First Avenue Nightclub was opened in 1970, but the history of live music in the building on the corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street began in the 30's. In February 1937 the orchestral music of the Gopher Melody Men played and the new Northland-Greyhound Bus Depot opened for business. When it was built in 1937, the Greyhound Bus Depot was famous for its art deco style and modern luxuries. Called one of the most "modernistic" and beautiful travel centers in America, this bus depot had such luxuries as public phones, shower rooms and air conditioning. The décor included "huge chromium chandeliers" and a terrazzo floor. Outside, there were blue-glazed bricks with white trimming.
Perhaps in honor of its humble musical origins, First Avenue Minneapolis began as The Depot. In 1968 the original depot relocated and, the next year, a 25-year old Minneapolis native named Allan Fingerhut envisioned a rock club where there was a café, cigar store and barbershop.
Fingerhut found a business partner with a liquor license and invested over $100,000.00 and opened the only venue in downtown Minneapolis with both rock music and alcohol. When The Depot opened, on April 3, 1970, local papers raved. They "have done some remarkable things with the interior of the old depot. Joe Cocker opened The Depot playing two sets that night.
The club's name and management changed several times over the decade, as people went crazy for disco and DJs. Somehow, live music maintained its polpularity in this downtown Minneapolis nightclub. There were many great acts to play during the '70s: Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Ike & Tina Turner, Iggy & the Stooges, Chubby Checker, The Kinks, The Allman Brothers, B.B. King, Rod Stewart, The Small Faces, John Lee Hooker, Canned Heat, Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, Dwight Twilley Band, Chris Osgood of the Suicide Commandos, Peter Jesperson, Pat Benetar, The Ramones and U2.
In 1980, the partnership that would carry the club into the next century was formed. Steve McClellan and Jack Meyers, former classmates and roommates, took control of Sam's, as it was then called, and began booking cutting edge national acts. On New Year's Eve, 1981, Sam's became First Avenue which was Minneapolis' first rock music community.
Throughout the ‘80s, First Avenue matched local opening bands to larger national acts as well as catering to dancers and hosting lip-synch and talent contests. During the 1980's, Prince made First Avenue his regular venue and his testing ground for new material. First Avenue was used as both the set and the setting of Prince's movie, Purple Rain. The Twins Cities' R&B scene came of age at this time with such acts as Alexander O'Neal, Chico Debarge, Suanne Carlo, Morris Day or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Other acts to play the club in this decade include Curtiss A (on opening night), PiL, New Order, Culture Club, REM, Run DMC, David Burne (joining the Wallets in the Entry), Husker Du and the Replacements.
In 1990 First Avenue turned 20. The club had become famous and magazines like Rolling Stone and Time praised First Avenue Nightclub as an innovative and great venue for all types of music. On any given week, you could see a hard core punk show back-to-back with a hip hop show. The Fugees, the Chemical Brothers, Ruben Blades, Youssou N'Dour and Dave Alvin all made appearances during the 1990's. The 1990's also saw the explosion of DJ culture. First Avenue launched Beatopia, with Beat Radio DJ's spinning house music in the club's new VIP Lounge, building the same buzz for DJs that the Entry fosters for local bands.
In 2000, First Avenue's longtime financial advisor Byron Frank helped the club take "control of its own destiny," as McClellan puts it, by negotiating the purchase of the historic Greyhound bus depot that had been its home for 30 years. Although safe from eviction, the club had to compete for bands with venues backed by large corporations. First Avenue has also contended with unforeseen conflicts that troubled the club's future.
In June 2004, then owner Allan Fingerhut fired the club's long-time management team, Steve McClellan, Jack Meyers and Byron Frank. On November 2, 2004, Fingerhut surprised everyone in the Minneapolis music community by filing for bankruptcy. Mayor R.T. Rybak and the whole city of Minneapolis were outraged. With the mayor's help, McClellan, Meyers and Frank purchased First Avenue's assets from bankruptcy court and reopened the club just days after Fingerhut had closed it. Steve McClellan and Jack Meyers are now back in charge of First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
First Avenue Minneapolis offers music fans the unique opportunity to see the next U2 or Prince in a nightclub setting and without having to pay big bucks. The realtively cheap ticket price and the loyal First Ave fans create plenty of sold out First Avenue shows. Check the First Avenue Schedule often as they are always adding new acts. Be sure to buy your First Avenue tickets early if you want to get in the door and see a great show!