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Minnesota Music Venues Preparing To Roar Back As COVID Restrictions Loosen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's been roughly a year since the pandemic silenced Minnesota's thriving music scene.

While some performances are happening virtually, it's hard to replicate the true concert experience through a screen.

WCCO looks ahead towards the future of live, in-person concerts, and what venues and artists are doing in the meantime before getting back to what they love the most.

The Turf Club in St. Paul is a space normally brimming with booming bass and bright lights. Now, footsteps on fresh baseboards echo through the venue. Damage from the riots last May started a fire and flooded the place, but they're doing the work to bring it back to life.

Ashley Ryan is the marketing director for First Avenue, which bought the Turf Club in 2013.

"I'm hopeful that we get to walk in here and catch a local band and like have a beer and hang out with friends soon," Ryan said. "It feels like home to so many people here, to so many musicians, to people in the neighborhood. We're making progress."

Meanwhile, at the Turf Club's sister venue, First Avenue, there's still music.

"We're looking at shows sort of in a hybrid way. You can have some small audience and you can have some folks streaming online at home," Ryan said.

They tried it in January with 50 in the audience. It was a taste of the good old days, with a pandemic twist. Shows on the calendar are mostly rescheduled from last year.

"We're just sort of waiting every month that goes by to see what's possible and what's not," Ryan said.

First Avenue Socially Distant Show
(credit: CBS)

It's not just smaller spots like First Avenue or the Turf Club. Mega venues like the Xcel Energy Center are also preparing for the day they can welcome back music lovers.

Kelly McGrath is the Xcel's director of marketing.

"We have static electric sprayers that get all the hard-to-reach places around seats," McGrath said.

We're used to massive headliner shows at "The X." The ones on the calendar are rescheduled from 2020, and depend on restrictions. But when the gates can open again, UV lights will keep the escalators germ free, and self-cleaning adhesive will protect things like door handles

And all the while, local artists like Chris Hawkey have been waiting in the wings.

"We went from around 80 to 85 shows to five I think we played total last year, so it was a major shock," Hawkey said.

He turned the downtime into time for creating, putting together an acoustic album in his basement. However, he misses the rush of stepping on stage.

"You go from being the 50-year-old dad to the rock star guy who always wanted to be the singer on the stage in three steps," Hawkey said.

His new band, The Fabulous Armadillos, has performance dates on the calendar starting in May. And he says Twin Cities Summer Jam, a three-day festival, is set for July in Shakopee.

"It looks like we're going to be ready to go, and especially for a big outdoor concert at Canterbury Park, there's so much room for people to move," he said.

It's an intangible feeling, that blissful buzz of a shared experience.

"I think as a people that's what we're built for, and people really are longing for it," McGrath said.

From the venues, to the safety plans, to the artists who have been patiently waiting and creating, live music is planning to come back with a vengeance.

"I think we're going to see a level of happiness and celebration and togetherness that we haven't seen in a very long time," Hawkey said.

First Avenue has been pushing the state to pass more targeted relief for the entertainment and arts industry. If you want to help local workers in the industry, Ryan suggests checking out the Twin Cities Music Community Trust.

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