West Bank, a force in Minnesota Music

by Cara Spoto

Ask anyone working at various bars and restaurants in the University’s culturally rich West Bank neighborhood about the music they showcase, from busboy to event booker, and you’ll find a group of eclectic individuals who are fiercly passionate about music they host.
This passion has a history almost as old as the railroad buildings which line the Cedar Avenue From the ethnic music of the Scandinavian and Eastern European immigrants who first settled the area to the profoundly soulful blues music that calls the neighborhood home to this day, the West bank has always enjoyed a vital music scene.
A culturally diverse neighborhood that has bore more than its share of the slings and arrows of city life, the Cedar-Riverside are has always seen itself through. From the bad rap it got it the 1940s and 1950s for being a “red-light district,” to the injustices its business owners and residents suffered at the hands of University expansions, urban renewal and Interstates 94 and 35W, West Bank area business owners have survived to supply Minneapolis and the greater mid-west with a music scene as diverse as it residents.
If you ask Scottie A., event manager at the Cabooze, she won’t hesitate to let you know just how important the West Bank music scene is in the Twin Cities. According to Scottie,”The West Bank music scene has been a real main vein” in Minneapolis. And as far as she is concerned it has been the “most progressive” of all the music scenes in the cities.
From long-standing bars like the Whiskey Junction, the Cabooze, the 400 Bar and the Five Corners Saloon who’s calendars usually run the gamut from jazz and blues to rock, punk and hip hop and everything in between to ethnic restaurants like the Blue Nile and the Red Sea who have thrown their hats into the ring offering all the Reggae you can handle and a myriad of world music acts.
Put on your walking shoes (they double as dancing shoes) or grab a bus to this hoppin part of town and any night of the week you’re guaranteed to find live music to suit your fancy. And if you don’t know where to go, well man, heres the word on the joints to dig:
ùThe 400 Bar, regularly hosts a variety of national acts — Eliott Smith and the Olivia Tremor Control have both graced their stage. It is also home to a variety of local and touring bands ranging in genres. According to Tom Sullivan co-owner, their is a show booked every night in February, including the Mason Jennings Band every Thursday.
ùThe Five Corners Saloon hosts a wide variety of music and serves a clientele as eclectic as its tunes.
ùThe Cabooze, still a watering hole for blues musicians and enthusiasts alike, has grown in its 25 years of business to host a wide variety of acts. Housebands Big Tasty and Taboo play Wednesdays and Thursdays and Rhythm Jones plays on Sundays. In addition to their house acts they also host a variety of touring bands.
ùThe Whiskey Junction, another time-honored venue famous for the blues, is also a force in the area, providing eclectic music for an audience in flux. The Junction hosts bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday and is home to many zydeco and cross-over acts. Check out Reverand Raymond and the Chain Smoking Alter Boys, a rockabilly-influenced band that plays there often.
ùThe Blue Nile Restaurant and Lounge, a restaurant serving Ethiopian cuisine, hosts a variety of world music Wednesday through Saturday, including Middle Eastern, Reggae and African music. It also features jazz on Mondays — and every once in a while a jam session.
ùThe Red Sea, another restaurant serving African cuisine in the area, also features a variety of world music, as well as rock acts Monday through Friday and blues on Sunday.