Whether you are a co-ed just dropped off at the University of Minnesota, or a high schooler ready to break out of the 'burbs for a night, navigating your live music options can feel as difficult as not failing calculus again. With a system set up to profit off booze sales and the disposable income of the 21+ market, it can seem like you're doomed to frat parties and sneaking around in Mom's basement until you qualify for a driver's license renewal and the gates of Twin Cities' clubs open for you. Not so.
The metro area offers lots of choices for those not yet 21 to see high-quality live music. There are traditional concert venues that promote all-ages shows, but coffee shops and record stores also join in to help kids pass the rites of rock ' n' roll. Here's a quick list of the best places to start.
Though Burnsville's the Garage is open to all ages, it really has teens in mind: Area high-schoolers are involved from planning events to taking the stage to play music. And letting teens run the show has been an effective modus operandi, allowing the Garage to become a launching pad where young bands can mature and go on to play bigger venues.
"There are rec centers for athletes—but what if you're a kid into music? This is a rec center for music," says Garage supervisor Eric Billiet.
Though the Garage is funded by the city, it doesn't give off the squeaky-clean vibe associated with teen centers. The walls are painted black and blue, and diner-style booths create a casually hip atmosphere for enjoying a night out.
The Triple Rock
The Triple Rock oozes inherently hip punk-rock grime, which is one of the reasons locals flock to it. Loved for the messy excitement of 1-a.m. encores, and tolerated for the quality of its bathrooms, the West Bank punk-rock/hip-hop-and-more venue is a favorite Twin Cities stop for national tours. But this doesn't mean shows are locked out for underage fans. The club opens up for all ages about once a week, and most shows are 18+.
A short walk from the West Bank U of M campus, Acadia Café is a perfect backdrop for an evening of collegiate co-mingling. Along with your choice of coffee-related beverages, Acadia also boasts a full bar, making it a prime West Bank stop for mixed of-age and under-age groups.
Most nights of the week, local musicians of every stripe converge on the cafe's small corner stage. But the fact that the shows are usually free is only one reason people head to Acadia, says local songwriter Pat Dougherty. They come to see bands that are hard working, up and coming, he says. Dougherty and his band, Second-Hand Opera, play the first Wednesday of every month at Acadia.
The Beat Coffeehouse
Uptown's the Beat is another favorite for caffeinated music lovers. During the day, it is the go-to place for to-go coffee and baked goodies, but at night the back room doubles as a cozy venue. Though local folk and pop bands like Red Fox Grey Fox and Now Now Every Children like to add the Beat shows to their calendars, the Songwriters and Storytellers showcase, held every Friday, is the coffee shop's real gem. The showcase offers listeners an evening's view, in three-song segments, of Twin Cities folk writers, both new and noteworthy.
Electric Fetus is a household name for Minnesotan audiophiles, not only for its decades of record selling, but also for its popular in-store performances. The store's approach to live shows balances between promoting top local artists as part of its MinnEconomy series (Dada Trash Collage and Peter Wolf Crier played recently), as well as hosting national acts such as Ben Kweller and Rural Alberta Advantage. Chris Hall, a 10-year veteran at Electric Fetus, says the key to the shows' success with the under-21 crowd is threefold: it's almost always free, you get to shop while you listen, and often times the artists sign afterward and you get to meet the group.
When it comes to Treehouse, size doesn't matter. Inside the store's shoebox interior is a vinyl enthusiast's fantasy: obscure collectors items, new indie chart toppers, crate-digger finds, and rows of local releases—all reasons why the store has gathered fervent and loyal followers. One way Treehouse rewards its customers is with free in-store performances every few months. The exclusive shows cater to the rock-snob clientele by offering a roster of name-dropping favorites such as the Clean, Knifeworld, and members of Wolf Eyes and AIDS Wolf. To find more about future performances, follow the store on Facebook or sign up for its e-mail list.
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