More than just a local landmark, First Avenue is one of the most important live music venues in America.
Everybody knows that many iconic bands have played First Ave (and that it was featured predominantly in Prince’s Purple Rain). But featured below are 10 fascinating facts that might surprise you.
1. Before it was a live music venue, First Ave was a Greyhound Bus Depot
Okay, so for most Minnesotans, this fact is a no-brainer. But it’s still kinda crazy. From 1937 until the opening of the club in 1970, First Ave was indeed a Greyhound Bus Depot. Come to think of it, it really does look like one.
2. First Avenue was not its original name
In connection with fascinating fact #1, the club was initially called The Depot. It changed its name to First Avenue on New Year’s Eve 1981.
3. The first band to play First Ave? Joe Cocker.
Fresh off his groundbreaking set at Woodstock – and only a couple years after his definitive cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” – Cocker kicked off First Ave’s amazing run. Members of his 27-piece Mad Dogs and Englishmen band included music legends Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, and Jim Keltner.
4. Enter the Entry
The Seventh Street Entry, a legendary club in its own right, debuted next to First Ave in 1980. Its first headliner? Curtiss A, who is most well-known for his John Lennon tribute shows, which unfortunately began later that year.
5. The most legendary back-to-back night of concerts?
While there are many that could qualify, it’s hard to say it ever got bigger than the Ramones and Pat Benetar playing on consecutive nights in 1979.
6. Gwar and the would-be crowd surfing mayor
First Ave closed briefly in 2004 due to financial reasons. R.T. Ryback, Minneapolis mayor at the time, promised to stage dive at the first show after they re-opened. The problem? Shock rockers Gwar got the gig, prompting the mayor to pass.
As a person who has mopped up Gwar blood as it leaked onto a Christian trade show going on at a convention center below the venue they were playing – no joke – I intimately understand why he decided not to.
7. U2 wrote part of their 1981 album October at First Ave.
It’s rather rare that a band, much less one as legendary as U2, writes part of a new album during an extended sound check. They did just that, though, when they stopped at the First Ave during the tour for their debut album Boy.
8. An alt.country wedding
Lucinda Williams – the dream of the every middle aged alt.country fan – broke many of her fans hearts when she was married at First Avenue following a gig in 2009.
9. An obscure grunge band played there a couple times
Nirvana played both the Seventh Street entry in 1990 and First Ave in 1991 (about a month after the release of Nevermind). On a side note, the band also played a sparsely attended show at the now-defunct Uptown Bar, where the author of this article once played as well.
10. The First Avenue Exhibit takes you behind the scenes of 50 years at the iconic venue
In 2020, the Minnesota Historical Society celebrated First Ave with an exhibit at their museum in downtown St. Paul. Check out more info about it, and view some of what it has to offer, here.