December 4, 2021

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Save Our Stages: How NIVA Rescued Indie Venues

Having shepherded the Save Our Stages Act, the National Independent Venue Association president is focused on helping to rebuild the concert business and finding a way to keep NIVA working together.

The First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis is striking at any angle; its grand entrance towers over a busy downtown intersection, beckoning music fans. Built as an art deco Greyhound bus depot in the 1930s, the space was transformed into a 1,550-capacity nightclub in 1970, and it became the heart of the city’s famed music scene in the 1980s. Made famous by Prince’s 1983 film Purple Rain, it now stands as one of the most beloved venues in the country. To mark its 50th anniversary last year, owner Dayna Frank wanted to make the building’s once-a-decade makeover its grandest yet by completely repainting it, revamping the beloved Walk of Fame stars that adorn the exterior and restoring its marquee — complete with retro 1980s logo — in honor of Prince.

The coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans, however, leaving the checkered dancefloor (nicknamed the Downtown Danceteria) empty and the sticker-covered circuit breaker on Frank’s office wall mostly unneeded. Surrounded by rock relics from the venue’s past, a small picture of her wife and two children lays out what is at stake. First Avenue is backed by a personal guarantee — if it goes out of business, Frank, 41, will lose her home and the business she took over from her father, Byron Frank, who bought the venue out of bankruptcy in 2005 before falling ill in 2009. Since then, she has seen the roof cave in mid-show in 2015 (injuring three) and watched Live Nation open a competing 1,850-capacity Fillmore theater three blocks away early last year. But nothing can compare to the impact of COVID-19 on First Avenue and the thousands of venues like it across the country facing permanent closure.

“We had some incredible shows on our calendar, and suddenly they’re all gone,” she recalls. “With no revenue, how can we pay our bills, how can we pay our employees’ health insurance? That’s not something they can afford to lose right now.”

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