Inside the Mainroom, all efforts are focused on the music and the ticket holders. Each year the club reinvests profits into upgrades that improve the concert-goer’s experience, such as replacing the video system and switching to LED lighting.
“We love working with new artists when they’re just starting out,” Kranz explains, citing The Black Keys as an example, who have now played nearly every venue in the Twin Cities, from The Entry to the Xcel Energy Center. “We take a lot of pride in working with a band like that, where you can work with them through every stage.” That dedication to the up-and-coming acts keeps the club on top of the present, letting touring bands pay their respects to the past. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard ‘Purple Rain’ played at soundcheck or how many bands have asked, ‘How long has Prince owned First Avenue?’” Kranz says, noting the misconception that local music demigod Prince has an ownership stake in the club.
Stage manager Conrad Sverkerson, who started working at First Avenue in 1988, recalls interrupting Glen Hansard’s soundcheck years ago, requesting the band play any other Prince song. “He actually made reference to it during the show,” Sverkerson says. “How they’d started to do ‘Purple Rain’ and all the employees cut him off.”
Sverkerson has survived many highs and lows at First Avenue. “I have great memories of the time when Cheap Trick and Aerosmith played together and it was an impromptu thing,” he says, also fondly recalling shows from locals like Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, and Run Westy Run. A memory from 2004 wasn’t quite as fond. “They called me up and said, ‘Get everything out of your office. You’ve got an hour,’” he recalls. The club was briefly closed while ownership changed hands. Ultimately, it came back stronger than ever.
Another lasting memory from the club’s history comes from 2007, when The Purple One made his return on 7-7-07, just after a show at Target Center across the street. It was a short performance due to the timing, but as Kranz and company have stated, the history takes care of itself.
The key on their end is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for artists and fans alike. “Steve McClellan told me for First Avenue to be successful it needs to be a place for everybody,” Kranz says, namedropping another key figure in the club’s past. While leadership has changed and the stars on the outside walls have been repainted, the environment and vibe of First Avenue remains an inclusive as ever.
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