi-night 20th anniversary celebration featuring performances by regulars like The MotetEddie Roberts, Fruition, and more. “We put in a sound system, covered the stage with a Steal Your Face red, white, and blue carpet, and opened up on January 16th, 2003,” Morrill explained. “The first show was a Grateful Dead tribute Lazy Lightning that opened up the venue with the song ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, which has always been one of my favorite songs, and it just felt meant to be. Robert Walter’s 20th Congress played night two and we sold it out. I had no idea what was happening, but I knew I couldn’t get much happier than I was at that moment. Luckily for me, that happiness has carried on for 20 years.”

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Morrill has always put that dedication to elation ahead of allegiance to any particular kind of music. On any given night at Cervantes’, you may hear sounds from the worlds of rock, jazz, funk jam, hip-hop, or EDM—and everywhere in between. “I always wanted to create a venue where fans want to come whether they were familiar with the band or DJ or not,” he explained, “a place that was friendly and welcoming and they knew they would see their friends and high-quality music.”

The same thought process was apparent as he ran down his most memorable evenings in 20 years at Cervantes’—Pretty Lights‘ 3.5-hour Ballroom headlining debut in 2009 (“I’ve never seen people dance that hard for that long at Cervantes'”); a 2003 Chris Robinson Brotherhood show featuring special guest Warren Haynes, who dropped by after playing with Phil Lesh at The Fillmore earlier that night (“The place was on fire”); a canceled Black Star performance that became an unexpected show by a childhood favorite, Nas (“It was very special to me”). While the shows themselves were vastly different, they all sparked a similar sense of joy in Morrill.

Two decades into his tenure, Scott Morrill’s mindset has remained largely unchanged from that first weekend running Cervantes’ back in ’03. When asked about the most important lesson he’d learned in his 20 years at the helm, Morrill’s answer was simple: “Have fun. Music is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a release from the everyday worries of life and a feeling of togetherness and love.”

“We have a lot of regulars who have called Cervantes’ their ‘home base’ for many years,” he added. “The 20th anniversary is making me realize that more than ever. So many fans have expressed to me their love for Cervantes’ and many of them have been coming to shows for 10+ years on a regular basis.”

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While plenty has changed at Cervs through the years—from notable venue renovations to bands graduating from the Other Side to the Ballroom and beyond—the crucial components of its staying power have remained constant: The fan community surrounding the venue is as active and vibrant as ever. The venue’s calendar of upcoming shows is as busy as it is stylistically varied. And Scott Morrill is still having fun.

“Thank you to all the staff at Cervantes,'” he finished,  “and to every musician that has played there over the years!”

For a full list of upcoming events at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom and Cervantes’ Other Side, head here.