By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There are very few independently-owned music venues left in the country.

And of those, not many can say they’ve been around for 50 years.

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But First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis can now make that claim.

And with longevity and popularity comes a hidden history you may not know about.

“In music industry standards, every band knows the venue. Everybody wants to play here, wants to get their name on a star on the wall,” marketing director, Ashley Ryan said.

Joe Cocker was the opening act for First Avenue in 1970. And Prince made it part of music history when he used the venue to film Purple Rain.

“Prince definitely made First Avenue famous, but I would argue on the same hand the we helped make Prince famous as well,” Dan Corrigan said.

Corrigan has been there for Prince and dozens of other famous acts.

Having been a part of First Ave for 39 years, Corrigan has become its historian. The green room where bands wait to take the stage proudly displays his photographs.

“This one of Iggy Pop was the last film that I shot,” Corrigan said.

The funny thing about going down memory lane is that it has a few detours. Some of them hidden away.

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Setlists dating back decades decorate the wall like living history. There’s no room left so Corrigan had to put up a mailbox inside where bands could leave their setlists behind.

“Once this gets filled up I’ll bring them upstairs and I’ll have one of our interns scan them all,” Corrigan said.

Even the obvious isn’t so obvious. The checkerboard dance floor is the original from when this was a greyhound bus depot. And the tiles are actually green and cream-colored, not black and white.

“This place is kind of like an old boat. You need to constantly be working on it to keep it afloat and working and all that stuff,” Corrigan said.

But it’s in no danger of sinking. Despite all he’s seen the show Corrigan is most excited about is the next one. First Avenue is already looking forward to the next 50 years.

“When the band comes with all their equipment and all their stuff through the garage, it’s somebody with an idea. and we have this beautiful place for that idea to happen,” Corrigan said.

“Three things stay the same which are the fans, the bands and the staff all have to be the best. They have to have the best time, the best experience, and I think that’s the legacy we try and create here,” Ryan said.

First Avenue’s golden anniversary is April 3.

They’ll have a concert that night, but they plan on having a year-long celebration.

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For more information, you can check out their website.

John Lauritsen