The exterior of the building displays a neon-red ATM sign, but St. Paul’s Old Swedish Bank Building is on its way to becoming a place where local music will take center stage.
Twin Cities Catalyst Music, a metro-based nonprofit, is leasing the historic bank in hopes of turning the location into an all-ages music venue. On Payne Avenue in the Payne-Phalen area on the East Side, the yet-to-be-named venue will give young adults access to concerts, most of which will feature up-and-coming local acts.
“We already know there is a shortage of all-age spaces,” said Jack Kolb-Williams, executive director of Catalyst Music. Young people “don’t have a physical place where they can go out and practice their arts.”
Apart from the Garage, an all-ages, alcohol-free concert venue in Burnsville also owned by Catalyst Music, the Twin Cities area has only one full-time music venue that is all-ages: the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.
Kolb-Williams grew up near Milwaukee, where age restrictions for shows were less common, he said. When he moved to the Twin Cities, he was surprised to find out how few places there were where young people could see live shows.
“That’s really where you quote-unquote ‘find your people,’ ” he said. “To not have access to that because of your age, which is something you can’t control, it blows my mind.”
In April 2015, Kolb-Williams and Logan Adams founded Catalyst Music to help provide more music access to underage people in the Twin Cities. The nonprofit also began operating the Garage. Run by the city of Burnsville since 1999, the Garage was a youth center that offered homework help, but also served as a spot for student musicians to cut their teeth.
When Catalyst took the reins, arts and crafts were swapped for amps as music became the main focus. Along with all-ages shows, the Garage also hosts workshops for music journalism, concert photography, sound production and recording.
“We’ve been really working to try to find a space to have a second location that’s a little more centrally located that will still allow us to have the same programming,” Kolb-Williams said.
So how does the new venue differ from the Garage? While the Garage has cultivated a punk and emo sound, the Payne-Phalen venue will focus more on indie and hip-hop, he said. “There’s a lot more of a DIY, kind of basement vibe.”
Because it’s in the city and close to transit, he said, he hopes that the new venue will be more accessible and allow the “very talented young people in our metro area … to express themselves.”
Many Twin Cities area music venues have closed in recent years, including the all-ages Minneapolis punk staple Triple Rock Social Club, started by Dillinger Four guitarist Erik Funk. Kolb-Williams said he hopes that the new venue will act as a space to book midsize artists that would have made stops at such locations.
In mid-August, Catalyst Music held a fundraiser at Bauhaus Brew Lab to raise money for new equipment — including a sound system, lighting, mics and a stage — for the new location. The night raised more than $9,000 for the new venue.
Matt Skelton, a board member for Catalyst Music, said all-ages venues are important because they help young musicians feel welcome in the local scene.
“When you can have that kind of a space, it really allows kids to get out there,” he said. “I hope they get the sense of engagement, that they don’t feel that they’re left out of the music scene.”
The Catalyst Music concert venue is set to open within the upcoming year.
For Kolb-Williams, the space is about giving youth access to pursue musical passions.
“I can’t tell you how many people I talk to that come to shows down here at the Garage, where it’s their first time seeing a concert,” he said. “It completely changes them forever, as music does. That’s the power of it.”