The front door of the Turf Club (1601 University Ave. W.) was still covered in plywood in late June, but it is finally off.
General manager Nathan Kranz, who manages the Turf Club as well as First Avenue in Minneapolis, said, “We announced 51 shows across our different Twin Cities venues last week, and a lot of them are going to be held right here. The plywood came down in plenty of time for Electric Six to open on July 7, followed by Dessa on July 8.”
Kranz continued, “By the time we get to Labor Day, we expect to be back to normal – with an average of five shows per week. We’re super excited to see this place come alive again.”
The Turf Club is a historic landmark in the Midway neighborhood. It originally opened as a supper club and country music bar in the 1940s, when the land now occupied by Allianz Stadium was a horse track. The horses ran on turf, and the Turf Club drew in horse racing fans as they left the track.
Somehow the Turf Club managed to change with the times. Except for the pandemic, it has been in constant operation for nearly 80 years, and has stayed true to its commitment of supporting live, independent music.
Coming back better
When Kranz came down to view the damage on the morning of May 29, 2020, he said, “There was never a question that we would re-build after the Uprising. Fire damage was restricted to the wooden bar, and thankfully insurance covered the restoration. The bigger problem was that the bar fire set off the sprinkler system, and there was standing water in the basement six to eight feet deep.
“We ended up reengineering the building structurally, so it’s actually better than it was before. We replaced the subfloors and hardwood floors.
“What surprised us was that the renovation took so long: permits were hard to come by, and supply chains for building materials were completely messed up.
“We’re looking forward to receiving our Shuttered Venue Operating Grant, which will help us to move forward.”
Kranz added, “It was extremely hard to visit all of our venues while they were closed, but the Turf Club was the hardest because of the damage it sustained.”
Now that the building has been restored, it’s time to start hiring staff again. First Avenue had about 450 employees across their venues when the pandemic hit, and 430 of them had to be laid off. The organization tried to stay in touch with their staff while venues were shuttered. They sent out a weekly newsletter that identified how and where to get COVID-19 tests and eventually vaccines, highlighted where to go for mental health resources, and kept the channels of communication open.
Guitar bluesmaster Charlie Parr has a history of playing every Sunday in January at the Turf Club, and 2021 was no exception. This year, instead of packing the house, Parr offered his concerts virtually and charged no admission. Listeners made donations, and the residency (as Parr calls it) raised enough to cover the cost of producing and filming the concerts with a professional crew.
Kranz explained, saying, “History matters to our company, and we wanted to maintain at least some continuity during the pandemic. We were able to present Charlie’s residency, and some of the other annual events we know our fans look forward to.
“For 40 years, local guitar legend Curtiss A has played a tribute to John Lennon on Dec. 8 (the night he was murdered). Curtiss A came down to First Avenue to record the show this year, and more than 1,000 people were able to watch it remotely. We really wanted to keep that streak going; 41 years is a long time.
“There were some things about the virtual events that surprised us. One advantage is that we could give access to well-known bands and well-loved annual events that sell out quickly. With live stream, there’s no maximum audience capacity.”
First Avenue may continue live streaming some events, but they aren’t sure yet how it will play out.
What to expect
The mask policy at the Turf Club moving into summer will continue to follow CDC guidelines. Kranz said, “We’re not going to try and outsmart the scientists. We’ll be asking unvaccinated patrons to mask up for the safety of everyone.
“We’ve worked hard to make this place look and feel the same as it did the last time customers were here. We love these old spaces, and the Turf Club is our most historic venue. We feel it’s important to keep the vibe.
“I think we’re in for some very good times once we get these doors back open.”