To many, music is not an activity, it is a lifestyle. Music is both a science and an art, and to find an establishment in both crafts, one must always start in the trenches within respective locales. Very few musical acts, if any, start in a national scene, and must always climb out of the city they come from. In a way, locally crafted music is kind of like encouraging your entrepreneurial spirited friend to seek financing for that crazy invention he has lying around in the living room. To support local music is to invest venture capital in a certain sound, to offer support towards a rewarding activity, towards a risky but potentially thrilling lifestyle. In this regard, First Avenue resembles the main incubator of local music for the Twin Cities region.
Streets.MN readers agree – the famed venue was voted the best place to see local music, and won with 32% of the overall vote. The main runner-ups were the St. Paul staple in the Turf Club, and Dinkytown’s own Varsity Theater, with 20% and 14% of the vote, respectively.
Still, the king cannot be dethroned – First Avenue is the place to be to see any local acts, and has been in that situation for the past several decades. Often cited as the venue where Prince got his musical start in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the venue has been in the national limelight for quite some time. Rolling Stone named it the 2nd best music venue in America. By the late 80’s, the venue was host to a thriving punk scene, a scene that resembled the edginess of its neighboring Block E strip fittingly. The venue also helped raise the profile of important alternative rock acts like The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Soul Asylum around the Bush Sr. administration. The Replacements were recently nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, surrounded by acts like Yes, Nirvana, and Peter Gabriel.
In recent years, First Avenue – along with its little brother in the 7th Street Entry – have been host to a thriving underground Hip Hop scene and Rhymesayers Entertainment acts. Sponsoring acts like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and P.O.S. from Doomtree, the Rhymesayers moniker has gained national attention for its ability to legitimize independent hip hop.
Aside from Hip Hop, the venue has hosted all genres of music, ranging from bluegrass to Dubstep-based EDM. Duluth-based Trampled By Turtles has made First Avenue its unspoken Minneapolis resting ground, with outgoing mayor R.T. Rybak as their biggest fan. Coupled with nationally recognized radio stations in the University of Minnesota-based Radio K and MPR-based The Current, the venue has strongly supported local acts like Jeremy Messersmith, Mason Jennings, and Howler.
As far as an urban setting goes, it doesn’t get much better than the corner of 1st Avenue North and 7th Street North in downtown Minneapolis. Next to Target Center and arguably capping the Warehouse District to the north, First Ave establishes itself at the go-to urban music destination for the state of Minnesota. From an urbanist perspective, the great thing about the venue is that it was originally home to the Minneapolis Greyhound station, and the layout of the interior reflects the old terminal nicely. Now, if only something could replace that old Hard Rock Cafe across the street in the new version of Block E…
Barring any meteor strikes, First Avenue should continue to remain the place to be to follow and support local music. The Turf Club and the Varsity both do a nice job too, especially with their high profile visits by a curious Lady Gaga and recent bathroom accolades (seriously, if you haven’t checked out the Varsity bathrooms, please do so to make your life complete). Nonetheless, First Ave’s location in the heart of Minneapolis and its forever engrained infamy due to Purple Rain will root itself as the place to invest in local sounds for years to come.
At U2’s Popmart show in 1997, Bono recalled playing at Uncle Sam’s (as First Avenue was called in 1980) and writing two songs for the album October while in Minneapolis.
I remember really great shows by The Hold Steady and Devotchka there.
My favorite show at First Ave is definitely GWAR, November 2004. Hands down.
I heard a rumor that the GWAR show in 2004 was the first to open after 1st Ave temporarily closed, and Rybak was going to crowd surf but backed out after realizing who GWAR was. Pretty funny if true.