Walking between dust-coated construction workers and bare drywall, one of the top brass at one of the world’s biggest entertainment corporations made a bold prediction about one of the most ambitious performance spaces ever to open in the Twin Cities.
“This is going to be one of the most beautiful venues in the world!” Live Nation’s president of clubs and theaters, Ron Bension, declared during a hardhat tour of the Fillmore Minneapolis last August.
Five months later, the dust has settled and the showy chandeliers and high-end speaker towers have been hung. Minnesota music lovers now can decide for themselves if the Los Angeles concert executive was justifiably stoked or just blowing smoke.
The only modern Twin Cities concert venue designed and built from scratch — with a hip burger bar and Westin hotel attached, no less — the downtown Minneapolis outlet of Live Nation’s growing Fillmore chain opens this week in the shadow of Target Field.
First up: a three-night stand starting Wednesday by Brandi Carlile — a sign that L.A. execs are paying attention to Minnesota tastes. The Grammy-winning, Seattle-area singer/songwriter has a uniquely strong following here. She has even mapped out three unique shows for the occasion.
In coming months, the 1,850-person, two-story concert hall will host a varied if not yet very impressive lineup of touring acts: Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Bob Weir and Buddy Guy; rappers Yung Gravy and Three 6 Mafia; metal bands Evanescence and Killswitch Engage; electronic stars Rufus du Sol and Yultron; country studs LANCO; ex-Minnesotan Jonny Lang, and one — and only one — current local band, Motion City Soundtrack.
Aside from a handful of those performers, the most familiar name on the calendar is the Fillmore itself.
Live Nation bought the rights to the moniker in 2007 from the family of late rock promoter Bill Graham, who ran the original Fillmore in San Francisco and the Fillmore East in New York in the late 1960s.
Weir’s Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, Janis Joplin and Santana all were regulars at those old Fillmores. Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix and Joe Cocker recorded live albums at them (each of them ranking among rock’s all-time great live records, in fact).
Aside from Santana, none of those acts is around anymore — but the Fillmore name is more ubiquitous than ever. There are now nine around the country, counting ours.
After Live Nation took over the reborn San Francisco location in 2007, it opened Fillmores in (in order) Denver; Detroit; Miami; Charlotte, N.C.; the Washington, D.C., area; Philadelphia and New Orleans. The latter site, next to the Harrah’s Casino on Canal Street, was christened a year ago by two bands that couldn’t be farther removed from NOLA’s rich music traditions, Duran Duran and Coheed & Cambria.
The layouts of these clubs are similar: Two-story, midsize, almost theater-like; capacities ranging from 1,300 to 3,900 people; sprawling general-admission ground floors; seated, wraparound balconies with VIP ticket options; stages high enough to guarantee good sightlines all over.
“If someone is going to propagate the same kind of [live music] rooms around the country, they’re pretty nice rooms to propagate,” said Motion City Soundtrack guitarist Josh Cain. His band’s reunion tour played the Philly and D.C. Fillmores last month along with several House of Blues outlets, another Live Nation franchise.
Heading home for its own three-show marathon at the Minneapolis Fillmore starting next Saturday, Cain said Motion City is “proud to be part of the opening, and to link Minneapolis up with the [Fillmore] legacy.”
For Twin Cities music fans not yet familiar with the Fillmore experience, here’s what to expect:
1. It’s a more high-end, hi-fi music venue. Much was made of Live Nation exec Bension’s comment last August that “it’s not just a black box with people in it.” That was widely seen as a swipe at independently owned competitor First Avenue, but the distinction was valid.
Fans wanting the comfortable seats, bottle service, VIP add-ons and freshly tiled restrooms not offered at First Avenue (or most other rock venues) will get all those cush embellishments here. The sound system and other production elements appear to be top-notch, too.
2. It can be expensive. All those frills come at a price. Live Nation reps declined requests for a list of drink prices inside the venue. Online reviews at Fillmores in other cities name tap beers at $12 and cocktails at $13. General-admission standing tickets start out at relatively average prices, but they get jacked up by ticketing fees and “premium” options, and can be especially pricey in the balcony. Seats upstairs to Motion City’s all-ages show Feb. 17, for instance, are selling for as much as $117 after fees, compared with $49 ($35 before fees) for G.A. tickets.
3. It’s easy to get to, but not to park near. Light-rail riders, rejoice: Target Field Station is just up the stairs from the Fillmore. Many bus and biking routes are nearby, too. If you’re un-Minneapolitan enough to still rely on your own four-wheel vehicle, the Target Field Station ramp is next door but it can fill up fast, and the city megaramps B and C are several blocks southeast. Or you can gamble on metered spots on surrounding streets.
4. It has an in-house restaurant and ample nearby preshow options. As with First Avenue’s Depot Tavern, the convenience of the Trax Burger & Bar will be hard to beat. There’s an abundance of alternatives, too, including three excellent breweries within two blocks (Fulton, Inbound and One Fermentary) and many trendy North Loop restaurants a few blocks farther (Graze, Lu’s, La Grassa, NOLO’s, Smack Shack).
5. It has a hotel attached. The 160-room Element by Westin has been open for a few weeks now. A random search for dates later this month ran from $93 to under $200, even on concert nights. It’s independent of the concert venue, but there’s talk of creating package options.
6. It’s loosely based on the Fillmores of old. Four giant, glimmering and arguably gaudy chandeliers hang over the main floor, a trademark of the original spaces. Apples will also be handed out at some shows, which was Bill Graham’s thing. Photos of Graham and ’60s rock legends line the walls of BG’s Lounge, a namesake VIP bar located upstairs. Black-lit murals behind the ground floor bars also evoke the hippie-dippie era.
7. It has at least a little local flavor and autonomy. There’s a large Prince mural upstairs. Concert posters from the Replacements, Atmosphere, Lizzo, Bob Dylan, the Jayhawks, Owl City and other Minnesota-rooted artists hang throughout the building. And the venue hired two talent bookers with strong local ties: Tamsen Preston, formerly of Sue McLean & Associates, and Zack Chazin, who has produced the Snowta festivals and other dance and rap events.
8. It’s in cahoots with Ticketmaster. The world’s dominant ticketing company has long had a reputation in the concert biz on par with the Astros’ status in baseball right now. Its 2010 mega-merger with Live Nation only made it worse, adding inflated “premium” and “platinum” options to its already hated ticket fees. One bit of relief: Fans can sidestep fees by buying tickets in person at the Fillmore box office and the Varsity Theater (another Live Nation venue) during daytime and preshow hours.