Remembering 'rock star' promoter Sue McLean

  • Updated: May 23, 2013 - 3:57 PM

Tributes from musicians and friends saddened by her death last week.

Sue McLean

Photo: Courtesy Sue McLean & Assoc.,

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After providing us with so many thrilling Fridays over the course of her nearly 40-year career in the music business, Twin Cities concert promoter Sue McLean can be forgiven for raining on a couple of them. She died from cancer last Friday afternoon in her Minneapolis home. McLean, 63, who booked the Basilica Block Party, the Minnesota Zoo and concerts at the Guthrie, will be remembered this Friday with an 11 a.m. service at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Because of the timing, we were unable to reach some of the better-known musicians who worked closely with her for our obituary in Saturday’s newspaper. Here are some of their comments and other tributes from this past week.

“We have been playing the great cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul for many, many years now and just about every time we’ve been there it’s because of an ass-kicking music lover of a promoter by the name of Sue McLean. If you’ve ever wondered why we play in that town so much, it’s because she brought us there and nurtured the relationship between this band and our Minnesota fans. … I wanted to send my love and prayers first to her daughter and family and second to the bands that loved her as much as she loved them. Rest in peace, Sue. You were a rock star to all of us.” Brandi Carlile (in a blog post) 

“I’m so sorry to hear about Sue. She was there for me in the beginning of my career and was such a loyal person and business partner. Minneapolis won’t feel the same without her.” --Lyle Lovett

“We were stunned to hear of Sue McLean’s utterly untimely passing. As one of our earliest and most vocal champions, we will miss her terribly. The zoo concerts are one of our favorite venues, so we will forever imagine her rocking out to the side of the stage as always.” — Los Lobos

“Sue was so deeply in touch with what was going on in the Twin Cities concert scene, so she could be a real source of wisdom for me and my bands. And she really cared a lot about the gigs. She was funny and full of life — I always enjoyed talking with her, which seemed to happen more often in recent years. I’ll really miss her when I play in Minneapolis again.” — Dan Wilson (singer/songwriter, Semisonic, Trip Shakespeare)

“She was always above board, and sweet and funny to work with. She consistently knew how to make it work in a business that is so fickle. And she stuck with a lot of performers and earned their allegiance. A huge hole just opened in our city. I can’t imagine who will fill it.” — John Munson (Semisonic, New Standards)

“In 30 years of working in the music industry, I have worked with hundreds of promoters. Most of the time it’s nothing more than a business arrangement. And most of the time when I come to a town, I don’t even meet the promoter. But Sue McLean was not that. Sue was a friend to me and my family. She knew my children’s names. And she was a very good friend to the BoDeans. Sue had the rare quality of being a good business person and a good person all wrapped into one. We are deeply saddened by her death.” — Kurt Neumann of the BoDeans

“She was a true lifer who both lived by and conducted her business by high ethical and artistic standards and exquisite taste. She was a brilliant and tough negotiator, and unlike most of those in positions of power in the music business was completely devoid of attitude and ego. She was genuinely moved by her love of music and musicians. And like many of those in the music business who tire of the idiosyncrasies of musicians. she had great admiration for all who she booked, supported, and worked with. She was one of my most treasured friends.” — Paul Metsa (Minneapolis singer, writer)

“Both Leo and I are saddened. She was not only a great promoter but, more important, a wonderful and caring person who made such a glorious impact on so many lives. She will be missed.” —Chuck Morris (longtime manager of Leo Kottke)

“If you were lucky enough to be a part of the Minneapolis music scene from, say 1980 until 2004, or now for that matter, then you understand it is a true family unlike any other I have been in. With the sad sad passing of Sue McLean, we have lost a pillar of that family and it always hits hard. I thank her for so many great Lucinda shows - always done right. Our family misses you. RIP Sue”
--Tom Overby (former Best Buy executive and now Lucinda Williams’ manager/producer/husband)

“I knew Sue from her days in St. Cloud. She was a waitress at the Grand Mantel, a bar I played in when I was 18, and she couldn’t have been much older. It was apparent even back then that Sue loved music, was drawn to musicians as friends and was put in this world to be in this business. Sue’s success came in a very male-dominated business — it never fazed her. I never met a woman that strong. She did it with hard work and knocked out anyone in her path with kindness and love. This community has lost a very special person.” — Bobby Vandell (Minneapolis drummer)

JON BREAM AND CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER

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