MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – An empty stage stands in the dark at First Avenue, where it’s been mostly silent for nearly a year and a half. But with all remaining COVID restrictions lifting Friday, the promise of live music returns—just not right away.

“We’re overjoyed,” said Nate Kranz, general manager of the iconic music venue. “It’s a moment we’ve been waiting for over 15 months.”

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For the first time since the pandemic upended daily lives, concerts can happen indoors at full capacity with no social distancing or masking requirements. First Avenue, which had to cut most of its more than 400 staff, is ready to welcome bands, fans and employees in light of the governor’s executive order ending restrictions.

But it didn’t flip a switch and make it happen Friday.

“Our first thought was we haven’t had a staff that’s been really working here now for 15 months so there’s going to be training, ramping up of bringing people on staff,” Kranz said. “And we also don’t want to do one show and be like, ‘alright see you in three weeks.’”

Bands touring and venues booking have been out of practice. It’s why Kranz said he and his team are starting small with the first show July 2 at 7th Street Entry, which can hold 200 people.

The hope is a steady summer build up will lead to a September surge with as much live music as fans once knew. That’s when most of the artists are touring, Kranz noted.

“We kind of looked at September as that’s when we’re really going to be open,” he said. “That’s when we’re going to be going to the extent we normally are, with 7th Street Entry going seven nights a week or when we’re on pace to do 210 or 220 shows at First Avenue or the Palace.”

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Other venues are looking ahead to summer and fall, too. “Frozen” will be the first show to return to The Orpheum in October. Even though it could open earlier, the theater had to stick to national tour dates, the president of Hennepin Theater Trust told WCCO.

Sporting arenas can also welcome back as many fans as they’d like to, but Target Field announced Friday it won’t operate at 100% capacity until July 5. The Minnesota Twins can play a full stadium for every home game after. For now, masking requirements remain in place even though the state-issued mandate has lifted.

“We are absolutely thrilled to begin our measured, responsible and safe ramp up to 100 percent capacity at the ballpark,” said club President & CEO Dave St. Peter in a statement.

A limited number of physically-distanced seats will remain available at Target Field for the duration of the 2021 season upon request, the team said.

The Minnesota Wild could play at home in St. Paul next week should they beat the Las Vegas Golden Knights in Friday night’s game, but the Xcel Energy Center in an email did not share with WCCO its plans for full capacity.

A spokesperson said should the team advance to the next rounds of the finals, information on ticket sales for home games will be released “quickly.”

When First Avenue opens its doors, though, Kranz said the venue intends to follow CDC guidance and the governor’s executive order and do away with masks, distancing and capacity limits.

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“We just cannot wait to have bands and fans back in this room,” he added “It’s just not the same walking in here like it is now.”

Caroline Cummings