First Avenue provides a unique and innovative cultural environment. Our musical vision is not limited by fashion, fortune, or fame.
First Avenue is celebrated as one of the longest running, independently owned and operated venues in the United States. Our commitment to independence is led by the belief that unique, locally owned live music rooms are imperative to the health of the community and economy. First Avenue is dedicated to promoting artistic expression in voices old and new, to provide a community by offering artists a stage and a mic, and fans a place to gather.
First Avenue welcomes people of any age, race, sex, or sexual orientation. We strive to bring together people with diverse interests and backgrounds.
As the longest continual entertainment and music venue in the Twin Cities, First Avenue’s roots in the community are deep and far-reaching. We work to strengthen these ties and connect with the next generation of music fans.
The club you know as First Avenue was born in 1970, but the history of live music in the distinctively curved black building on the corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street begins much earlier. On a Friday in February, 1937, the orchestral music of the Gopher Melody Men played, ribbons were cut, and the new Northland-Greyhound Bus Depot opened for business.
When it was built, the Greyhound Bus Depot was widely acclaimed for its streamlined art deco style and modern luxuries. Called one of the most “modernistic” and beautiful travel centers in America, the bus depot boasted such luxuries as public phones, shower rooms, and air conditioning. The décor included huge chromium trimmed chandeliers and a checkered terrazzo floor (which still exists in the First Avenue Mainroom). Outside, there were blue-glazed bricks with white trim.
In 1968, the original Greyhound bus depot relocated, and the following year a 25-year old Minneapolis native named Allan Fingerhut, an heir to the Fingerhut catalog fortune, had a vision. Despite housing only a café, cigar store, and barbershop, Fingerhut saw the potential for a rock club. He 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 with the interior of the old depot. The curved wall which used to embrace the gates to departing busses is now the backdrop for a large, purple plush-covered stage.” Joe Cocker played two sets that night. One reporter described local fans as “beautiful people with resplendent sun tans and $250 hippie outfits.” The Depot, however, proved as seasonal as its patrons’ skin tone. The club’s name and management would change over the decade, as the country went crazy for disco and DJs.
Thankfully, live music managed to hang on. Performers in the ’70s included diverse national and local acts like Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Ike & Tina Turner, Iggy & the Stooges, Chubby Checker, The Kinks, The Allman Brothers, B.B. King, Rod Stewart, The Small Faces, John Lee Hooker, Canned Heat, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, Dwight Twilley Band, Chris Osgood of The Suicide Commandos, Peter Jesperson, Pat Benetar, The Ramones, and U2.
In 1980, the partnership that would carry the club into the next century was formed. Steve McClellan and Jack Meyers, former classmates and roommates, took the helm of Uncle Sam’s, as it was now called, and made a transition further away from disco to live music, booking cutting-edge national acts. McClellan worked closely with a handful of local musicians, record label entrepreneurs, and industry folk. On New Year’s Eve, 1981, Sam’s became First Avenue.
Throughout the ’80s, the venue’s ties to the local community allowed its bookers to match local opening bands to larger national acts. The club catered to dancers too, and hosted lip-sync and talent contests.
No description of the ’80s at First Avenue is complete, without a nod to 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 during the same time, and you could have brushed shoulders with the likes of Alexander O’Neal, Chico Debarge, Suanne Carlo, Morris Day or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Other acts to play the club in this decade include Curtiss A (on opening night), PiL, New Order, Culture Club, REM, Run DMC, David Byrne (joining the Wallets in the Entry), Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements.
In 1990 First Avenue turned 20. The club was barely out of its adolescence and already famous. Fond mentions in national magazines like Rolling Stone and Time began to pile up, but First Avenue kept its ego in check 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, or singer-songwriters. The Fugees, The Chemical Brothers, Ruben Blades, Youssou N’Dour, and Dave Alvin all made appearances.
The ’90s also saw the explosion of DJ culture. First Avenue launched Beatopia, with Beat Radio DJ’s spinning house music in the club’s new VIP Lounge, building the same buzz for DJs that the Entry now fosters for local bands.
In 2000, First Avenue’s longtime financial advisor Byron Frank helped the club “take control of its own destiny,” as then General Manager McClellan put it, by negotiating the purchase of the historic Greyhound bus depot that had been its home for 30 years.
Fast-forward to June, 2004: then owner Allan Fingerhut fired the club’s long-time management team, Steve McClellan, Jack Meyers, and Byron Frank. Fingerhut took the helm himself, swearing, “I’d have to drop dead before I would ever allow this club to close.” On November 2, 2004, Fingerhut closed the club and filed for bankruptcy.
Then-mayor R.T. Rybak and the entire city of Minneapolis were outraged, and calls of support came 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 club less than two weeks after Fingerhut closed it. First Avenue reopened its doors with Steve McClellan and Jack Meyers officially in charge. Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis had promised to do a stage dive at the first show after reopening, but ended up dropping the idea when he discovered that the show would feature the heavy metal band Gwar.
Since reopening in 2004, First Avenue has gone through many renovations. From new air conditioning and updated restrooms, to a state-of-the-art PA and lighting rig, nothing has been ignored.
After Steve McClellan’s retirement from First Avenue management, Jack Meyers took over as General Manager. In 2009, Jack retired after a hard-working 30 years and Nathan Kranz, the club’s long time Talent Buyer, took over as First Avenue’s General Manager.
In 2010, the day of the club’s 40th anniversary, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak declared April 3 “First Avenue Day.” Celebrations were planned throughout the year, along with new ventures including a bar and restaurant, The Depot Tavern, which opened to rave reviews in June 2010.
In fall of 2013, First Avenue extended its reach across city lines and purchased the Turf Club in St. Paul from Tom Scanlon, owner of nearby institution, The Dubliner Pub. Established in 1945 near the corner of University and Snelling, the Turf Club has been a constant in the Twin Cities music scene for decades. As such, the much-beloved vintage watering hole and rock club is a truly exciting addition to the First Avenue family.
In the present day, First Avenue continues to grow, booking over 1,000 shows annually between the First Avenue Mainroom, 7th St Entry, and Turf Club. We book and produce concerts at nearly every other music venue in town, including the Fine Line, Triple Rock, and Cedar Cultural Center, and even larger historical theatres such as the State, Pantages, and Orpheum. We continue to expand with annual outdoor music events, including Hall’s Island and Festival Palomino – featuring larger acts like Alabama Shakes, Father John Misty, Wilco, Trampled By Turtles, Dr. Dog, and more.
Even as First Avenue navigates growth and transition every year, our Mission remains true: Our doors are always open to the thousands of music lovers who are First Avenue’s past, present, and future.