Brandi Carlile had nothing but good things to say about the Twin Cities’ newest concert venue last Wednesday.
“I love this room,” the folk-country singer-songwriter told the sold-out club. “It just feels right.”
The club in question was the Fillmore Minneapolis—or, more thoroughly and pedantically, The Fillmore Presented by Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. (The new site traded in some cool points ahead of opening night for the perks of corporate sponsorship.) Nestled just beyond Target Field in the North Loop, the 1,850-capacity venue launched a week ago with a three-night-stand from Carlile, including a Valentine’s Day show, followed by three nights of the locally spawned emos Motion City Soundtrack.
The Fillmore is operated by Live Nation. That name may not mean anything to you, but if you’re a regular concertgoer you’ve almost certainly attended a show they’ve had a hand in bringing to town. The national promoters book concerts throughout the Twin Cities, at sites as big as the Xcel Energy Center and Target Center, as intimate as the Orpheum Theatre. Live Nation manages the Varsity in Dinkytown and operates as a partnership with the Armory. (Live Nation also owns Ticketmaster, a name you certainly know and almost just as certainly do not trust.)
But the Fillmore marks the company’s first attempt to establish a brick-and-mortar presence in downtown Minneapolis since the Quest, which went kaput in 2006. And the venue is part of a complex spearheaded by United Properties, which is owned by the Pohlad family, who also own the baseball team that plays next door to the Fillmore. There’s a 160-room Element by Westin hotel and a Trax Burgers and Bar. Clearly this time they plan to stay.
With the ability to take in 300 more paying customers than the storied club less than a mile away, the Fillmore seems positioned to rival First Avenue’s ever-expanding club and booking empire. And for over a year now, people in town have been speculating about how much of an impact the Fillmore will have on the local music scene. As of yet, speculate is all we can do. But now that we’ve been inside the club itself, we can at least let you know what you’ll see and hear if you go, and whether it’s worth a trip.
And the answer is: Uh, sure. It’s fine.
On opening night, there were some minor snags in getting people through the doors and past security, though nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing anyone would have noticed if the temps had been above zero. Once you’re in, you pass through a wide lobby with the club name glowing on the opposite wall. The decor isn’t distinctive but it’s not neutral. The general admission floor itself is pretty tightly packed with bodies, but hardly a challenge to anyone with decent club-navigation instincts. Chandeliers dangle picturesquely from high above.
The second floor is where the Fillmore distinguishes itself. Tromp up some broad staircases and you’ll find a balcony that wraps around the second floor, offering excellent vantage points. Those privileged sightlines are, as you might guess, reserved for those who shell out for the VIP packages. But the upper level is accessible to the common folk too. There’s a mural of Prince, of course, and folks were snapping pics of it. And if it’s all too much for you, the most comfy seats in the house are in a mini-lounge area: You can’t see the stage from them, but there is a monitor, so you won’t totally miss out.
What’s most notable about the Fillmore, from a Minneapolis perspective, is that it was constructed from the ground up. In our city of repurposed Greyhound stations and Armories, a music venue built as a music venue is a rarity. So the sight lines are excellent and the sound is clear. It’s designed to present a concert.
Still, the Fillmore is not unique—Live Nation owns nine iterations of the venue in cities across the country. That makes our new club the music venue equivalent of a chain restaurant—a comparison that, depending on how snobby you are, may sound more disparaging than intended. It’s market-tested, yes, and feels both “new” and yet somehow familiar. And that’s where the Fillmore name comes into play.
The pedigree “Fillmore” invokes hardly means much to anybody under 40, or maybe 50. The clubs established in San Francisco and New York by pioneering promoter Bill Graham have a special place in rock history, though, and that borrowed tradition is enough to give the new Fillmore a pre-established semblance of an identity, especially if you’re not a hardcore showgoer.
And it’s not the hardcore showgoer the Fillmore seems to be targeting. Rather than attacking First Ave head-on for bookings, the Fillmore seems to be locating the sorts of acts that will sell to underserviced suburban audiences looking for a night out in the city. That means older blues acts for deep-pocketed Boomers (who might also make a weekend out of it) and scrappy rock shows for younger fans.
Unlike First Ave, the Fillmore isn’t likely to inspire brand loyalty, though if it sticks around it’ll become a part of our mental landscape. In the end, its success will come down to a simple equation: Is it booking acts you want to see at a price you’re willing to pay?