Three-chord dirge

Embattled, beloved music venue First Avenue finally closes its doors

Keri Carlson

At 11:15 a.m., Tuesday, First Avenue’s talent buyer Sonia Grover was at the polls, ready to vote, when she received a phone call urging her to return to work as soon as possible.

Allan Fingerhut, the owner of the famous Minneapolis music club, had filed for bankruptcy protection for First Avenue. Grover and all the other employees had lost their jobs, and were instructed to be out of the building by 1:30 p.m. that day.

First Avenue’s closing comes following an ongoing court battle for ownership between Fingerhut and former club managers Steve McClellan and Jack Meyer. Rumors have circulated since this summer concerning the club’s future in the increasingly corporate live-music industry.

Grover said she and other employees “knew it was a possibility, but we thought there were ways of avoiding closing completely.”

The nightclub closes after more than 30 years of existence, during which it became renowned as the best music venue in the Twin Cities.

Not only a home for Prince’s early career, First Avenue helped spawn the legendary local rock music scene of the 1980s by booking the Replacements and Husker Du. Over the years, the club’s commitment to promoting a wide variety of musical genres has made Minneapolis an important stopping point for national and international touring acts.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that the healthy state of the Twin Cities’ music scene is mostly because of First Avenue’s existence.

The club has closed its doors for now; however, the legendary space might reopen in a few months at the earliest.

McClellan and former First Avenue partner Byron Frank, backed by many supporters, hope to buy the club and have it up and running as soon as they can. Grover said she believes the club would rehire the more than 120 employees and said she feels the staff would certainly return. But for now Grover says, the former staff is “stunned and unemployed.”

Though Grover and another First Avenue booker Nathan Kranz no longer have their jobs, they are scrambling to move the concerts scheduled at First Avenue to other venues. Grover said she and Kranz want to make sure “the bands aren’t screwed by Allan filing bankruptcy.”

Many acts will still stop in the Twin Cities. But until a club opens again in First Avenue’s space – and hopefully it will – the city won’t seem the same.