Is First Avenue being pushed to second?

A cursory glance at this summer's concert schedule shows a number of acts you'd expect to see at First Avenue--Tricky, Curve, the Skatalites--playing other venues around town. They were all booked by Compass (formerly Triad) Entertainment, a promotional company whose co-booker, Rich Best, worked for First Avenue for 10 years, the last couple as a talent buyer. Since Best left the Ave. for Compass in February, he has kept his industry contacts, and is now sprinkling national buzz bands among various other local clubs and concert halls. "First Avenue is one of the finest rooms in the country, hands down," he says, claiming no bad blood between himself and his former mentor at First Ave., manager Steve McClellan. "But there are also other good rooms in this town that have gone virtually unrecognized due to First Avenue's stronghold."

Back at the Ave., McClellan sees nothing new in Compass's challenge, and cites the summer-festival boom as the major common concern of all clubs. But he does admit he's remaining laid back as the competition intensifies for radio-friendly artists. "I'm not gonna go out of business to be cool," he says, referring to the losses some promoters are alleged to take in order to book a name act. "[Promoters] Rose, Jam, and Compass have deep pockets. If we were to take the kind of hits they can take, we would close."

Compass's increasing sway may benefit concertgoers in two ways: The company can book all-ages and 18-and-over shows on dates other than First Avenue's traditional Wednesday and Sunday nights. And by booking national acts into the Fine Line, Ground Zero, the Quest, and the Cabooze, it brings crowds into clubs they normally might not frequent. But as even Best is quick to point out, First Ave.'s monopoly on midlevel national stars wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The crossover from big-ticket Mainroom shows to local or lesser-known groups in the 7th Street Entry helped build the local scene, and that won't happen with Sonic Youth tucked away at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, as they were for their recent appearance in town.

For his part, McClellan points to the Ave.'s continuing lineup of acclaimed acts like Link Wray and Wanda Jackson, and seems unworried by the changing commercial landscape. "We can go with local bands more," he says. "And we have the best world-beat/reggae lineup in my 20 years here this summer, because festivals and Compass don't want them." As for said competition, "I think I'm gonna go back to dealing with music, and try to weather the storm of what's happening out there in the big, financial button-pushing world. My attitude is, we're still booking Burning Spear, and this'll be their 10th show in as many years. I don't know how long these trendier bands will last."

Jayhawks in the Sculpture Garden and the odd-venue boom

If Compass's increased presence means more shows in a variety of venues, then there's a parallel phenomenon of smaller local bands playing unusual, nonclub locales. In the past week, I've seen Ousia play in the Weisman Art Museumand the Selby Tigers play in a video arcade.

On Friday you can watch the venerable Jayhawks rock the Walker Sculpture Garden (call 375-7622 for info). Or you can catch the Natalie Merchant jangle pop of Jugum's Cloud at the Ballentine VFW, 2916 Lyndale Ave. S., on Saturday evening (call 721-4514). And on Tuesday bluegrass fans can check out an outdoor freebie concert by Urban Renewal Bluegrass in the Brooklyn Center Central Park, at I-694 and Shingle Creek Parkway (call 569-3400).

With such a variety of venues already pressed into service to accommodate the summer throngs, might we suggest a few sites for the future: the I-94 underpass next to the Basilica of St. Mary; the bathroom of Murray's Steakhouse; or the accommodating antechamber of Yoshiko's Massage Parlor.

 
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