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Downtown Minneapolis’s mainstay rock club the Fine Line Music Café has been sold to the owners of velvet-rope dance and drink bars Aqua and Elixir. The deal has been in the works for months and was finally confirmed in a short notice tacked onto the club’s website. It reads:
The Fine Line Music Café will be under new ownership and management efffective August 6th. The new business will be part of Minneapolis Event Centers operated by Entourage Events Group.
Talking about the pending deal a few weeks ago, Fine Line owner Dario Anselmo listed several reasons why he wanted to unload the club. They included the fact that he recently turned 50 (“I’m too old to run a club,” he quipped) to the loss of the club’s longtime talent booker Kim King last summer (who switched to the Cabooze and tour managing).
He also detailed his love/hate relationship with the Warehouse District, where many bars and restaurants have come and gone in recent years despite the construction of Target Field. Anselmo still owns the building that houses the Fine Line and will thus be involved in a landlord capacity.
“I’ve tried for a long time not to be pessimistic about the Warehouse District, but it’s hard to be optimistic anymore,” said Anselmo, a former president of the Warehouse District Business Association.
Calls to the club’s new owners, brothers Jado and Steve Hark, have not been returned. Anselmo said the Harks hope to continue the Fine Line’s live music tradition, but they also plan to ramp up the private-party business there. Corporate events and private shindigs are a cornerstone of the Harks’ Entourage Events Group and a staple at their other clubs.
“Those guys have more experience on [the private party] front than I did, and that’s essential,” Anselmo said, noting that the nearby Epic nightclub and the Varsity Theater largely owe their longevity to private events and not their live music calendar. Said Anselmo, “The live music business has gotten to be pretty expensive one to be in.”
One key element to the Fine Line remaining a vital live music venue is its relationship with First Avenue, which has booked many of the noteworthy gigs there in recent years and is behind such upcoming dates as Jake Bugg, Murder by Death and Deerhunter. First Ave general manager Nate Kranz said he met with the Harks informally on Thursday and is planning a sit-down meeting Wednesday.
“My first impression is they’re excited to continue working with us, and we’re looking at it as business-as-usual,” said Kranz, who added, “I think they have good ideas, and some new energy there could reinvent the place.” Kranz also praised Anselmo’s tenure at the club: “It’s not easy running a club day-to-day, but he did it for a long time.”
Nineteen years, in fact. Anselmo took over the club in 1993 from Ruth Whitney Bowe (wife of guitarist Kevin Bowe), who opened it in 1987. Under Anselmo’s watch, the Fine Line hosted everyone from George Clinton to President Bill Clinton, and from Sheryl Crow and Maroon 5 to the Pixies, who played their first-ever reunion gig there in 2004. In recent years, it has welcomed more and more hip-hop gigs by the likes of Prof, Sims, the Geto Boys and (just two weekends ago) El-P and Killer Mike. The club even survived a fire in 2003, the same week of the tragic inferno at a Great White concert in Rhode Island. Thankfully, no one at the Fine Line was hurt.
“It’s a tough business, and getting tougher,” Anselmo said, “but regardless of that, this is really mostly about changing things up for me personally.”
Mickey Hart/ Yonas Media
Some places call it 2-for-1, others call it BOGO (buy one, get one free). Mill City Nights is calling it “Christmas in July.”
***UPDATE: Station 4 co-owner Steve Ledin filled us in a little more on the situation for the story that appeared in Tuesday's newspaper. Click here to read that version.
With an undercurrent of anger befitting any club that books so many metal bands, Station 4 in downtown St. Paul abruptly closed over the weekend and will remain shuttered all summer, reportedly so a new ventilation system can be installed.
The owners of the building -- which includes warehouse spaces above the club -- have been in negotiations with the city to upgrade its ventilation for more than a year. The city apparently gave them two extensions to get the work done, but they were finally cut off as of Friday. Word of the closure did not come until hours before a “last-minute metal party” was thrown Thursday night featuring Deretla Thrash, Plagued Insanity, What's Left of Legends and other bands that could have trouble finding gigs elsewhere until if and when the mainstay metal and punk venue reopens.
Ticket refunds are being given for the club’s national touring shows. Tonight’s show with Lions Lions and tomorrow night's Intronaut gig have both been moved to the Garage in Burnsville (an all-ages, alcohol-less venue). No word on other upcoming tour gigs, which were also to include the Summer Slaughter Tour with Dillinger Escape Plan and Norma Jean, plus Green Jelly, the Mixtapes and Amaranthe.
We have so far been unable to reach co-owner Steve Ledin, who has steadfastly helmed the club with his wife, Dawn, through thick and thin for the past decade. Crowds at the club certainly thinned out over the past couple years as construction of the light-rail line to the nearby Union Depot forced many street closures. A posting on Station 4’s Facebook page written by the club’s social-media guy explained the situation and apologized:
“I have been dreading writing this as we were hoping to get an extension from the city so that the shows already scheduled this summer could happen. The good news is that when we re-open in September, we will have a new HVAC system. In other words, no more ungodly heat! It just sucks that we have to shut down to get it.
That’s all I can tell you for now. For anyone who has any shows scheduled, we are sorry. This is now out of our control. We will work to try to reschedule for the fall. As far as National shows, refunds are available at point of purchase.
I will keep things updated on this page when I know what’s going on. I am just a guy who runs the Facebook page. I do not have much power. Thank you to all of our patrons. While this is a really crappy way to do it, we all know a remodel is needed.”
Fans and musicians from the club were obviously not happy thrashers upon hearing the news. Station’s 4 space has been a haven for metal bands going back to the ‘80s with its previous incarnations as Ryan’s and the Lab. Some people fear the upgraded ventilation system will ultimately out-price Station 4 from the space, as could the incoming light-rail line. One of the Facebook comments read, “I've had a nagging fear that one LRT in St. Paul gets finished Station 4 would be kaput.”
Another commenter, however, saw it as a positive: “While this sucks in the immediate future, the ultimate outcome is good. I am very reluctant to go to the venue because it gets so [expletive] hot in there regardless of the season.”
Star Tribune photo by Rich Tsong-Taatarri
Many Minnesotans whined when Rolling Stone’s recent list of the 20 best clubs in America did not include Minneapolis’ revered First Avenue.
Turns out that our favorite club apparently is considered a “big room” by the big magazine, which lists First Ave at No. 3 on its new list of 20 best big rooms.
Somehow our iconic 1,600-person nightclub is on the same list with New York’s redoubtable 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall, Atlanta’s renowned 4,700-seat Fox Theatre, Nashville’s landmark 1,300-seat Ryman Auditorium and the 2,100-capacity Surf Ballroom in Buddy Holly, Iowa, er, Clear Lake.
Topping First Avenue are the 1,200-capacity 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco’s legendary 1,100-capacity Fillmore.
To our way of thinking, the "best clubs" list probably should have been labeled "best bars." This is all part of Rolling Stone's series on "Venues That Rock." Amphitheaters, stadiums/arenas/ dance clubs and "readers choice" lists are yet to come.
But what does Rolling Stone know?
As a “fun fact,” it mentions that Prince reunited with his “Purple Rain”-era band, the Revolution, at First Avenue last year.
Fact: The Revolution went on without Prince.
Already hit with the cancellation of this summer’s River’s Edge Fest, Twin Cities music lovers were hit with more bummer summer concert news Tuesday: First Avenue called off its inaugural festival.
The landmark Minneapolis club confirmed the postponement in a press release after weeks of inquiring tweets and much speculation about one of the most anticipated concerts of the outdoor season. Most of the summer’s other big music bashes have already announced their lineups, but First Ave’s fest – scheduled July 20 at Parade Athletic Fields near downtown – was stuck in limbo.
“We had a lineup in place ready to go, and then over the course of three days our two biggest acts dropped out,” said First Ave general manager Nate Kranz, whose disappointment was as audible as a Motorhead gig at his club.
Here’s some of what the press release says from the club: “For our inaugural fest we hope to create an event that lives up to the high standards of First Avenue. If we had moved forward this year that would not have been possible.”
Kranz did not name names, but at least one of the pull-outs is coming to town for another big outdoor event. Another legendary act probably isn’t coming here at all.
A search for replacements came up short given the relatively late notice and an inability to shift the date of the event, which was set by a permit from the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board. First Ave’s fest will have its day, though. Kranz said he and his staff will circle the wagons and lock in bands even earlier for next year. They might even make it a two-day event.
“We had plenty of bands that are interested, but they just weren’t available that exact day this year,” Kranz explained. “We can’t offer them another date like we can at the club.”
On the upside, all those calls looking for acts did lead to some of the other big outdoor shows First Ave is promoting elsewhere this summer. That includes the already sold-out Alabama Shakes concert at Cabooze Plaza a week later, July 28, and the cool, only-in-Minnesota gig announced yesterday with Trampled by Turtles and Atmosphere at Bayfront Festival Park on June 29.
There’s one more silver lining, too: The postponement frees up fans to attend the Grumpy’s Bash 13, also booked July 20 (by pure coincidence) in the parking lot party behind the downtown bar and featuring old-school First Ave regulars Mudhoney, the Melvins, Die Kreuzen and Negative Approach.
“Mudhoney is one of my favorite bands,” Kranz said, “so I know where I’m going to be that day instead of our fest.”
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