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First Avenue: 15 Things You Didn't Know About Their First 45 Years

First Avenue brought in its 45th birthday last Friday in a crazy celebration attended by every local songstress and bearded guitar player you can imagine. The big event featured indie-giants Har Mar Superstar, Sonny Knight and the Lakers, Sims, and the Cactus Blossoms. First Avenue has been the big dog in the Minneapolis music scene, but that doesn't mean they only bring in the mainstream. As First Avenue will often say, they are, quite simply, what a music hall should be.

Here are 15 things you might not have known about First Avenue in celebration of their first 45 years.

1. First Avenue was originally the Northland Greyhound Bus Depot

Before First Avenue was born in 1970, the building was built as a Greyhound Bus Depot. It was was widely acclaimed as one of the most "modernistic" and beautiful travel centers in America. First Avenue described the building as saying: "The décor included huge chromium trimmed chandeliers and a checkered terrazzo floor. Outside, there were blue-glazed bricks with white trimming."

2. It was first called The Depot

Allan Fingerhut, a 25 year-old Minneapolis-native and an heir to the Fingerhut catalog fortune, opened the club as The Depot. It was originally the only venue in downtown Minneapolis with rock music and a liquor license. 

3. First Avenue hosted regular lip-syncing contests in the 80s

Yes. Imagine 80's hair and lip syncing contests. I will paint someone their own star on the side of First Ave if they can find original video of this.

4. It was called "Sam's" in 1980

First Avenue was called Sam's for a short period. As the trend in music went from disco to live acts, Sam's transformed into what we now know as First Avenue in 1981. 

5. Prince, obvi.

It's common knowledge that First Avenue in the 1980s was mostly known as the place where Prince took you to church. The Purple One regularly performed at the club during the decade, and First Avenue is that classic backdrop in Purple Rain.

6. After First Avenue closed in 2004, Mayor R.T. Rybak promised to do a stage dive during the first show after reopening. Some sources say he canceled his plans after he discovered the show would feature the heavy metal band Gwar.

R.T. Rybak is apparently not a fan of Gwar, but I bet he'd look great in one of their costumes. Sources are mixed on whether or not he went through with the dive. It's okay, though, because we all know R.T. would crowd surf many more times.

7. Joe Cocker was the first act on April 3rd, 1970

From First Avenue: Joe Cocker played two sets that night, to local fans described by one reporter as "beautiful people …with resplendent sun tans and $250 hippie outfits." The Depot, however, proved as seasonal as its patrons' skin tone. The club's name and management would change over the decade, as the country went crazy for disco and DJs.

8. First Avenue got mentions in the Rolling Stone and Time by the age of 20

The club continued to grow in popularity through the 80s. First Avenue was known throughout the national music scene by 1990.

9. April 3rd is "First Avenue Day" in Minneapolis

You can thank R.T. for that one, too.

10. U2 wrote part of "October" at First Avenue during a sound check

This might be something you'd rather forget, depending on your feelings about U2. 

11. Gwar guitarist Cory Smoot died hours after a performance in November 2011


I bet you didn't think this article would be so heavy on the Gwar. It was an unexpected turn even for me.

Smoot's character "Flattus Maximus" was officially retired after Smoot's death. R.I.P. Flattus Maximus. 

12. You always get in free on your birthday

This is true even if the concert is sold out. They make the deal even better by giving you a drink coupon good for a bottle of champagne.

(This would have been great to know when I was complaining about Alt-J being sold out on my birthday.)

13. It's apparently haunted

I could write something witty but psychic Jodi Livon has got me covered. Seriously, can I turn Jodi Livon's hair into a wig? I think that's where she gets her spiritual powers. 

14. Morris Day and Prince had a fist fight at First Ave... maybe

Prince claims that Morris Day was extremely critical of him early in their careers. Apparently the criticism led to a fist fight at First Avenue. Incidentally, Morris Day plays Prince's antagonist in Purple Rain.

15. 200 employees are on the payroll at First Avenue

First Avenue's a big operation. There are 50 employees working at First Ave at any given show. Luckily, over 500,000 people visit First Avenue annually, so it looks like all those fine people will be employed for quite some time.