It's the only place where Prince, U2, Metallica, Tina Turner and the Replacements all hang out together under one roof -- or their names do, anyway.
Under a coat of white paint, though, they suddenly disappeared last month.
"People pretty much freaked out at first," recalled painter Kyle Dahl.
A tremor hit the sidewalks of downtown Minneapolis and rolled through Twitter and Facebook accounts when the signature stars-of-fame on the exterior walls of First Avenue nightclub were painted over in early June -- thus erasing the names of 530 of the thousands of bands who have performed at the landmark rock venue over 40 years. The coating was part of a routine First Ave touch-up (once-a-decade, that is), timed to a 40th anniversary that includes Sunday's grand opening of the adjoining Depot restaurant. Still, the raucous and rabid response it generated caught club staff by surprise.
This week, crews are repainting the stars/names on the walls. There will be fewer of them now, though -- about 425 -- and more importance seems to be attached to each one.
"We had people call, e-mail, blog, post, corner us if we were sitting down for a beer, you name it," general manager Nate Kranz said, recounting the flood of suggestions for acts who deserved their stars.
"It got to be pretty intense. But it was actually really helpful in the end because there are so many bands who've played here, it's hard even for us to remember them all."
Star date: 1984
First Ave's stars originated in 1984, right after Prince's "Purple Rain" was filmed there. In the anti-stardom grunge era of the mid-'90s, the walls were painted over and remained starless for several years.
When the names returned around 2000, the wall space quickly filled up. Only a few bands were added to the star map over the past year, including local favorites Trampled by Turtles and Motion City Soundtrack. Many others had to be told to "wait for the next big paint job," said talent booker Sonia Grover.
After the primer coat went up, Grover, Kranz and a few other staffers sat down and sorted through which new stars to add, which old ones to keep and which really, really old ones to nix.
"I highly doubt John Lurie is going to come into town and say, 'Hey, where the hell is my star?'" Kranz quipped, referring to the Lounge Lizards leader turned "Fishing With John" TV host (facts that had to be Googled).
Most of the decisions were obvious. U2, Metallica, Nirvana, R.E.M., Radiohead, Phish, Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, etc. -- all the major bands who played there on their way up -- were shoo-ins to retain their star status. So were legendary acts who played there in the early years, including Ike & Tina Turner, Rod Stewart & the Faces, B.B. King, Aerosmith, James Brown, the Ramones and the 1970 opening-night performer, Joe Cocker. So were such popular regulars as George Clinton's P-Funk, Motörhead, Guided by Voices and Lucinda Williams (who got married onstage there last fall).
New prominence for locals
In the case of local supernovas, the only change of note will be positioning. Prince's oft-photographed star was weirdly high up before, and now it will be at eye level near the entrance. The Replacements' star will be symbolically located near the door of the small 7th Street Entry where they started, while frontman Paul Westerberg's name will be on display nearer the First Ave main-room side. Also look for easier-to-spot stars for Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Babes in Toyland, the Time, Jayhawks and Atmosphere. Oh, and the Jets.
Piano rocker Mark Mallman, a current ringleader in the Twin Cities scene, said he was happy to learn his star is moving from "wayyy up high" to closer to the ground.
"A lot of clubs in America don't sport their hometown pride," Mallman said. "It's rare, actually, which is what makes First Ave so fantastic."
Upon learning that his blogger-buoyed band Tapes 'N Tapes would get its first star in the makeover, keyboardist Matt Kretzmann blurted, "I can die now."
Looking over the final list of names Tuesday afternoon, Kranz and Grover were content that most local music fans will be happy with how the stars finally are aligned.
"In the end, I don't think there's going to be much controversy," Grover said.
If there is, there's always the next repainting -- tentatively scheduled for 2020.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658