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An abridged history of the Whole Music Club

The long-standing campus venue has hosted famous artists ranging from Tom Waits to Green Day over its existence.
Students dance to Sean Paul at the Whole Music Club in Coffman Union.
Image by Easton Green
Students dance to Sean Paul at the Whole Music Club in Coffman Union.

Opening in 1968 as the Whole Coffeehouse, what is now known as the Whole Music Club at the University of Minnesota was born. 

Nestled in the basement of Coffman Memorial Union, the historically all-ages venue has hosted a myriad of legendary musicians and bands amongst a sea of up-and-coming artists that have taken the stage there over the decades.

Hippies flocked to The Whole in the 1970s to see up-and-coming songwriters that would later become famous, such as Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt and Townes Van Zandt, to name a few.

Jon Bream, music critic and reporter for the Star Tribune since the mid-1970s and former staff member of The Minnesota Daily, remembers the Whole from the early 1970s. Despite being labeled a coffee house, Bream said the venue was more significant than that. 

“The Whole wasn’t like the little coffee house gig, it was more like the showcase club gig,” Bream said. “It was a pretty prestigious place back in the early ‘70s.”

Bream said the venue was an appealing place for college students to see live music, and said it was comparable to seeing a band in a bar, except without needing to be of drinking age.

“First Avenue existed back then in the early ‘70s, but I couldn’t get in as a college student,” Bream said. “You got to see some high-quality musicians on the rise or long-established names who were maybe past their prime, but still of historic significance, while you’re in college without having to pay steep prices.”

Bream said the Whole was an important part of the Twin Cities music scene. 

“If you look at the roster of people that played there in that era, it’s a very impressive roster,” Bream said.

Tom Waits performed at the Whole multiple times throughout the ‘70s as his career was rising, before he got outlandishly experimental in the 1980s with landmark records like “Rain Dogs.” 

Sue Johnson, a 65-year-old woman from Apollo Beach, Florida, saw Tom Waits perform at the Whole while she attended high school in Anoka, Minnesota.

“This guy comes out in his look with an upright piano and the floodlights hit. He blew me away,” Johnson said. “It was really one of those moments where it just changes you. It really drove me more to playing and singing.”

Besides seeing Tom Waits live, Johnson attended shows at the Whole frequently. 

“During that time in the ‘70s down at the Whole Coffeehouse, there were so many good musicians,” Johnson said. “If anyone could make it down to the Whole Coffeehouse, you’d huddle up and have a hot cup of apple cider and sit around these great musicians, and it was so intimate.”

In 1983, the name of the venue officially changed from “Coffeehouse” to “Music Club.” Around this time, the Whole Music Club shifted from booking mostly singer-songwriters to booking punk and local acts, including Minnesota greats like The Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

The Whole continued to adapt to the times into the 1990s, as it hosted alternative rock bands. One band they hosted was especially notable. In 1992, before the band saw immense commercial success with their 1994 album “Dookie,” Green Day played at the Whole with tickets costing just $4 for students.

Astrid Wood, a second-year computer science major at the University, has attended concerts at the Whole but wishes they hosted more shows there. She describes the Whole as a unique on-campus space with a punk rock vibe. 

“In the hallway on the way there, they have a bunch of framed posters of notable people. Being able to visually see that all over I felt was really cool,” Wood said.

Whether you are there for a show or just passing through Coffman in the middle of the week, it’s worthwhile to take a moment and walk through the Whole and take in the unique historic value of the venue conveniently located on campus.

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  • Michelle
    Mar 20, 2024 at 7:32 pm

    Me and friends did shows there in 1984-5, such as Naked Raygun, Big Black, The Mighty Mofos, The Frogs and others. You skipped over the 1980s?!