21st-Century Fox

For two years, the all-ages Foxfire Coffee Lounge has ignited the new music scene. Now its owner says the doors may have to close.

Larson, a professional-looking blonde with large blue eyes, often plays hostess to these crowds, working the door herself. She grew up in Lake Elmo and spent her own underage years looking for places to see rock shows, usually with little success. In college she studied business, and devised a plan to start her own all-ages club. Then in 1998 she found an airy downtown storefront with a front room for food and a back room for a music stage. She shopped her idea to five banks before a sixth decided the 25-year-old had a good vision and the smarts to make it a reality. It took $100,000--a combination of loans and Larson's savings--to ignite Foxfire.

"A lot of clubs went into [business] as a fun idea," she says. "I went into it wanting to know how it would work financially."

"Running a club is a hard business, and even when it's busy and doing well, things are kind of tenuous," says Tom Rosenthal, Larson's business partner, friend, and ex-boyfriend. "It's always been on a shaky foundation, from month to month. [Business has] never gotten to the point where we thought or hoped it would. But then, we've always aimed really high.

"When you're going for young audiences, you're going to see the turnover. They turn 21 and seek out other places to go. The ones that are in bands move on, go away for school, break up. It's a pretty turbulent time of life, and you can't expect people to keep doing the same things, or going to the same places."

Rosenthal can usually be spotted working the door at Foxfire shows, wearing his distinct black sideburns and an understated smile. He has been involved with the club since before its doors opened, and he still handles most of the booking, publicity, and advertising. (Until recently he was even putting in a day every week behind the deli counter.) His creative booking has made the club the most popular local venue for young bands, and netted such national luminaries as Creeper Lagoon, the Magnetic Fields, and the Promise Ring. Rosenthal's own band, Magnatone 45 (formerly Magnatone), also plays the Foxfire, keeping his sympathies on both sides of the stage.

One thing Rosenthal pushed for from the start was a rigorous booking schedule that would fill nearly every night of the week, a calendar previously unmatched by local all-ages clubs. As a result, Foxfire has become a vital force in the rejuvenation of local music, drawing a new crop of bands as young as the audience. "We could totally have these bands in the [7th Street] Entry, or even the Mainroom," says Brooke Miller, a First Avenue employee who frequents Foxfire because it welcomes up-and-coming hardcore bands.

The new wave of groups, which scored high on this year's City Pages new music poll, is an encouraging sign to grizzled scenesters like thirtysomething Mike Wisti, who runs Albatross Studios out of his basement and fronts the Rank Strangers. Wisti has recorded many of Foxfire's regulars, including Grotto, Malachi Constant, and the Hidden Chord (No. 7 in the poll). "There are more good bands in the Twin Cities right now than in the ten years I've lived here," he says. "And if it weren't for the Foxfire, we wouldn't know about them."

Wisti contends that the club helped bring early, high-profile attention to a lot of younger bands that were having trouble getting gigs at bars. "Baby boomers still dominate all media, and they've managed to propagate this myth that rock is a lot of old people, but that's not going to last," says Wisti. "I think anyone over 30 should think long and hard about trying to play a role in music, because it's young people that are making the music worth paying attention to."

 

 

The trouble is this: Despite the Foxfire's widely acknowledged vitality in local rock 'n' roll, crowded shows like the Sense Field gig play only a minor role in keeping the place afloat. Even a sold-out show isn't a great moneymaker--the room holds only 97 people. The weekday lunch rush of downtown employees who come for the homemade sandwiches accounts for most of the Foxfire's business, according to Larson, and many of these suits don't even realize there's a rock club behind the door at the end of the hallway. Even during shows, coffee or food sales are slow after ten o'clock at night.

One venue that learned the Foxfire's math the hard way was the Coffee Shock, an all-ages music venue and sandwich place that closed last August owing to poor daytime business. Bands that got their start at the Coffee Shock, including Arch Stanton, carry on at Foxfire, as does the Hardcore Bible Study, a near-weekly combination of punk rock and old-time religion that once used the Christian-affiliated Coffee Shock as a meeting space. The Shock's booker, Steve Pedro, now regularly brings shows to the Foxfire, and in the coming weeks he plans to execute an 11th-hour plan to save the club. He'll be organizing benefit shows, getting local businesses to act as sponsors, and tracking down government funding by designating the club as a "safe place" for youth.

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