Minneapolis vs. Portland: A transplant compares music scenes

Is this scene from "Portlandia" a metaphor? Possibly!

Is this scene from "Portlandia" a metaphor? Possibly! AP Photo/IFC, Scott Green

Fred Armisen has said one of the earliest inspirations for his sketch comedy TV show, IFC’s Portlandia, was Minneapolis.

In a lot of ways, he’s right about the similarities between the two cities. Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis are often compared when it comes to bike friendliness, urban park areas, and progressive backyard chicken policies. One comparison that doesn’t happen enough happens to be about music.

As a Minnesotan who recently moved to Oregon for school, I’m struck by how much I miss the music scene in Minneapolis, despite the similar atmospheres of Portland and nearby college town Eugene. I’m glad I chose the Oregon scene to explore, but there’s so much Minneapolis and Portland can learn from each other about how to craft a better music scene.

For a scene like Minneapolis, where young people have so much of a voice, it’s hypocritical those under-agers can’t attend shows at the biggest venues in the area unless they are playing or accompanied by parents, as First Avenue’s policy allows. At the same time, the Portland scene could learn about pride and support from Minneapolis.

Minneapolis could learn from Portland about access to all-ages music and alcohol laws at venues

Just a quick glance at the calendar for McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom (the Portland equivalent to First Ave) shows only all-ages concerts coming up, compared to First Avenue where only a handful happen a year. Yes, alcohol sales are important, but so is access to music for young people -- we have to support young fans because they are the future of our scene. That's the case at the Garage in Burnsville and the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, though both of those all-ages venues do rely on outside funding.

Things are different in Portland. I saw last year’s indie-rock breakout stars, Car Seat Headrest, at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland over Thanksgiving weekend with my editor at the Emerald, UO’s student newspaper. He’s 22 and I’m 18, but we were able to stand together at the show because of the venue’s layout. The floor of the venue is split in half, one side for all ages and the other for those for over 21 to drink if they would like.

While seeing L.A. punk legends X celebrate their 40th anniversary at the Crystal Ballroom in December, I noticed parents with their middle schoolers, and baby-faced high schoolers moshing next to middle aged fans. This was a true all-ages show in the way it united fans of all generations, no matter their background.

This is a compromise Minneapolis could manage if venues began to view selling tickets in the same light as selling alcohol. Young people could become a ticket-buying force, as they once were. Here's Jordan Porter of Minneapolis band Brilliant Beast remembering First Ave in the '90s:

"There was a time when First Avenue would hold the kinds of all-ages shows that would make current-day teenagers weep with envy. I spent countless summer evenings crammed into the Entry sweating to bands you think are great when you're 14." 

That decade also saw the brief yet cherished existence of the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, "the only full time non-exclusive all-age venue in Minneapolis."

Portland, you’re doing this one right no matter how many bands (or concertgoers) might be thrown off by age-segregated audiences.

Portland could learn about pride and community support from Minneapolis

There’s truly nowhere like Minneapolis when it comes to resources for musicians and fans. Minneapolis has community-minded radio stations 89.3 the Current, KFAI, and Radio K to promote local music, plus nonprofits like the Minnesota Music Coalition to support music-biz professionals.

Maybe it’s because Portland is a new city to me, but the infrastructure of local music seems less supportive. It seems like it doesn’t retain artists or care as much about growth in the way the Twin Cities does. Artists like Lizzo and Jeremy Messersmith moved to Minnesota for the scene because of the resources available to them.

While Portland may have big names like the Shins and Portugal. The Man, the self-proclaimed “Lords of Portland," Minnesota musicians and fans have an almost dangerous sense of pride that is sometimes hard for others to understand. The Hold Steady are a veteran Brooklyn band, but Craig Finn still writes lines about Penn Avenue, the Crystal Court, and the Grain Belt Bridge. Sometimes my own pride for our scene is too much for my Oregonian friends to deal with.  

The idea of “Keep Portland Weird” focuses so much on keeping the status quo of IPAs and beards, rather than taking tangible steps to grow the scene. Minneapolis, teach Portland how to retain artists and organizations that care more about the vitality of the scene than an abstract notion like “weirdness.” The Domestics, a Portland band that opened for Car Seat Headrest, presented a set with barely any stage banter, just their bassist eating an apple. To barely engage with a crowd from your hometown, let alone barely engage with a crowd at all, feels weird.

While Minneapolis can claim Prince and the Replacements, Portland can claim plenty of amazing artists like Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney; the two scenes don’t need to go head-to-head in competition. These arguments aren’t meant to start a battle, but instead to demonstrate both scenes can learn from one another.

After all, we want Fred Armisen to visit us again, right? Some say that “The Dream of the ‘90s is Still Alive in Portland,” but it easily could be in Minneapolis, too.