No, First Avenue is not taking over the Minnesota State Fair, too.
However, the circumstances behind this weekend’s two “First Avenue Goes to the Fair” concerts at the Schell’s Stage in the fair’s West End are not unlike the scenarios that found the legendary Minneapolis rock club expanding its strong local foothold to the Palace and Fitzgerald theaters and the Fine Line and Turf Club in recent years.
“Like most of our dealings, it just came down to who we know and want to work with,” First Ave general manager Nate Kranz said.
Kranz and his team already were friends with the fair’s in-house music bookers, Nate Dungan and Renee Alexander. One discussion led to another and resulted in this pair of First Ave-branded, revue-style concerts Friday and Saturday with a house band backing a half-dozen Twin Cities music all-stars each night, including Brother Ali, Har Mar Superstar, Haley and Mark Mallman.
It might be hard for hip urban music lovers to believe, but the State Fair attracts many Minnesotans who have never set foot in the old club.
With the venue’s 50th anniversary approaching next April and an exhibit on the club showing in the interim at the Minnesota History Center, Kranz said these fair concerts are intended for “all the people who’ve heard about First Ave but never been there, so they can see what we’re all about.”
To that end, First Ave recruited local songwriter and utility player Al Church to lead a house band behind local rappers, R&B singers, folkies, punks and Dem Atlas (who wears all those hats).
Friday night’s rotating cast includes Har Mar, Mallman, Lady Lark, Mina Moore, Dwynell Roland and members of the Bad Man. Saturday’s lineup features hip-hop guru Ali — whose local gigs have been scarce of late — with Dem Atlas, Haley (née Haley Bonar), Jack Klatt, Seaberg and 73-year-old versatile vet Maurice Jacox.
Each guest will perform a few of their regular songs, and there might be some fun interaction between them, too.
“It’s such a diverse bunch, that makes it pretty tricky for us — but is also what’s so fun about it,” Church said after rehearsals earlier this week.
The bandleader noted that the rappers, in particular, “have been really open to us staying true to their original songs but doing something new with them, too.”
If all goes well, Kranz said “First Ave Goes to the Fair” could become a regular thing; but it won’t become anything more ambitious than this.
“A whole bunch of our staff just loves the fair, so we’re excited to play a small part,” he said, singling out the club’s veteran production manager Conrad Sverkerson as one staffer especially happy for the excuse to hit the fair.
“Nobody loves the fair more than Conrad, so I’m sure he’ll be out there.”