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Hello Palace days, goodbye Mill City Nights: This year’s Minnesota music venue news

View from the balcony of the Palace Theatre (Nate Ryan/MPR)
View from the balcony of the Palace Theatre (Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Jay Gabler

December 29, 2016

Here's one bad thing that didn't happen in 2016: there were no ceiling collapses at Minneapolis music venues. There was still plenty of local venue news, though — both happy and sad.

The year's big closing was Mill City Nights — though that turned out to be only temporary. Operators AEG said in September that they'd be closing the venue they'd run under that unwieldy name since 2012, but before Mill City Nights even hosted its final show, new shows were being announced for the venue under the name "Music Hall." The team behind the nearby Fine Line Music Cafe will now be running the show, with some interior modifications including a lowered stage, and they promise more news soon.

A closure that will likely be more permanent is that of the beloved Bedlam Lowertown. In October, Bedlam Theatre announced that they were ending their two-and-a-half-year go at bringing their West Bank magic to St. Paul. Despite a location right on the Green Line, it ultimately proved too difficult to attract crowds to performances in Lowertown, and the comestible side of the operation never became a draw.

The closure likely marks the end of the road for Bedlam Theatre as an organization, and it remains to be seen what will happen to its former space — but Bedlam's closing, on top of Station 4's 2013 shuttering, leaves Lowertown with a dearth of rock clubs. On the other hand, there are weekend performances at the new World of Beer — and the Black Dog is looking new and shiny after a remodeling.

Across downtown, the Palace Theatre opened its doors this month with a "sneak peek" event that showcased the extensively renovated venue's new trimmings — and, when it comes to the weathered walls, lack thereof. When the theater opens in 2017, it will accommodate 2,800 fans for shows booked by operators First Avenue and Jam Productions. Regina Spektor is on for March 26, with more shows to be announced soon.

2017 will be a busy year for St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, which will host more than its share of arena shows as Target Center closes for renovations. When the $130 million project is complete, the 1990 venue once described by Martin Devaney as resembling "a Cosby sweater" will have a whole new look — inside and out.

Speaking of giant places to see indoor concerts, are you ready for some football?!?! Probably not the way the Vikings have been playing it this year, but music fans won anyway when U.S. Bank Stadium opened in August. The stadium's first rock show featured Metallica — who, coincidentally, were on the bill in 1992 when Guns N' Roses played at the Metrodome, right where the new venue now stands. GnR will return to the scene of the crime in July.

Over on the West Bank, the Nomad World Pub went up for sale in May, but apparently no one bit at the $995,000 price tag. In what amounted to a minor miracle, the nearby Viking Bar reopened in May after a decade of having "gone fishing," and now hosts a parade of performances by local heroes.

Meanwhile, upstream at the former site of a barge depot in North Minneapolis, First Ave and some partners are proposing to build a riverside amphitheater that would add a whole new dimension to local concertgoing. The city's decision on whether or not the proposal gets a green light will likely happen this year; community discussions about access and gentrification have already begun.

Then, of course, there’s Paisley Park — which is a story in and of itself. The venue that hosted some of each year’s most exciting gigs during Prince’s lifetime has now been reopened as a museum; there’s a DJed dance party every Friday night, and future live music concerts will include an April “Celebration” featuring the Revolution, the New Power Generation, and other Prince-associated artists.

From Duluth, Mike Novitzki reports that this year Tycoons rebranded as the Blind Pig, with Katherine Hansberry (a.k.a. Kat Fox) signing on as booker. On the other side of the Twin Ports, the Cedar Lounge just opened in Superior, with upcoming shows including a January residency by Charlie Parr.

Last, but certainly not least: though it's only a music venue once a year, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will reopen this summer in time for Rock the Garden's return, with Bon Iver coming back to headline. Party on — reflectively.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.