They live only three blocks from the venue that hosted their first gig in three months on Saturday night. A few weeks earlier, though, bandleaders Davina and Zack Lozier had to rely on TV news helicopter footage to know if the Hook & Ladder was still standing.
“We were following it in real time,” Davina recalled just before showtime Saturday. “Whenever we’d get a glimpse of it, we’d say, ‘It’s still there!’ ”
Is it ever. The south Minneapolis performance venue — around the corner from the charred remnants of what used to be the Third Precinct police headquarters — rather miraculously survived the riots and destructive rampaging along E. Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue following George Floyd’s tragic death in police custody on May 25.
Now, “The Hook” is ready to breathe new life into its gasping neighborhood — on top of its original, pre-riots goal of helping the Twin Cities music scene survive the coronavirus quarantine.
Over the weekend, the nonprofit venue returned to action with the HookStream, a series of professionally produced, livestreamed fundraiser concerts inaugurated by Southern-baked jazz-rock darlings Davina & the Vagabonds. It was just a nice coincidence that the kickoff band happened to come from the neighborhood.
In fact, the HookStream was supposed to start June 5, but it had to be delayed as the venue’s operators cleaned up after fire and water damage and other destruction caused by rioters. The shows even had to be moved into the smaller but more open-air Mission Room because the main Hook & Ladder theater space — in a historic firehouse that executive director Chris Mozena declared “a sturdy old building built to last” — just got its electricity turned back on late last week.
His smile obvious beneath his face mask after Saturday’s concert, the Hook’s marketing director and co-booker Jesse Brodd seemed content that Davina’s crew wound up being the test pilots.
“A lot of the people watching online commented that it felt good to have live music back,” said Brodd. “It was great to start with a full-blown band like that, with horns and everything.”
Was it ever. Davina’s music is steeped in the buoyant jazz and R&B of New Orleans, a city that knows a lot about bouncing back from turmoil and tragedy with an extra bounce in its step.
On Saturday, she and the band encored with “Shake That Thing,” a rowdy NOLA standard featuring her husband and trumpeter Zack Lozier on vocals. They opened their set with another oldie carefully chosen by Davina: “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” popularized by Ella Fitzgerald.
“My music would be nothing without black music,” said the bandleader, who pledged to donate her pay for Saturday’s performance to two Minneapolis funds, the Association for Black Empowerment and Pimento Jamaican Kitchen’s Relief Services.
And yes, it actually was a paying gig. Tickets cost $15 apiece for access to the livestream via Crowdcast.io (look for a rebroadcast Wednesday at 8 p.m.). Nearly 200 of them were sold, which Brodd proudly noted amounted to more than a sold-out show in the Hook’s Mission Room.
All of this week’s HookStream installments and many others will be webcast for free via the venue’s Facebook page and website, including New Primitives on Thursday, the Mae Simpson Band on Friday and Charlie Parr on Saturday. Viewers in those cases will be asked to pony up for “cover” via Venmo tips to the artists and/or donations to the Hook via its website.
Some of the upcoming $8-$10 ticketed performances include GB Leighton (July 9), the Bawdy Dawn benefit for Black Table Arts (July 10), Frogleg (July 11) and the Belfast Cowboys (July 25).
Once the venue’s heavily damaged bathrooms and theater space are operable again — hopefully by fall — it plans to begin selling a limited number of tickets for patrons to enjoy the HookStream performances in person under safe distancing guidelines.
In any case, money from tickets, donations and sponsorships will be split among the musicians, the venue and the HookStream production team — a six-man crew Saturday that worked four cameras, lights and audio and video mixing boards.
“The point is to bring live music back at the professional level people expect here,” Brodd noted.
Viewers of the webcast seemed impressed: “It sounds so good, Hook folks!” Minneapolis musician Annie Enneking wrote in the comments section.
Cleo Swanson posted at show’s end, “My husband and I danced in our kitchen to your last song. How fun!”
Davina and the band seemed satisfied with the results, too.
A full-time touring act, she was supposed to perform in Australia, instead of south Minneapolis, last weekend to tout her latest album, “Sugar Drops.” Some U.K. gigs and many other shows also had to be canceled this summer due to the coronavirus.
In the interim, Davina delivered a variety of livestreamed and home-recorded performances during quarantine that were successful, but, she wryly noted, “They were more on the level of first-year film students.”
“There’s just no replacing us all being together in a real live music room like this,” the bandleader noted, standing outside the venue over speckles of broken glass from when looters broke in during the unrest.
With the ruins of Minnehaha Liquor and numerous other irreplaceably damaged buildings across the street, she added, “it was hard to know what to play and how to act.
“I just decided to do what we do best and hope that helps make things better.”
Good plan. That same approach from the Hook & Ladder should also serve its community well in the coming months.
Upcoming free shows: New Primitives (8 p.m. Thu.), Mae Simpson (Fri.), Charlie Parr (Sat.), the Shackletons (July 15), Big George Jackson (July 16), Kind Country (July 17), Cornbread Harris and Black-Eyed Snakes (July 18), Lewiee Blaze & N4 (July 23).
Ticketed shows: GB Leighton (July 9), the Bawdy Down burlesque (July 10), Frogleg (July 11), Belfast Cowboys (July 25), all $8-$10.
More info: TheHookMpls.com