By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On the 50th birthday of Minnesota’s most famous music venue, it was quiet.

First Avenue was set to celebrate its half-century run this month, but instead it sat silent and empty under the state’s shelter in place order.

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“The club has actually faced a ton of adversity over the years,” said Chris Riemenschneider, the author of “First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom.” “You know, it was shut down by bankruptcy in 2004, it had that whole ceiling collapse incident…but this is unlike anything the club has seen.”

But First Avenue was not alone this month. It has sat vacant in solidarity with other Twin Cities concert halls, from the Amsterdam in St. Paul to U.S. Bank Stadium, just blocks away.

“From the biggest bands to the smallest bands, summer is when they make their money,” said Riemenschneider, who is also a longtime music reporter for The Star Tribune.

The wake of Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order has left waves of layoffs, furloughs and fears of permanent closures for clubs across Minnesota.

“For some venues, it’s really kinda similar to restaurants,” Riemenschneider said. “You know, they’re that size of business. Months out of work…it just depends on the owners, how deep their pockets are.”

Jake Jarpey, a bartender who’s worked in Twin Cities music venues for 20 years, says he was anticipating a slowdown this spring as the COVID-19 outbreak swept into the U.S.

“By early March…we knew it was coming,” he said.

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Jarpey hopes the shutdown will end soon and things will return to normal in the music world.

“It’s temporary,” he said. “I’m confident it’ll rebound, although it might be a little weird at first.”

Minneapolis band The Right Here tours and plays small local venues. Drummer Ryan Haasch is eager to get back on the road.

“For so much of us, that’s our healthy, creative outlet,” he said. “I miss that a lot, it’s tough.”

The spirit of gathering for the common cause of music is gone.

“We miss seeing each other,” Haasch said. “A lot of what we’re missing is that commmunity piece.”

Still, there’s hope that this season of isolation and silence will pass.

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“Eventually, people will be excited to go back out and see a show again,” Jarpey said.

Jeff Wagner