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A Brief History of First Avenue, Prince’s Second Home

BY: Dan Caffrey | Jul 8, 2015
A Brief History of First Avenue, Prince’s Second Home

Prince was here. That phrase may or may not be scrawled in the green room at First Avenue, but it’s definitely there in spirit. Opened in 1970 as The Depot, First Avenue quickly became a prime spot for Minneapolis concerts, along with its smaller sister venue, 7th Street Entry. In the mid-'80s, Prince launched the club into the national spotlight. He and his group at the time, the Revolution, frequented the Mainroom stage, which would go on to serve as the setting for Purple Rain, the 1984 film that’s as famous for its concert scenes as it is for that white ruffled shirt and purple trench coat. (Well, almost.)

Prince might be First Avenue’s golden child, but he’s not the only musician who’s benefited from its electric energy. First Avenue and 7th Street Entry are famous for pulling in an eclectic range of acts, from punk pioneers and R&B and rap acts to DJs and electronic bands. Here’s a look back at First Ave and The Entry throughout the years:

1970: The Depot (capacity: 1,600) opens its doors and hosts Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen for a two-night engagement.

1972: The venue is renamed Uncle Sam's.

1979: The venue drops the “Uncle” and goes by just Sam’s.

1981: The name officially changes from Sam’s to First Avenue on New Year’s Eve. The Replacements and Hüsker Dü frequent the stage at 7th Street Entry (capacity: 250).

1982: A young U2 plays the Mainroom. Bono brings up a member of the crowd to help him sing a cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man.”

1984: Purple Rain is released. The soundtrack goes on to sell more than 20 million copies worldwide. Tina Turner takes the stage solo.

1995: Pavement headlines a raucous show, supported by Wilco and the Dirty Three.

1996: Lauryn Hill brings the house down with the Fugees, The Roots, and Goodie Mob (CeeLo Green’s first band).

2004: Owner Allan Fingerhut files for bankruptcy and closes the club. Fans, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, are outraged, and First Avenue is reopened within two weeks. Crisis averted.

2007: The prodigal son returns. Prince plays his first show at First Ave since 1987, though it was shut down by the police at 4 a.m. (In fairness to the authorities, Prince didn’t hit the stage till 2:45 a.m.)

2010: In celebration of the club’s 40th anniversary, Mayor Rybak declares April 3 “First Avenue Day.” In early June, the venue incites minor panic when it paints over the more than 500 silver stars on the side of the building, each containing the name of an act that’s played there. Crew members repainted the wall with about 100 fewer stars, making each one a little more coveted. Current stars include U2, Radiohead, Nirvana, Ike & Tina Turner, B.B. King, and the Ramones, plus a roster of local favorites like Trampled by Turtles, Soul Asylum, and Babes in Toyland. Oh, and Prince. Duh.