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WCCO Viewers' Choice For Best Music Venue In Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- At first glance, the building at the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis wouldn't warrant a second look.

But if you have a minute, check out the eclectic collection of names inside each of the stars on the outer walls.

Each one represents a live show that happened there, making First Avenue more of a music time capsule than a club. And it's been keeping the beat in Minneapolis for about 40 years.

"The club has been good at bringing in a wide variety of entertainment and artists over the years," said general manager Nate Kranz. "So we've never been pigeon-holed as a heavy metal club or a hip-hop club."

Kranz has been booking artists at First Avenue for about 20 years, but his memories of this place go back to when he was a kid.

"I remember the first time I came in, I saw the band Lemonheads," Kranz said. "I knew there was something magical when I came in and I got right up in the front row against the barricade, and was able to watch the show, and it was just amazing, the intimate experience that it was to be here versus my other concert experiences."

And it's those concert experiences that make those, albeit sometimes foggy, music memories.

First Avenue Mainroom
First Avenue's mainroom (credit: CBS)

Kranz recalls when Prince performed there in 2007.

"Easily the best concert experience that I've had," he said.

But it may have been Prince's appearances offstage that helped raise the club's level of cool.

"Many, many times over the years I would, you know, assist getting him into the club and up into the owner's box," Kranz said. "That alone I think would always just change the whole vibe in the room, people knowing that Prince was here."

But many other "Minneapolis Sound" artists cut their teeth at First Avenue, such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Sheila E, The Jets and The Time.

And the other big-time Minnesota artists with humble beginnings here are as many as the stars on the walls.

"People that come in here know the history of the building with Prince, and The Replacements, and Hüsker Dü and any of the other legendary bands that have graced our stage," Kranz said.

In a way, First Avenue has come full circle. Originally built as a Greyhound bus station, it's now a destination for tour buses.

"The bands pull up, they know the venue, they see all the stars on the wall, so they're aware of the history when they're walking in the door," he said.

And history is what it's really all about, so you can brag to your friends and say you saw them way back when.

Kranz says they are hoping to expand their music scene by bringing it to north Minneapolis. A project is in talks to have an amphitheater along the Mississippi River that would open in 2019.

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