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Joe Cocker's death sparks memories of First Ave's 1970 opening night

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider Updated: December 22, 2014 - 3:07 PM
Joe Cocker performed on opening night at the Depot, now First Avenue, just a week after his iconic performance in the "Woodstock" movie hit theaters in 1970. / Photo courtesy Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

Joe Cocker performed on opening night at the Depot, now First Avenue, just a week after his iconic performance in the "Woodstock" movie hit theaters in 1970. / Photo courtesy Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

While it’s only a footnote in a storied career that included one of Woodstock’s most memorable performances, many Twin Cities rock fans will remember Joe Cocker as the guy who opened Minnesota’s most legendary nightclub, First Avenue.

The raspy-voiced, soul-inspired British singer -- whose death at age 70 was confirmed today -- came to Minneapolis to play two sets in one night on April 3, 1970, the night First Avenue opened as the Depot (so named because the building was previously Minneapolis’ Greyhound bus station).

Cocker's star on the wall inside First Avenue.

Cocker's star on the wall inside First Avenue.

Cocker was something of a coup for the new venue at the time. The Minneapolis date came just a week after the “Woodstock” movie hit theaters featuring Cocker’s career-making, body-coiling version of the Beatles’ “A Little Help from My Friends” -- later spoofed by John Belushi and used as the theme song to “The Wonder Years.” He followed up Woodstock in 1970 with his Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, a fabled/notorious outing that included around 30 musicians and, yes, actual dogs on stage.

“Everyone was buzzing; the air was filled," Minneapolis music scenester Marilyn Percansky remembered in a 2005 Star Tribune article about that opening gig. "It was like a circus. Kids and animals on stage."

“The place was so full that you literally couldn't see the floor," recalled photographer Mike Barich, who covered the Twin Cities rock scene in the `60s and `70s. "It was certainly the most exciting thing they ever had there. That night it seemed intimate, even though the place was packed."

A 1970 write-up in the Minneapolis Tribune, recently uncovered by City Pages, described the night this way: “Not since the truck drivers' strike of 1934 is it likely that there has been such excitement, such chaos, such congestion, such noise just off Hennepin Av. as there was Friday night.” It listed tickets as $4 for general-admission and $10 for a table and went on to refer to Cocker ‘singing like a black man’ and dancing ‘like a spastic.’”  

Cocker return to the club one more time when it was called First Avenue in 1994, the same year he played the 25th anniversary Woodstock festival. However, he could not remember the 1970 gig nor the venue when Jon Bream interviewed him in 2009 before what would be his last Twin Cities area performance, at Mystic Lake Casino. He said, “"The Depot? I'll have to run it by Chris Stainton [his longtime keyboardist]. It doesn't ring a bell at all to me.”

First Avenue certainly remembers him, though. The club’s general manager Nate Kranz said Monday, “It’s been almost 45 years, and I still hear often from people who were there that night and remember it well. He holds a special place at this club, that’s for sure – almost right up there with Prince.”

Unlike all of Prince's lock-and-keyed video footage, we can actually see Cocker’s legendary performance at the club thanks to YouTube. This clip below of him singing the Box Tops’ “The Letter” – which would later be a hit for Cocker – features footage from the Depot that was filmed as part of a documentary on the tour. As the cameras span the crowd at the very end, you can see the same two-tier layout that the club still has today. Throughout, you can also prominently see Cocker’s MVP sidemen at the time, including Leon Russell on piano and Bobby Keys on sax, the latter of whom just died earlier this month.

Local music group shines in HBO documentary

Posted by: Neal Justin Updated: December 17, 2014 - 2:35 PM

 

 

Da Rich Kidzz/photo by Marlin Levinson

What do Ziggy Marley, Willie Nelson, Tina Fey and Da Rich Kidzz have in common?

They all participated in the new documentary "Saving My Tomorrow," which focuses on the environment. It debuted Tuesday night on HBO.

The north Minneapolis hip-hop group contributed a video called "Weird Weather," rapping about Minnesota's unpredictable climate.

The movie was made in conjunction with the American Museum of National History and looks at how climate change and other environmental issues facing our children.

The group of youngsters first got national attention in 2012 for their song, "Hot Cheetos and Takis." The video has had over eight million views.They have also worked with K-Mart.

If you missed the documentary, it will be rebroadcast at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on HBO2.

Justin Vernon's Eaux Claires fest formally announced with new partner

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider Updated: December 16, 2014 - 11:54 PM

 

Justin Vernon with Bon Iver at the Coachella Music Fest in 2012. / Damon Winter, New York Times/AP

Justin Vernon with Bon Iver at the Coachella Music Fest in 2012. / Damon Winter, New York Times/AP

Is Justin Vernon’s good name enough for fans to bet $100-$200 on next summer’s Eaux Claires Festival? Organizers will find out starting Thursday at noon when tickets to the inaugural two-day festival in Vernon’s native Eau Claire, Wisc., go on sale at early-bird prices before any performers have been named.

Two-day general-admission passes can be had for $100 via www.eauxclaires.com. VIP passes that include free beverages (yes, including beer) will be available for $200.

A formal announcement of the festival was made today, following the news a month ago that the Bon Iver frontman/namesake and his partners at Boston’s Crashline Productions received approval to hold the fest July 17-18 at Foster Farm on the Chippewa River near Eau Claire, where the popular Country Jam festival is also held.

Wednesday’s announcement added one more partner to the list of co-organizers, who adds a little indie-rock star power to the event: Aaron Dessner, guitarist for the National and a heavy dabbler in classical and none-of-the-above music composition. Dessner’s brother Bryce is himself curator of an eclectic new fest, Music Now, happening in March in their native Cincinnati.

 

Aaron Dessner

Aaron Dessner

Aaron Dessner said in the press release for the Eaux Claires Fest: “Justin and I have been friends and collaborators for years,” “Working together to create and curate Eaux Claires is something we've been talking about for a long time. To finally see it come together, and to imagine the music, art and community the festival will bring together, is very exciting."

 

Said Vernon: “After several years of touring and playing music festivals of all different types around the world, I wanted to put together an event that would honor what we love about this place — including an independent attitude and blaze orange caps — but also shine a light on less familiar and surprising elements that are already weaving themselves into our future. Having this festival right in my backyard gives me and the guest artists a chance to share familiar work and new creations in a setting close to my heart and different than any other stage in the world.”

It’s still unclear if Vernon or Dessner will also be performing at Eaux Claires (pronounced “oh Claire” just like the city), and if so, if they will do so with their best-known acts. Sources close to Vernon say he indeed plans to bring back Bon Iver next year. The National don't have any gigs booked besides at that Music Now fest. We’ll find out for sure when the lineup is revealed early next year.

Current to celebrate 10th anniversary with 10 days of musical events

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: December 16, 2014 - 4:30 PM
Jeremy Messersmith/ Photo by Tony Nelson

Jeremy Messersmith/ Photo by Tony Nelson

To celebrate its 10th   anniversary,  89.3 the Current is staging 10 Days of Random Acts of Musical Kindness in January. Some of these acts are more random than others but most of them are pretty cool and definitely kind.

* The events start Jan. 15 on the low-key with a Coffee Break with the Morning Show, with music by the Ericksons and free doughnuts and coffee. Free.

As for the more exciting events:

* Record shopping at the Electric Fetus with three Current DJs on Jan. 16. Free.

* 10-inch record release party for a special anniversary vinyl disc, with live performances by the Suicide Commandos featuring Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady and L'Assassins on Jan. 17 at the Turf Club. $15.

* Jose James, the Minneapolis native who has been making noise since moving to New York, will be in concert at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester on Jan 17. $24.

* Concert and party featuring Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen, at the Turf Club on Jan. 17. $15.

* Concert with Current faves Dan Wilson, Jeremy Messersmith and Caroline Smith at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Jan. 18. Tickets only by winning on the radio.

* Mary Lucia’s Rock and Roll Radio Hour goes live with Little Man, Tropical Depression and —drum roll, please — Billy Idol at the Turf Club on Jan. 19. $25.

* A screening of Prince’s “Purple Rain” with live music by Heiruspecs featuring guest vocalists Maurice Jacox, Ashley Dubose, Tickle Torture, and a “special guest” at the Fitzgerald Theater on Jan. 20. $15.

* Two-day anniversary concert and live broadcast featuring Cold War Kids, Dead Man Winter, Hippo Campus and Allan Kingdom on Jan. 23, $20, and Atmosphere, J. Roddy Walston and the Business, The Trashmen and PaviElle at First Avenue on Jan. 24. $25

Tickets for all ticketed events go on sale this week: noon Thursday for MPR members and noon Friday for others. For more information, go to thecurrent.org/ten

  

Green Day, Lou Reed, Mpls. native Naftalin elected to Rock Hall of Fame

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: December 16, 2014 - 1:38 AM

Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong/ Photo by Tony Nelson

Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. (Photo by Tony Nelson)

To no one’s surprise, Green Day made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility.

Also elected was frequent nominee Lou Reed, who died in October 2013 and was a sentimental favorite even though he's already a Rock Hall of Famer as leader of the Velvet Underground.

Other members of this year's class:

-- Blues-rock guitar heroes Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.

-- Punk champion Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

-- Masterful ‘70s soul man Bill Withers.

-- 1960s blues favorites Paul Butterfield Blues Band, whose keyboardist, Mark Naftalin, grew up in Minneapolis, where his father, Art, was the mayor.

Mark Naftalin.

Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong also has a Twin Cities tie-in: His wife, Adrienne, is from New Brighton and the couple has a second home in the Twin Cities. Last summer, he played guitar on a few dates with the Replacements (who, ironically, didn't make the Hall of Fame ballot this year despite their much-heralded reunion).

The 30th annual induction ceremonies will be held April 18 in Cleveland.

The aforementioned inductees were voted in by music industry figures, critics and previous Rock Hall inductees.

A Hall of Fame committee also voted to induct 1950s-60s R&B group the 5 Royales as an early influence, and to give Ringo Starr an “Award of Musical Excellence” (he was previously inducted as a member of the Beatles).

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