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Feb. 24, 2022 10:00 AM PST

“You can’t help but walk around here and go, ‘What the fuck is this?’”

John Paller is sitting in a small, white-walled meeting room somewhere inside the century-old Denver Sports Castle, a six-floor, 35,000-square-foot former Chrysler showroom that’s overdue for a renovation. The longtime Denver entrepreneur says that the venue is a “total pile of shit,” barely equipped to handle an 8,500-person tech conference. But for the thousands milling around, taking in the immersive art installations, puppy-petting areas, live music, non-fungible token art galleries, and “zen zone” for sound baths, massages and oracle readings, the building’s griminess is an afterthought. "People come here for the vibe, man,” Paller tells me. “They come here because it’s chill as fuck and people want to be a part of it.”

Paller, sweaty and breathless as he sips on a yerba mate, is the founder of EthDenver, a nearly two-week-long gathering for devotees of the Ethereum blockchain. The conference began last week with seven days of technical workshops and fireside chats with Ethereum founders like Vitalik Buterin and crypto-adjacent celebrities like Andrew Yang and Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon), and continued this week with a retreat to the nearby ski town of Breckenridge, Colo. Paller organized the first Ethereum-focused conference in 2018, envisioning it as a mix of Burning Man, South by Southwest and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, all themed around Ethereum, the blockchain that paved the way for the rise of NFTs and helped birth the Web3 movement. EthDenver, he said, is an “experience of the future.”

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