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First Avenue & 7th Street Entry

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Color image of First Avenue nightclub, 2005. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Mulad.

First Avenue nightclub, 2005. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Mulad.

In the late 1960s, Allan Fingerhut and Danny Stevens leased the old Greyhound Bus Depot in Downtown Minneapolis with the plan to open a rock club. Since then, First Avenue & 7th Street Entry has nurtured a diverse group of musicians, both local and national, and brought together people from various backgrounds. It remains one of the most highly regarded music nightclubs in the country.

The club opened in 1970 as the Depot. Over the next two years, it hosted national acts such as the Kinks, B. B. King, Frank Zappa, and the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. By 1971, however, it had closed due to money issues.

In 1972, Fingerhut sold controlling interest to American Events Company (AEC) and the club was renamed Uncle Sam’s as part of a franchising agreement. During this period, live music took a back seat to DJs playing disco music. However, in the late 70s, manager Steve McClellan began booking live bands such as the Ramones and Pat Benatar, whose shows sold out well in advance. This pointed out the direction that the club would take in the future. As the disco trend waned, AEC sold its interest back to Fingerhut who, in turn, gave McClellan managerial control. After a two-year stint as Sam’s, the club changed its name one last time to First Avenue.

These changes coincided with the evolution of two music styles in the Twin Cities music scene: punk and R&B. First Avenue became a focal point for both movements. Underground rock had already found a home at Jay’s Longhorn and Duffy’s in the late 1970s, giving rise to acts like Hüsker Dü and the Suburbs. But when the coat room for Sam’s was transformed into the 7th Street Entry—a club within the club—indie bands began playing there, making it well known as a punk and indie rock venue. The Replacements became one of the most notable, and even notorious, of these bands. Their unpredictable performances created an excitement that drew people to the club and strengthened the band’s legendary cult status.

In the early 1980s, the Minneapolis music community was distinctly segregated, with African American musicians unwelcome at downtown clubs. First Avenue was an exception. One of its unique characteristics, especially at that time, was its integrated line-ups. It fostered a regular clientele from various backgrounds who were, in turn, exposed to a variety of musical cultures. In a single night, a concertgoer could be exposed to punk, funk, world music, and any number of different genres.

McClellan regularly booked black R&B acts like the Time, Flyte Tyme, and Prince, for whom the club became a kind of home. He played shows there and demoed unreleased material to see how it sounded in a club, and to gauge the audience’s response. In the fall of 1983, he rented the club for the filming of scenes for Purple Rain. The enormous success of the film shot Prince into international superstardom. It also boosted First Avenue’s profile and generated badly needed revenue.

While First Avenue helped cultivate a lively local music scene, it also provided a stopping point for alternative bands on their way to becoming stadium bands. R.E.M., U2, New Order, and Nirvana, as well as lesser known acts, played at the club during the early parts of their careers.

First Avenue continued, and continues, to support local music. It has been the stomping ground for bands like Soul Asylum, Babes in Toyland, the Jayhawks, Semisonic, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Lizzo, and Doomtree. Its initial success as a center for innovative music was, in part, the result of McClellan’s drive to showcase talent—often at the expense of commercial potential. Because of this stance, threats of closure and financial troubles were never far off, even after Fingerhut and club accountant Byron Frank purchased the property in 2000.

In 2004, Fingerhut fired McClellan and the managerial team. Shortly afterward, he closed the club and filed for bankruptcy. Amid public outcry, and with the help of Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak, McClellan, Frank, and Jack Meyers purchased the club’s assets and reopened it.

After the reopening, First Avenue expanded its operations, purchasing the Turf Club, managing the historic Palace Theater in St. Paul, and booking clubs and theaters.

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First Avenue. History.
http://first-avenue.com/history

Matos, Michaelangelo. “Everybody is a Star: How the Rock Club First Avenue Made Minneapolis the Center of Music in the `80s.” Pitchfork, March 14, 2016.
http://pitchfork.com/features/article/9832-everybody-is-a-star-how-the-rock-club-first-avenue-made-minneapolis-the-center-of-music-in-the-80s/

Noran, Rebecca. First Avenue & 7th Street Entry: Your Downtown Danceteria Since 1970. Minneapolis: First Avenue & 7th Street Entry, 2000.

Riemenschneider, Chris. First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017.

——— . “Prince and First Avenue: A History of the Club’s Ties to its Brightest Star.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 30, 2016.
http://www.startribune.com/prince-and-first-avenue-a-history-of-the-club-s-ties-to-its-brightest-star/377583391/#1

Swensson, Andrea. “Steve McClellan Talk about the Early Days of First Avenue and DEMO’s Bright New Future.” Local Current Blog, November 20, 2014.
http://blog.thecurrent.org/2014/11/steve-mcclellan-talks-about-the-early-days-of-first-avenue-and-demos-bright-new-future/

Related Images

Color image of First Avenue nightclub, 2005. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Mulad.
Color image of First Avenue nightclub, 2005. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Mulad.
Black and white photograph of the Greyhound Bus Depot, located at First Avenue North and Seventh Street, Minneapolis, ca. 1935. Photograph by Charles W. Howson Company.
Black and white photograph of the Greyhound Bus Depot, located at First Avenue North and Seventh Street, Minneapolis, ca. 1935. Photograph by Charles W. Howson Company.
Color photograph of Joe Cocker performing at the opening night of the Depot, April 3, 1970. Photograph by Darrell Brand.
Color photograph of Joe Cocker performing at the opening night of the Depot, April 3, 1970. Photograph by Darrell Brand.
Poster for B. B. King concert at the Depot, June 28, 1970. Courtesy of Mark Freiseis.
Poster for B. B. King concert at the Depot, June 28, 1970. Courtesy of Mark Freiseis.
Color image of Disco dancers at Uncle Sam’s, ca. 1977. Photograph by Steven Laboe.
Color image of Disco dancers at Uncle Sam’s, ca. 1977. Photograph by Steven Laboe.
Handbill for Hüsker Dü and Wilma and the Wilbers concert at 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1980. Designed by Grant Hart.
Handbill for Hüsker Dü and Wilma and the Wilbers concert at 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1980. Designed by Grant Hart.
Color image of U2 performing at First Avenue, February 21, 1982. Photograph by Steven Laboe.
Color image of U2 performing at First Avenue, February 21, 1982. Photograph by Steven Laboe.
Handbill for Ramones concert, with opening act Loud Fast Rules (later Soul Asylum), at First Avenue, May 15, 1983. Courtesy of Dale T. Nelson.
Handbill for Ramones concert, with opening act Loud Fast Rules (later Soul Asylum), at First Avenue, May 15, 1983. Courtesy of Dale T. Nelson.
Prince performing in 1983
Prince performing in 1983
Black and white photograph of the Replacements performing at First Avenue, ca. 1985. Photograph by Daniel Corrigan.
Black and white photograph of the Replacements performing at First Avenue, ca. 1985. Photograph by Daniel Corrigan.
First Avenue calendar from April 1986. Courtesy of Chrissie Dunlap.
First Avenue calendar from April 1986. Courtesy of Chrissie Dunlap.
Black and white photograph of First Avenue, 29 North Seventh Street, Minneapolis, ca. 1990. Photograph by Dan Corrigan.
Black and white photograph of First Avenue, 29 North Seventh Street, Minneapolis, ca. 1990. Photograph by Dan Corrigan.
Ticket for Babes in Toyland concert, October 7, 1991.
Ticket for Babes in Toyland concert, October 7, 1991.
Black and white photograph of Nirvana performing at First Avenue, October 14, 1991. Photograph by Jay Smiley.
Black and white photograph of Nirvana performing at First Avenue, October 14, 1991. Photograph by Jay Smiley.
Backstage pass for Soul Asylum concert at First Avenue, July 26, 1998.
Backstage pass for Soul Asylum concert at First Avenue, July 26, 1998.
Handbill announcing upcoming shows at First Avenue and 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in honor of the venue's thirtieth anniversary, 2000.
Handbill announcing upcoming shows at First Avenue and 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in honor of the venue's thirtieth anniversary, 2000.
Color image of Doomtree performing at First Avenue, December 6, 2008. Photograph by Daniel Corrigan.
Color image of Doomtree performing at First Avenue, December 6, 2008. Photograph by Daniel Corrigan.
Color image of the exterior of 7th Street Entry, 2009. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Oneequalsone.
Color image of the exterior of 7th Street Entry, 2009. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Oneequalsone.
Color image of Stars on the exterior wall of First Avenue. Photograph by Daniel Corrigan.
Color image of Stars on the exterior wall of First Avenue. Photograph by Daniel Corrigan.
Pop-up dance party in the streets outside of First Avenue on April 21, 2016, the day of the death of Prince.
Pop-up dance party in the streets outside of First Avenue on April 21, 2016, the day of the death of Prince.
All-night dance party held inside First Avenue on April 21, 2016, after the death of Prince.
All-night dance party held inside First Avenue on April 21, 2016, after the death of Prince.

Turning Point

Between November 26 and December 20, 1983, First Avenue closes to accommodate the filming of Prince’s Purple Rain. The success of the film (and the album of the same name) raises the club’s profile, making it internationally known and a tourist destination for aspiring musicians and music fans.

Chronology

February 26, 1937

The Greyhound Bus Depot opens in Minneapolis at 701 First Avenue North.

April 3, 1970

A club set up in the old Greyhound space opens as the Depot with a performance by Joe Cocker.

June 12, 1971

The Depot closes due to financial troubles.

July 1, 1972

The club reopens as Uncle Sam’s under the national franchise American Events Company. Uncle Sam’s focuses on DJs playing disco music.

March 21, 1980

The 7th Street Entry opens with a performance by local punk rocker Curtiss A and the band Wilma and the Wilburs.

November 28 and 29, 1979

The Ramones and Pat Benatar play successful back-to-back shows, signaling the club’s return to live music as a focus.

January 28, 1980

American Events Company pulls out of the club, which is then renamed Sam’s.

March 9, 1981

Prince plays his first show at the club.

December 31, 1981

The club changes its name, one last time, to First Avenue & 7th Street Entry.

August 3, 1983

Prince records a live concert at First Avenue, a benefit show for the Minnesota Dance Theatre. An edit of the eleven-minute performance of “Purple Rain” from this show became the album version of the song.

July 1, 2000

Allan Fingerhut, along with Byron Frank, acquires the property of First Avenue & 7th Street Entry after having leased it from Ted Mann for thirty years.

November 2, 2004

Fingerhut closes the club and files for bankruptcy.

November 16, 2004

The club reopens, with Byron Frank as its owner.

2013

First Avenue buys the Turf Club in St. Paul.

April 21, 2016

Crowds spontaneously descend on First Avenue and the streets outside the club to celebrate and mourn Prince, underscoring the intimate association between the venue and the star.