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First Avenue Night Club

 

First Avenue Nightclub is located at 701 First Avenue North in downtown Minneapolis. First Avenue was born in 1970, but the history of the music begins much earlier in that distinctively curved black building on the corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street. On February 1937 the orchestral music of the Gopher Melody Men played, ribbons were cut, and the new Northland-Greyhound Bus Depot opened business. The Greyhound Buss Depot was widely acclaimed for its streamlined art deco style and modern luxuries. This bus depot boasted of such luxuries as public phones, shower rooms and air conditioning. The décor included "huge chromium trimmed chandeliers" and a checkered terrazzo floor. Outside, there were blue-glazed bricks with white trimming. Fast forward into the future.

 

Perhaps in honor of its humble music origins, First Avenue Night Club began life as The Depot. In 1968, the original depot relocated and the next year, a 25-year-old Minneapolis native named Allan Fingerhut, an heir broke Fingerhut catalog fortune, saw a rock club where there was but a café, cigar store and barbershop. Fingerhut found a partner with a liquor license, invested $150,000 and opened the only venue in downtown Minneapolis with both rock music and alcohol. When The Depot opened on April 3, 1970 local papers raved. They "have done some remarkable things in the interior of the old depot. The curved wall which used to embrace the gates to departing buses is now the backdrop for a large, purple plush-covered stage." Joe Cocker played two sets that night, to local fans described by one reporter as "beautiful people... with resplendent suntans and $250 hippie outfits. The Depot, however, proved as seasonal as its patrons' skin tone. The club's name and management would change several times over the decade, as the country went crazy for disco and DJs. But somehow, live music managed to hang on in this space. Performers in the 70's included national and local arts: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, B. B. King, Rod Stewart and U2 just to name a few.

 

In 1980, the partnership that would carry the First Ave club into the next century was formed. Steve McClellan and Jack Meyers, former classmates and roommates, took the helm of Sam's, as it was then called, and began booking cutting edge national acts. McCollum worked closely with a handful of local musicians, record label entrepreneurs and other industry folk, and out of this collaboration grew Minneapolis is first rode music community. On New Year's Eve I 1981, Sam's became Fist Avenue. Throughout the 80's, the First Avenue's ties to the local community allowed its books to match local opening bands to larger national abs. The dub catered to dancers too, and hosted lip-synching and talent contests. No description of the ‘80's at First Avenue Minneapolis could be complete , however, without a rod or Prince, who made the club his regular venue, his testing ground for new material, and both the set and the setting of his movie Purple Rain. Minneapolis' R&B scene came of age at this time, and you could have brushed shoulders with Alexander O'Neal, Chico Derange, Suave Carlo, Morris Day or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Ocher acts Coplay the dubs in this decade included Curtiss A (on opening night), PiL New Order, Culture Club, REM, and just to name a few.

 

First Avenue Minneapolis celebrated its twentieth birthday in 1990. The club was barely out of its adolescence and already so famous. Fond mentions in national magazines like Rolling Stones and Time began to pile up, but First Avenue kept its ego and its innovative spirit intact. On any given week, you could see a hard core punk show back-to-back with world beat, hip-hop, and a singer songwriter type. The Chemical Brothers, Ruben Blades, The Fugees, Youssou N'Dour and Dave Alvin. The 90's also saw the explosion of DJ culture. First Avenue launched Beatopia with Beat Radio DJs pinning house music in the First Avenue night club new VIP Lounge, building the same buzz for DJs that the Entry fosters for local bands.

 

The 21st century has brought different blessings for First Avenue. In 2000, First Avenue's longtime financial advisor Byron Frank helped the club take "control of its own destiny," as McClellan puts it, by negotiating the purchase of the historic Greyhound bus depot that had been its home for 30 years. The club has had to compete for bands with different venues by large national conglomerates. First Avenue has also contended with unforeseen conflicts that troubled the club's future, even though it was safe from eviction. In June of 2004, then owner Allan Fingerhut fired the club's long-time management team, Steve McClellan, Jack Meyers, and Byron Frank. Fingerhut took the helm swearing, "I'd have to drop dead before I would ever allow this club to close." In November of 2004, Fingerhut surprised everyone by filing bankruptcy. Mayor R.T. Rybak and the whole city of Minneapolis were outraged. Support started coming from all over the world. With the mayor's help, McClellan, Meyers and Frank purchased First Avenue's assets from bankruptcy court and reopened the First Avenue club just days after Fingerhut had closed it. McClellan and Meyers are now officially back in charge and have opened the doors to music lovers all over the world who are First Avenue's past and its future.

 

The past few years have been successful for the First Avenue Nightclub. First Avenue has had opportunities to host the Raconteurs, Snow Patrol, Five for Fighting, and perhaps its biggest show of the year, Alice in Chains. The Alice in Chains show sold out quickly and many fans that waited until the last minute to buy First Avenue tickets were disappointed. If you don't want to be left disappointed and left standing on the curb of First Avenue, one suggestion: order First Ave Night Club tickets today and have a BLAST! Buy your First Ave Tickets here!

 


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