Freelancer Ted Bradford is on a quest to find music venues that offer recurring house gigs and provide patrons with a place to not only catch great local music, but to kick back, relax, and enjoy the ambiance. The first stop on his journey of Twin Cities clubs was the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.
I dropped in at the 331 Club this past Monday night to catch some of the Roe Family Singers. I haven't been to the 331 very often, but I've always been fond of its style and atmosphere. The thick blue drapes covering the walls and the high-backed red vinyl booths create a casual elegance that is softly accented by the glowing light fixtures lining the room (they look like they were borrowed from an art deco movie theater, but are actually just upside down lamp shades). And, just to add a little Northeast Minneapolis artistic detail, there are two very interesting paintings on display that always generate compelling conversation. A little investigation revealed that the drapes are in place as much for acoustic reasons as aesthetic, but that only reinforced my appreciation for the space; a nice blending of form and function.
The Roe Family Singers are inextricably linked with the 331 Club. They have been playing a steady Monday night gig for over four years and they are a perfect example of the kind of music you are likely to encounter there. Using classic folk instruments like the guitar, banjo, and fiddle and more unusual instruments such as the jug, Autoharp, and saw, the Roe Family singers perform nuggets of high-spirited, salt-of-the-earth Americana.
I had the opportunity to sit and talk with some of the members of The Roe Family Singers after their set and they couldn't have been more easygoing and sincere. I asked them to tell me what they like about the 331 Club. Kim and Quillan Roe, the founding members of the band, shared memories of performances where the band spilled into the audience or played acoustic while sitting in one of the booths. I mentioned that it seemed to me that to be very much a musicians' community kind of bar and a welcome place in the neighborhood. They agreed.
"People don't come here to get wasted and pick up chicks," Quillan said while he discussed the unsavory attitude of bars that try to make you feel special just to be there. "If you can't get in here, it's because the place is full. You can go downtown to get excluded. You can come here to have fun."
As neighborhood bars go, the 331 is about as good a neighbor as you can get. There's never a cover, it's not big enough to draw unruly crowds, and the music they book tends to be the kind that doesn't need microphones or amplification and uses them sparingly. Plus, on select nights, they offer bingo, burlesque, and an adult spelling bee that involves drinking. How fun is that? --Ted Bradford