Men and women shuffle past each other, some clutching the hands of their children while others clutch the handles of their briefcase. They rush in all directions, trying to catch their bus or escape from the crowd and reach the exit.
The year was 1937 when the Greyhound Bus Depot opened as a modern travel center featuring luxuries such as air conditioning, public phones and even shower rooms. No one could’ve guessed that this building would eventually host artists such as Aerosmith, U2 and the Replacements, not as a bus service, but as a music venue.
Despite the modernistic feel of the station, it closed and was opened as a club by owners Danny Stevens and Allan Fingerhut in 1970 and showcased musician Joe Cocker’s band Mad Dogs and Englishmen on it’s opening night. The club was deemed Uncle Sam’s in 1972 and seven years later it was shortened to just Sam’s. It didn’t receive its current name, First Avenue, until New Year’s Eve of 1981.
As shown by the name-bearing silver stars on the walls of the club, First Avenue has hosted countless artists including Minnesota native Prince and Minnehaha graduate John Munson (‘81), known as the bassist for Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic. Munson began music early on, but didn’t have the chance to visit First Avenue until after his high school years.
“I have been involved in music since well before teenage years,” said Munson, “dabbling in piano and playing trombone in elementary school, but discovering my brother’s acoustic guitar under a bed during high school was a big turning point for me. From there on, I was looking to learn songs and find opportunities to play with people. I wish I had had the opportunities to go to all ages shows that under-agers can get to now. Back in the day, the only shows you could go to would be events at places like Xcel Center or Target Center or festivals.”
Shortly after he finally visited First Avenue, he played there himself.
“I remember vividly my first trip to First Avenue,” said Munson, “but I was out of high school by then, nineteen years old or so, since that was the drinking age at that time. It wasn’t long after I visited First Ave that I played the main stage, opening for The Violent Femmes on their first tour.”
Having played and seen shows there, Munson’s love for the venue has remained.
“First Avenue remains my favorite venue to see a rock show,” said Munson. “Something about the proportions is just right. First Avenue is among the best places to play in the country. Ask anyone who has played there. Bands from around the world will cite it as a room with amazing energy. That has to do with the space itself, the staff that keep the place going, but first and foremost the people who attend shows there. The Twin Cities fans have always been great and that continues down to today.”
Some of these fans include Minnehaha students like freshman Lucy Awe and senior Seamus Jones. Jones liked the proximity to the artists and appreciated the energetic atmosphere, and Awe agreed.
“First Ave is just an all around cool venue,” said Awe. “It holds a lot of history based off the music scene in Minneapolis. [Also], I think when you’re in a smaller environment you get a more personal experience from the show.”
Sophomore Erik Ubel hasn’t had the chance to see a show at the venue, but as a part of a week long music camp at the McPhail Center for Music, he performed there.
“Before the show I played in, my band [and] got to hang out in the green room,” said Ubel, “and it was cool to see all the different signatures of artists on the walls and to recognize some names. I think it is a far more rewarding experience than a large venue like the Target Center because the enclosed space allows for a much more raw and personal feel of the music.”
First Ave general manager, Nathan Kranz, took an interest in music early on like Munson and these Minnehaha students. As a teen, he attended concerts and collected records, also getting a job at a record store at the age of 17 which led to his employment at First Ave when he turned 22. He “fell in love with the club the moment I walked through the doors for the first time.” While Munson didn’t get the chance to go to all ages club shows, Kranz began to see them at around the age of 16. As a manager now, Kranz sees the details behind age restrictions.
“The vast majority of the concert going public is 18 years or over, and both the bands and the customers like to be able to play later than 10 p.m., which is the all ages curfew,” said Kranz. “There are other reasons as well, obviously including alcohol sales. The age limit is negotiated between the band’s representatives and the promoter/venue.”
While these restrictions do exist, there are still a great number of opportunities for young music lovers to experience these club shows. But whether you’re a teen or not, the employees at First Ave work to make your visit the best it can be.
“I think our sightlines, production, history and staff set us apart,” said Kranz, “We care a lot about the bands and their fans and strive to make everybody’s experience as special as possible.”