First Avenue & 7th St Entry (locally known as The Mainroom and The Entry) are two music venues housed in the same landmark building in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. The names are derived from the building's location: the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis. The building is marked by 531 stars on its exterior along the First Avenue and Seventh Street sides commemorating past venue performers.
The building opened in 1937 as a Greyhound bus station. It was noted for its art deco style and amenities of air conditioning, shower rooms, and public telephones. The interior floor was a checkered terrazzo, while the exterior was shiny blue bricks with white trim.
The transformation from a closed bus depot into a concert venue was developed in 1968 by local rock & roll performer Danny Stevens and Elizabeth Heffelfinger, the original financial partner of the project and wife of wealthy businessman Frank Peavey Heffelfinger. When Mrs. Heffelinger fell ill midway through the development of the project in 1969, Stevens brought in an outside investor, Allan Fingerhut. Stevens, who owned the class-A liquor license from the nearby Hotel Hastings and contributed the initial investment capital, and Fingerhut, heir to the Fingerhut catalog company, opened the newly transformed venue named The Depot on April 3, 1970, to showcase a two-set evening with Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen. In 1970 The Depot recorded the first live album from the venue, titled Gathering at The Depot, featuring artists such as Deadeye, Chesterfield Gathering, System, Thundertree, Danny’s Reasons, Pepper Fog, Kiwani, Free and Easy, Grizzly, and The Litter.
Skip Gaucher (who was well known locally for the psychedelic concerts he booked at Dania Hall on the West Bank) and his business partner-roommate Tom Fineberg claim to have had the original inspiration for The Depot; however, this is heavily disputed by Danny Stevens. Gaucher and Fineberg have made unsubstantiated claims that they were looking for a new venue for concerts when they spotted the abandoned bus depot. Danny Stevens has been cited as being the original developer of The Depot in numerous publications. Stevens recognizes that Gaucher and Fineberg made several important bookings early at The Depot including the opening night act of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and the Englishmen as well as other acts like Poco.
Following two years of steady business, The Depot was faced with a new reality: the public music scene was changing. Psychedelic rock was out and disco was in. In order to stay on top of this new trend, the club needed to change its image. After a short remodel, The Depot evolved into Uncle Sam's in July 1972. Uncle Sam's was a part of a national franchise of the American Events Company. Fingerhut and Stevens were joined on a new management team in 1979 by Steve McClellan, Dan Lessard and Jack Meyers, the club's financial manager, changing the club's name to just Sam's following the end of the American Avents Company franchise deal. While the DJ dance nights were progressive during the American Avents era – venturing beyond the charted hits of the day – with disco fading the club began expanding its music programming to more cutting edge and wide-ranging genres, and along with that, the opening in 1980 of the 7th Street Entry side room. The club got its third name change on New Year's Eve 1981 when it became First Avenue.
The name change to First Avenue did not affect the club's growing popularity. During the 1980s, local artist Prince helped put it at the forefront of Minneapolis music venues by using it as the location for many scenes in his movie Purple Rain, while also recording the song "Purple Rain" and other songs from the movie and Purple Rain album live at the club in 1983. The club's appearance in the film brought it national recognition and the venue soon found itself a tourist attraction. As the decade progressed, the reliance on popular and progressive DJ dance nights continued, including weekly theme nights featuring breakdance culture ("Break It Up" and "Electric Energy"), the exploding funk and raps scenes ("More Funk" aka "MF") in the main room and House/rave music ("House Nation Under A Groove") in the Entry. Other theme nights were "Sex-O-Rama," "Club Degenerate," "Club 2-4-1" "Depth Probe," the all-ages "Sunday Night Dance Party" (SNDP), and the "air guitar" performance series, "Great Pretenders". Relatively more mainstream and mixed-genre dance nights held down Friday and Saturday nights ("Danceteria," "No Creeps" and others).
After the club's twentieth anniversary in 1990, national attention increased, with mentions in magazines such as Rolling Stone and Time. Around this time, there was an increased interest in DJs and electronic dance music, and the VIP Lounge on the second level was unveiled, featuring DJs and personalities.
The club was briefly closed by Fingerhut in late fall 2004 for financial reasons, causing a wave of protest from music fans. The issues were quickly resolved (the judge presiding in the bankruptcy case noted, "I gather there is some urgency about this"), and the club was reopened by new partners Meyers, McClellan, and Byron Frank (a longtime business manager), with shows resuming after one week's closure. Mayor R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis promised to do a stage dive at the first show after reopening, but ended up dropping the idea when he discovered that the show would feature the heavy metal band Gwar. Rybak had crowd surfed at a "Rock for Democracy" event at the venue earlier in the year.
McClellan ended his 32-year stint at First Avenue in 2005, and formed a non-profit company, the Diverse Emerging Music Organization (or DEMO). After McClellan's departure as general manager, Jack Meyers was appointed to the position and continued until 2009, when Nathan Kranz took over.
First Avenue Exterior - Stars 2.JPG
The nightclub has been the starting point for many bands that have come out of the Twin Cities, including Prince, The Revolution, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Semisonic, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Dosh, The Jayhawks, and Curtiss A, among others.
Bands and artists have performed at the nightclub and influenced the Minneapolis music scene from 1970 onward, as exemplified by the silver stars that adorn the black building's exterior (every star has the name of an artist who has played at First Avenue or 7th St Entry). First Avenue also appeared in Prince's 1984 film Purple Rain, and many of the film's music performances take place at the venue.
U2 wrote part of October at First Avenue, during sound check.
Grammy Award winning alternative-country star Lucinda Williams was married on stage following a performance at First Avenue in 2009.
Gwar guitarist Cory Smoot played his last performance at the venue on November 3, 2011—he died just hours afterward.
The club was named in Playboy Magazine's Guide to Best Nightclubs in the World at #15 out of 20 in the November 2013 issue.
During the Theory of a Deadman concert on August 12, 2015, part of the ceiling collapsed, pulling down part of the sprinkler pipes. Three people were slightly injured, two of whom were taken to the hospital.
7th St Entry
The 7th St Entry
The 7th St Entry is a smaller venue (capacity 250) attached to the historic First Avenue (capacity 1500). This space was once used as a restaurant area (the "Greyhound Cafe") in the bus station, before it became the music venue that is known today as "The Entry" among the locals. "The Entry" opened its doors in March 1980 (under club Sam's) as a venue that catered to local bands. The 7th St Entry is a venue where smaller and lesser known bands play (more popular bands play the First Avenue main-room). Several recordings have been recorded live at The Entry, including The Scouting Report's hit song "Over the Ocean"; Hüsker Dü's first album, Land Speed Record; the song, "Cables," on Big Black's Atomizer album; Rifle Sport's live album, Live at the Entry, Dead at the Exit; and Motion City Soundtrack's, Commit This to Memory live DVD.
In November 2005, First Avenue released its first compilation CD celebrating 35 years of history. The 16 track CD, Bootlegs Volume 1, is a collection of songs recorded in either the Main-room or the 7th St Entry. Most of the songs on the CD were bootlegged, thus forming the title of the CD. Bootlegs was produced by Karrie Vrabel, with the liner notes written by Steve McClellan. All the proceeds of the CD go to McClellan’s non-profit organization, DEMO. The goals of his organization are "to support musicians while promoting gender equity; diversity of music style and genre; diversity of musicians from local communities; careers in all stages of establishment; and the staging of performances with high production values."
In addition to producing the CD, First Avenue & 7th St Entry published a promotional book in 2000, First Avenue & 7th Street Entry: Your Downtown 'Danceteria' Since 1970. The book was written, edited and designed by Rebecca Noran; and contains information on the history of the club. Furthermore, the club published a magazine entitled the In House Magazine for a brief time in 2001.
First Avenue is also home to F1RST Wrestling, a local professional wrestling company currently owned by professional wrestler Arik Cannon. It showcases Minnesota's top wrestling talent and brings in bigger names, including Sean Waltman, Jerry Lynn, Tyler Black, Colt Cabana and others. F1RST Wrestling currently holds its WRESTLEPALOOZA events at First Avenue which feature a combination of pro wrestling, live music and burlesque.