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The Current Rewind

Aug. 12, 2015: The day the sky fell

The Current Rewind
The Current RewindKaitlyn Bryan | MPR
  Play Now [28:49]

Description: A piece of First Avenue's ceiling fell to the ground during a concert in August 2015. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. But throughout the music industry, concert safety has been a huge issue during the last decade. How can we keep each other safe?

This is the eighth episode of The Current Rewind's "10 Pivotal Days at First Avenue" season. Catch up below.

April 3, 1970 (The day it all began)
Nov. 28-29, 1979 (The days that told the future)
Sept. 27, 1982 (Bad Brains/Sweet Taste of Afrika/Hüsker Dü)
Aug. 3, 1983 (The birth of "Purple Rain")
Oct. 22, 1990 (Sonic Youth/Cows/Babes in Toyland)
March 4, 1991 (Ice Cube/WC and the MAAD Circle)
Nov. 2, 2004 (The day the doors closed)
Aug. 12, 2015 (The day the sky fell)
April 21, 2016 (The day the streets turned purple)

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The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Culture Heritage Fund.

Transcript of The Current Rewind season 2, episode 8: "Aug. 15, 2015"

[🎵 tense instrumental song, with syncopated synths and faint percussion 🎵]

Matt Sepic: [archival MPR News tape] A partial ceiling collapse Wednesday night during a concert in the venue's Mainroom injured three people.

Nate Kranz: [archival MPR News tape] It was about a 20 x 20 piece of ceiling.

unknown: [archival MPR News tape] They have to get their sprinkler system completely repaired, but they can't do that until the ceiling's repaired. So once that's done, the sprinkler contractor will be back in here to replace the broken pipes and be able go forward from there.

Cecilia Johnson VO: First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis has been a haven for fans of live music since 1970. The former bus depot has become iconic, known for its black brick exterior and more than 500 painted stars. Every year, hundreds of thousands of fans safely enter and exit the building. But any facility that sees that much foot traffic for that long is occasionally going to see some cause for concern.

Last episode, we recounted First Avenue's 2004 bankruptcy and subsequent change in ownership. While the bankruptcy was probably the biggest threat to the club's existence, First Avenue has suffered several smaller mishaps since then, including a small fire in 2006 and a partial ceiling collapse in 2015. The ceiling collapse happened during a show by Canadian rock band Theory of a Deadman. It was a scary situation. In this episode, we'll find out what happened that night and talk about other safety issues that are more interpersonal than infrastructural. These issues affect all fans, but especially those who are LGBTQ+ and/or music fans of color.

[🎵 "Hive Sound" by Icetep 🎵]

Cecilia Johnson VO: [over theme] I'm Cecilia Johnson, and this is The Current Rewind, the podcast putting music's unsung stories on the map.

In this season of Rewind, we're zooming in on several important dates in the history of First Avenue, one of the Twin Cities's – and the country's – greatest live venues. To help us out, and to showcase the breadth of First Avenue's musical history, most of these episodes have featured a different guest host. This time, we're lucky to have Sun Yung Shin. She's a writer, teacher, and bodyworker who lives in Minneapolis. In 2016, she edited A Good Time for the Truth, an anthology of essays on race in Minnesota, and this year, she joined the Current Rewind team as a scriptwriter – and this episode's host.

[rewind noise]

Sun Yung Shin VO: Thanks, Cecilia. I'm Sun Yung Shin, and I'm a poet and writer here in the Twin Cities. I went to college in St. Paul in the early '90s, and as a young person during and after college, when I lived in Uptown in Minneapolis, I spent a lot of time going to concerts and Danceteria nights at First Avenue and shows at the 7th St Entry. Having grown up in the Chicago area, I spent my teenage years at places like Medusa's – Chicago's most famous all-ages club – and other punk locales like Wax Trax, a store and a label that opened in 1973 in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. I didn't know much about Minneapolis, let alone its music scene. when I arrived for college, but I quickly found out how lucky I was to be in the same city as First Avenue and 7th St. Club safety was certainly an issue in those days, but few of us who didn't work at clubs could have predicted what it would look like in the 21st century. Randy Hawkins, who has worked for First Avenue since 1989, has a simple definition of club security.

Randy Hawkins: Security is just basic safety of people behaving in a way isn't gonna get anybody else hurt, or themselves.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Whether he's working as a stage manager or doorperson, Randy is (and always has been) focused on shaping a safe environment.

Randy Hawkins: Working front door, [I] was deciding who did and who didn't come in. If someone was too drunk to come in, things like that, or too aggressive at the shows, whatnot, we're trying to deal with that situation.

Randy Hawkins: Sometimes, it was also letting the performers know what they were doing wasn't safe, which happened periodically; not too often. And keeping – like, as far as barricade security, making sure that no one in the audience did anything that was gonna affect or harm someone on stage. So, kinda keeping an eye on how everybody was operating in a particular moment.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Most of the time, people behave safely and sensibly, but anything can happen. Hawkins told us about some moments of dubious performer judgment.

Randy Hawkins: Jumping off the stage – so, stage diving, in general. Climbing things that weren't really meant to be climbed – the PA cabling, whatnot. Anything projectile from stage towards the audience – also, obviously, a terrible idea. And the Entry was the same way. I did sound in the Entry for the '90s, basically, and usually, it was fine. Now and then, someone would do something just where you were like, we're gonna have to stop this right now, because you're gonna hurt somebody. Corey from Nashville Pussy decided to blow flames into a sold-out Entry audience, which was a terrible idea. Those guys had a few episodes like that. [laughs] It was like, Jesus, not this again.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Theory of a Deadman didn't bring any pyrotechnics, just their usual mainstream rock. On August 12, 2015, First Avenue's safety protocols were tested when part of the Mainroom's ceiling collapsed during a Theory of a Deadman show, causing an evacuation of the building, with three audience members sustaining non-serious injuries.

Nate Kranz: There was some minor injuries.

Sun Yung Shin VO: That night, First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz told The Current writer Andrea Swensson that a piece of plaster had, quote, "somehow separated from the beams in the ceiling and fell, taking out the sprinkler pipes – which obviously compounded the problem, because then we had water going everywhere." End quote. This describes the scene in video footage that fans had posted to Instagram that night. According to Kranz, it wasn't the roof that fell in, just the ceiling.

Nate Kranz: So, like, when you say "ceiling collapse," that's what happened. But the ceiling is like a plaster lathe ceiling that you can't really get up and inspect. The roof was what we end up having to replace every ten years.

Nate Kranz: Unfortunately, there was a handful of people that got hurt, but it was – a well-timed fight broke out, and when that happens, the other customers have a tendency to disperse, and that had happened right in that spot just before.

Randy Hawkins: I wasn't there. But there'd be some kind of fight in that area, and then they cleared the area, and that's when it happened, and that's why there was nobody standing there – would've been seriously hurt when it happened. That was, like – it was luck. Who foresees that kind of thing coming?

Sun Yung Shin VO: Our producer Cecilia Johnson was actually in the audience that night, but not in the Mainroom -- she was next door at the 7th Street Entry, watching Minnesota bands What Tyrants and Stereo Confession.

[🎵 "Tonight" by Stereo Confession 🎵]

Sun Yung Shin VO: For this episode, she caught up with Max Timander, who played in Stereo Confession. Max gave us the full story from their perspective, as they and their band experienced the unfolding events of the evening.

Max Timander: So we were there – it was our tour kickoff. We'd been planning the tour for months. We had a few shows with the other local band, What Tyrants, planned for like Madison, Chicago...and so it was a big kickoff. We each booked an opener. They picked Modern Mod, we picked Fury Things, and so we were really excited about the night. It was a night to get everyone under one roof before we hit the road and head east.

So I mean, everything was going smoothly. Every opener played a fantastic set. What Tyrants killed it. And we were the final band. So we got onstage, started playing our show, and I believe it was like four songs in where the red lights at First Avenue started to flash, but it wasn't just like, one. It was all of them, like, it was unlike anything I had seen before, because it felt like the building might be on fire or something. And I remember the sound person then talking to me through the monitor as we're playing a song, which is so not normal. So we all kinda got confused, and then we just stopped playing, and then we started to notice that they're saying, "We need you to get offstage immediately, like, we have to get everyone outside now." There wasn't much communication about what was going on, but the way that First Avenue staff handled it that day, I would say was just very comforting in a way. Because you could tell that they took their job seriously, and they knew what they had to do in this emergency.

Cecilia Johnson: Yeah, I remember being very confused, because I could hear your vocals in like the mix that was coming back out to the crowd, but I could also hear some random voice, and it was the sound person who was like –

Max Timander: Totally bizarre.

Cecilia Johnson: I know. Had you ever been involved in a crisis situation like that, either as a performer or as an audience member?

Max Timander: No, definitely not. And it's the kind of thing where you maybe read about it on blogs, like, "stage collapses," or "ceiling caves in," but it's not the kind of thing that you think is gonna happen in your small community or your town. You don't expect that kind of thing. And I think it was Theory of a Dead Man next door?

Cecilia Johnson: Yeah. But I remember leaving the venue, leaving the Entry, walking out into the street or whatever, and not knowing what had gone on, and it's only because I think I was talking to you, and you had, like, "the word" from First Ave's staff that it was a ceiling collapse. But I think most people didn't actually know what was going on. Like, how did you figure out what was going on?

Max Timander: Honestly, I was just as confused as everyone else. And I think what ended up happening – we had Noah Paster playing in our band at the time, and if I remember correctly, he had kinda asked someone working at the club – one of the managers – what was going on, and he kinda spread the word to us. But it was a really freaky scene to walk out on the street to, because I remember there being fire trucks, ambulances, like, police cars just all up and down the street, and people just kinda crowding on the sidewalk. So you don't really know what's going on. But luckily there was no fatal injuries or serious injuries as far as I remember.

Cecilia Johnson: Yeah, no, I think everybody made it out the other side okay.

Max Timander: Yeah.

Cecilia Johnson: But the cops were like, "Everybody, if you're not hurt move down the street," like, get out of here, and you and the rest of the band were like, "Our gear is in there."

Max Timander: [laughs] Yeah. We're not leaving our life behind, like, let me back into the club! And it was like probably 10:30, 11:00 at night, so it's dark out, and we were just really thrown off by that. But in retrospect I understand why – what was going on, and why there were doing – why they were pushing everyone back and making sure that everyone was safe.

Cecilia Johnson: Me too. How long did you end up having to stay there, though?

Max Timander: We probably stayed there for another 45 to an hour, 'cause we had to wait for everything to be cleared, and so I remember hanging out there for a while. Luckily, there were friendly faces downtown. People were starting to come down and, like, interview people that were at the show. There were people to talk to, but [it was] kind of an awkward situation, because you're just standing in the street not really sure what to do. Well, like I said, your life is inside; your gear, your guitars, your drums and whatnot.

Sun Yung Shin VO: The accident was on the 12th, and that night, The Current's Jay Gabler started writing about it for the Local Current blog.

Block Quote

[Jay Gabler reads] Last night, legendary Minneapolis club First Avenue experienced a partial collapse of the Mainroom's interior ceiling. The Mainroom was hosting approximately 750 fans for a show by Canadian hard rock band Theory of a Deadman; the adjoining 7th Street Entry was hosting a tour kick-off event for local bands What Tyrants and Stereo Confession that was attended by approximately 150 fans. Both spaces were immediately evacuated when the incident occurred shortly after 10:00 p.m., about 15 minutes into Theory of a Deadman's set.

First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz told the Star Tribune that the club will be closed Thursday, with an inspection planned for Thursday morning. Planned Friday shows by Ginstrings (Mainroom) and Sam Cassidy, Charlie Van Stee, and Wild Age (Entry) have been canceled, according to the venue's website.

KARE 11 reports that city staff began working with First Avenue staff at 7:00 a.m. to determine the cause of the collapse and to secure permits to take down the rest of the ceiling, which a spokesperson for the city inspector believes to be the original ceiling that was installed when the venue was first constructed as a bus station in 1936.

"We're working with City Inspectors and structural engineers to discover the reason this happened and how best to reopen safely," said First Avenue owner Dayna Frank in a Thursday morning press release. "First Avenue thanks our dedicated and professional staff for their quick response to the situation, and the Twin Cities community, which has offered an outpouring of support for First Avenue staff and patrons."

Sun Yung Shin VO: Theory of a Deadman couldn't talk with us for this podcast, but the week of the collapse, they released a statement. Here's an abridged version: quote, "As some of you may be aware or may have witnessed, there was a partial ceiling collapse during our show last night at the First Avenue music venue in Minneapolis. As with all our shows, our primary concern is for the safety of all involved; our fans, our crew, the venue staff, and anyone and everyone else who may be in attendance. Our sincerest thanks go out to the First Avenue staff, the Minneapolis Fire Department, the paramedics and all the other wonderful people who lent their swift assistance in helping others during the aftermath. We wish First Avenue a quick turnaround in re-opening the doors of their legendary venue.

[🎵 "Angel" by Theory of a Deadman 🎵]

Sun Yung Shin VO: First Avenue recovered quickly, thanks to its devoted staff, and the club reopened on August 28, 2015 for a show by Minnesota rap crew GRRRL PRTY, which featured Lizzo, Sophia Eris, Manchita, and DJ Shannon Blowtorch. Reviewing the show for the Local Current blog, Andrea Swensson reported, quote, "In the time since the collapse, the remainder of the ceiling had been completely deconstructed and cleaned up, increasing the height of the room by several feet and exposing the building's support beams, piping, and ventilation system."

Nate Kranz: Our staff – I mean, I'll never forget how professionally they handled it in such a difficult situation and really worked their tails off in the days afterwards too. But – you know – it was unfortunate, and now we don't have a plaster ceiling. [dry] It came down. It's not going back up.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Any older club building has a lot of personality, and holds a wealth of memories. Steve McClellan, one of First Avenue's former general managers, and LeeAnn Weimar, its former director of marketing, weren't completely shocked when the building showed its age.

Steve McClellan: When you get to that whole – I think it's so funny you've got that ceiling caving in as a big deal. Well, you know, that was a big deal happening for 30 years. I'm surprised it didn't fall in ten years earlier.

LeeAnn Weimar: Oh, yeah.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Though it was improvised and precarious, Steve and LeeAnn are proud of the environment they helped create at the club from the late '70s to the 2000s.

LeeAnn Weimar: We gave people a safe place to work and play and develop their skills, which a lot of people did. When I say we held that place together with bubble gum and spit, I'm not kidding.

Steve McClellan: Duct tape. Don't forget the duct tape.

LeeAnn Weimar: These kids picked up blowtorches and started welding [for the] first time in their lives and built stages and things. It was amazing, all these young people. And it was great. They were wonderful, wonderful people.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Ultimately, live music is about getting a lot of people together in a small space. We've just been talking about what that means in terms of infrastructure. More recently, we've been thinking about what that means for viral transmission. And in recent years, crowds at music venues have also become a target for angry people with guns. Before COVID-19 paused live shows, mass shootings were becoming more and more common at music venues, especially across Europe and the U.S. In 2016, tragedy struck the Miami nightclub Pulse Orlando on Sunday, June 12. A 29-year-old man who lived in Fort Pierce, Florida targeted the gay nightclub on a Latin Dance night, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.

Roy Guzmán: I have friends who lost friends there, and I'd been to Orlando before, and so there was this very personal connection to the city. And a lot of just the people – the pictures of the victims – I kept seeing.

Sun Yung Shin: That could have been you.

Roy Guzmán: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Sun Yung Shin VO: Minneapolis-based Honduran American poet Roy Guzman, who grew up in Miami, decided to address the Orlando shootings in a public, artistic way. They wrote "Restored Mural for Orlando," a poem and chapbook that was originally published in Public Pool and republished on NPR's Latino USA. On Guzman's website, they explained why they wrote the poem.

Roy Guzmán: "My friends lost friends there. Families were torn apart. Not only did it target a space already marginalized, but the majority of the people we lost were queer Latinxs. I knew that, as a writer, it was important for me to respond to this tragedy in a way that could convey my resistance against this type of violence and serve as an expression of life-affirmation: That I am still here; that I can do something. We have put [together] this chapbook, with the intention to raise funds to help the direct victims of this tragedy and to support Pridelines, a youth organization in Miami that provided me with the crucial space to figure out my queer identity when I was a teenager."

Sun Yung Shin VO: Many of us are missing live music this year. Clubs, whether live music venues or bars with dance floors, are places where people, strangers, can come together in the universal rituals of music, movement, and escape from the daily grind of work and other responsibilities. Ideally, they should be safe places for everyone, but Guzman told us about having to navigate safety as a young, queer, Latinx person in America. This podcast season has focused on the history of First Avenue, but as we look to the future of First Avenue and live music generally, it's essential to think about what it means to create safer spaces – especially for members of communities who have had to fight for inclusion.

Roy Guzmán: My experiences at the club almost always depend on who's with me. If the music is great, and the people I'm with like to dance, then the dancing just happens. It feels natural. It feels organic. Other times, I'm with people too shy to dance or move to the music. I might be the one too shy to dance, depending on the night, the venue, and of course the crowd. But that being said, the question of safety is one I've always had to navigate, ever since I was a teenager sneaking into clubs without an ID. I never got a fake ID. I relied instead on my persuasion skills and, I like to believe, my looks. Very few times I was turned away. [Sun Yung giggles]

Sun Yung Shin VO: I asked Guzman about community and clubgoing.

Roy Guzmán: Queer and trans people, especially Black/Indigenous/POC queer and trans people, have always had a very tenuous relationship to safety. As a category, safety wasn't made for us. It wasn't made with us in mind, so we've had to define it for ourselves, I find. And how this plays out, I think, for me, looking at experiences and, of course, memories, I'm thinking about, like, looking for one another. Looking after one another; making sure everyone we came out with is accounted for at the end of the night; checking out the bathrooms, for instance; making sure people can safely walk or drive home. The ecosystem of the queer club has always depended on how we tip our performers and our bartenders, how we navigate boundaries for people still in the closet, for instance; watching out for our drinks; and, more importantly, letting loose. [laughs]

Sun Yung Shin VO: Tragically, the Pulse massacre was not the first high-profile mass shooting at a nightclub or live music venue, either in the U.S. or internationally. In 2015, attackers killed 90 people during an Eagles of Death Metal show at the Bataclan in Paris. Roy Guzman visited the 11th arrondissement, home of the Bataclan, about a year and a half later.

Roy Guzmán: So it was – it had been very recent, and there was this air of, like, "you don't go there," because – you know, it's almost like a memorial site. Or, that's the sort of air that it got. But I believe the venue has reopened, unlike the Pulse nightclub, that became this memorial site. I was reading recently about some of the victims and how they still feel like just a couple years later, they feel like society and the government continue to play this role of telling them that grief has a very specific timeframe, and that they should move on.

Sun Yung Shin VO: We talked about the increased vigilance these days for people who have been targeted by racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and gun violence.

Roy Guzmán: So when I go to clubs, I have told people that you have to – it's like, I look around me. And this is something that you'd do anyway as a queer, trans person of color. But I think after the nightclub shooting, there was a very direct assault of people like me, and that, I think, is what changed. So many people end up losing their lives. Gun violence continues in this country, and this government, with impunity, continues to sort of leave open access to people who shouldn't have these weapons.

Sun Yung Shin VO: So we asked Nate Kranz, First Avenue's current general manager, how the recent increase in gun violence has affected First Avenue.

Nate Kranz: Yeah, I mean, I think it's awful, and of course it informs our business, and we are way tighter with security now. Unfortunately, in the current environment in our country, guns are a big part of it. We do our best to make everybody understand that they're not welcome at our businesses. You're a little limited. You can have your sign; you can have that. But that's why we do pat-downs. That's why we have security at literally every spot anybody could try and enter a venue.

And we also work very diligently with the artists in advance, before they even come into town, to go over security plans to make sure that: Here's what we're planning on doing, but we wanna know what else. Have you had any problems? Is there anything we can expect? Would you prefer if we use wands? Like how do you wanna go about this? And just really to trying to make sure that we can do everything in our power to make the experience safe, fun, and gun-free.

[🎵 "Hive Sound" by Icetep bridges the VO transition, fades down 🎵]

Cecilia Johnson VO: On Oct. 2, 2017 – the day after a man killed 59 people and injured hundreds more at Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas – I went to a concert at First Avenue. Not all of the ticketholders did; I remember lots of my friends and co-workers who had tickets skipping the show. The room felt pretty empty.

Angel Olsen was headlining, but I don't remember much about the music. What I remember is staying on the perimeter of the club, hanging behind pillars and other people. I remember that my friend Eleanor and I left early; we took the train to a late-night happy hour spot and just sat at the bar, processing.

Over the next several weeks, things started to feel back to normal, with a shadow of "what if?" lingering in the corners. I could not stop clocking exit routes and odd behavior. But that all came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic shut down big gatherings in March 2020. I can't wait to step back into a concert. I feel like a lot of others are feeling the same way. But I'm all too aware that we're going to have to do something about this lack of safety that existed way before March.

Of course, in the middle of a pandemic, it feels strange to think up strategies for being in large groups. But a commitment to taking care of ourselves and our loved ones may be more important than ever. I love the way Roy Guzmán describes care: quote, "Looking after one another; making sure everyone we came out with is accounted for at the end of the night; making sure people can safely walk or drive home." Enquote. My question is, what does that look like while we're away from the club?

[🎵 "Hive Sound" by Icetep fades up 🎵]

Cecilia Johnson VO: This episode of The Current Rewind was hosted by Sun Yung Shin and me, Cecilia Johnson. It was produced by me and Jesse Wiza and scripted by Sun Yung Shin. Marisa Morseth is our research assistant, and Jay Gabler is our editor. Our theme music is the song "Hive Sound" by Icetep, and this episode was mixed by Johnny Vince Evans.

If you enjoyed this episode or found it interesting, please pass it on to a music fan in your life, or rate and review The Current Rewind on Apple Podcasts.

If you'd like to access a transcript of this episode, go to the current dot org slash rewind.

And if you have any feedback on this episode or the season as a whole, please feel empowered to reach out via We just have one full episode left of this season of Rewind, and then it's back to the drawing board, so if you have any thoughts or ideas for future seasons, now is the time to share them.

The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It is a production of Minnesota Public Radio's The Current.