A new all-star album spearheaded by "concerned citizens" drops Tuesday to raise money for First Avenue, featuring tracks donated on the club's behalf by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the Drive-by Truckers, Fugazi, Dessa, Trampled by Turtles, Thurston Moore, the Hold Steady, Semisonic, Atmosphere, Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks and more.
Dubbed the First Love Project and available via the download site Bandcamp.com, the digital album is the star attraction in a subscription service that will continue to offer new tracks to benefit the darkened venue until it can host live music again. The starting rate for the service is $25.
"I got tired of signing 'Save our Stages' petitions and decided to do something," explained the First Love Project's chief organizer Mary Beth Mueller.
Also the founder of the nonprofit Kill Kancer and the widow of Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, Mary Beth recruited a group of similarly well-connected First Ave old-timers newly dubbed the Committee of Concerned Citizens, also including Lori Barbero, PD Larson, Chris Osgood, Abbie Kane, Tom Herbers and many more.
Together, they took their cue from a similar project for North Carolina rock hub Cat's Cradle and rounded up musical contributions from bands closely tied to the venue.
"Many of us simply cannot imagine this city or the national music landscape without First Avenue," Mueller continued. "We started e-mailing bands, and every single one of them responded yes."
Some of those yeasayers contributed a mix of unreleased tracks and/or live recordings, while others donated songs off studio albums available here for free with the fee. Among the unreleased recordings are:
*Tweedy's cover of Neil Young's "The Old Country Waltz," which the Wilco singer performed with his namesake band at a drive-in gig in September.
*A live version of Semisonic's new instant classic "Basement Tapes."
*A new studio version of the Suburbs' old favorite "Life Is Like" recorded with the band's current lineup.
*A brand new Har Mar Superstar song called "Fake Accents" that he and his band recorded this year.
*An outtake from the Jayhawks' "Paging Mr. Proust" album titled "Useless Creatures."
*A live version of Fugazi's "Repeater" captured at First Ave in 1992, which is part of the legendary D.C. punk band's vast archives database.
The previously issued studio tracks include the Truckers' timely new seether "The New OK," Dessa's "Dixon Girl," Trampled by Turtles' "Life Is Good on the Open Road," Atmosphere's "Virgo," the Jayhawks' "Useless Creatures," Molly Maher's "Run Run Run," as well as cuts from Lazerbeak, the Mekons, Soul Asylum and Sonic Youth co-leader Moore. A family tree of other '80s-era vets also pitched in: Steve Wynn (of the Dream Syndicate), the Young Fresh Fellows and the Baseball Project — the latter group featuring Wynn, YFF's Scott McCaughey, Zuzu's Petals drummer Linda Pitmon and R.E.M. retirees Peter Buck and Mike Mills.
First Ave owner Dayna Frank — who spent much of the year serving as president of the #SaveOurStages-handled National Independent Venues Association — said in a statement, "We are blown away by the incredible support from this community and these amazing artists."
"It's a very special thing to know that First Avenue means so much to so many, especially this year — our 50th Anniversary and the most challenging time in the history of the club. It's heartwarming, to say the least."
Some of the participating artists offered testimonials now posted at FirstLoveProject.org:
Dessa: "First Avenue cares about music. And artists. And the culture of our city. That's not true of everyone in this business. Let's show them the support they've shown us all along."
Patterson Hood of Drive-by Truckers: "We all consider it one of our all time favorite places to play. First Ave is a national treasure, one of the most essential music venues in the world. We should all band together and do whatever it takes to save it so it can stand tall and loud for decades to come."
New tracks will be added in the coming months to "help keep the lights on" at the club, which abruptly — and at first voluntarily — shut down out of COVID-19 safety concerns in mid-March along all its sister venues, including 7th St. Entry, the Turf Club and the Palace Theatre.
NIVA's efforts to secure federal relief for indie music venues and promoters nationwide have earned strong bipartisan support but remain tied up in the stalemate over relief bills at the U.S. Congress. It looks like live music will not return en masse to indoor spaces until at least next summer.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658