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First Avenue takes the reins at Turf Club

Posted on 14 November 2013 by robwas66


First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz at the Turf Club bar. First Ave. is now managing the iconic St. Paul music club and will assume ownership around the end of the year. (Photo by Jill Boogren)


The legendary First Avenue began managing operations at the Turf Club (1601 University Ave.) in October and will assume ownership of it at the end of the year. Featuring local and national acts from country to metal, pop to indie rock, the iconic Turf Club is a mainstay in the local music scene.

“We’re just super excited, and every day we’ve been real busy getting everything going,” said General Manager Nate Kranz. “I’m really excited for the future of the place, excited we had this opportunity. I’m extremely proud we were able to make this happen.”

The Turf is one of his favorite places to hang out. What makes this club, with origins as a two-steppin’ country bar, so enticing is hard to pin down. “I wish I knew what it was that I love about it so much. To me it’s got a special character that’s hard to describe,” he said.

From a promoter’s perspective — First Ave. has been putting on shows regularly at the Turf for over a decade — Kranz said it’s an awesome place to put on shows. “The sound is good, sight lines are good, the audience likes being there… and most importantly, the band walks in the room and they love it. They have a great time, and it makes us look good.”

Sarah “SlayraH” Lawson, guitarist for God Came From Space, said her bandmates (also in Dumpster Juice) and she have all had bands play at the Turf over the years. One thing she appreciates is that the Turf Club – like First Ave. and 7th St. Entry — is a music club first, not a place that just happens to have bands.

It’s an important distinction from, say, the neighborhood bowling alley. “The shoe guy that sells bowling stuff isn’t running sound that night,” Lawson said. “[At a music venue] you’re finally there being appreciated for what you do.”

Host of The Current and Wonderground Radio Programmer Barb Abney is excited with the news. She recalls a Retribution Gospel Choir concert that “blew her mind” by playing a three-song set that lasted over an hour.

Abney also held her 40th birthday concert there with The Invincible Kids, Maudlin, The Alarmists, and Solid Gold singer Zach Coulter DJ’ing between sets with Ryan Olson (Polica, GAYNGS). She thinks First Ave. will bring an added element of organization to the venue.

The deal comes with the full blessing of present owner Tom Scanlon, who also owns The Dubliner Pub on University Ave. “I haven’t flinched in entrusting the club to First Avenue and I’m excited to see its continued success,” he said in a press statement.

Lawson said there was no hint of a changeover when they played there in September and figures the transition will be fairly seamless. One major value she sees First Ave. bringing is help with promotions. “Bands don’t have a lot of money, they need all the help promoting they can get,” she said.

Green sign on the green line

It’s fitting that a club housed in a 1937 Greyhound bus depot, as First Avenue is, will now connect to the “Best Remnant of the 40’s” situated on the coming green line. Music fans will now be able to step off the rail at the Snelling Ave. station and walk right in the front door – a definite factor in First Ave.’s decision to buy.

“It’s not just a total love of the club, the light rail played a part of it,” said Kranz. As a Minneapolis resident, he’s had to decide whether he was going to a show at the Turf, weighing having just one or two beers and driving home against potentially having to pay a hefty cab fare.

“Now it’s going to be easier for peoplTurfClub2e who live in Minneapolis, also people in downtown St. Paul. It’s gonna be a lot more convenient,” he said. “I gotta get excited when I drive down University and see it’s going to be an eight-minute ride for students from the U of M.”

For anyone worried about the Turf losing its character, First Ave. offered this reassurance in their press statement: “As a venue with our own rich and distinct history, we recognize the importance of embracing and maintaining what makes the Turf Club a gem of the Twin Cities. While we plan to keep the charm of the club, we will also be investing significantly in improvements to the venue.”

Kranz said they’ll spend the next few months learning the ropes, getting to know the neighborhood (Checkerboard Pizza is “a long, guilty pleasure” of his), then begin remodeling next year. “Not changing anything, just making it better,” he said. “We wanna make the Turf Club the best possible 300-person room you can have, because the music is great, the beer is cold… it’s a place where you wanna hang out.”

They plan to put in a kitchen, like The Depot Tavern at First Ave., but with a different menu. “We’ll play around with some things we feel reflect the vibe of the place and also what people of the neighborhood want to do.” The Clown Lounge in the basement will stay.

One of Kranz’s favorite shows at the club is one of the first he put on there, a concert with Ryan Adams. Arriving for an afternoon soundcheck Adams took a look at the room and wrote a song right there. He performed the song (“Firecracker”) that evening, and it ended up on his next album. After the show Adams had a couple drinks then sat at the piano and played for another 45 minutes downstairs. Lucinda Williams was there.

“Everything about that night was so perfect,” said Kranz. “I was able to look out and see the look on people’s faces. I hope we have that a billion more times.”

Asked whether they plan to add stars to the building, Kranz laughed and said they talked about adding band names to horseshoes, but it was only a joke. “Unless we do it, and then I guess it wasn’t a joke.”

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