The man who played the first night at First Avenue will be honored in Minneapolis with a tribute show in honor of his music career.
On April 3, 1970, Joe Cocker played the first gig at First Avenue, called the Depot at the time, with his band Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
The Minneapolis Tribune covered the historical night, saying that “not since the truck drivers’ strike of 1934 is it likely that there has been such excitement, such chaos, such congestion, such noise just off Hennepin Av. as there was Friday night.”
Even though the carpeting and interior decorations were not installed yet, sun-tanned men and hippie-clothed women filled the $10 tables and $4 standing room spots, the article says.
The article reported that Cocker sang “like a black man” and danced “like a spastic.”
Connie Hechter wrote a review for Connie’s Insider about that night:
Cocker has an infectious style and manner of singing which incorporates a deep soul, down home feeling with the weird…the unbelievable. It’s like watching Frankenstein sing and liking it. He’s the back hills English coal miner’s son who is a bit demented and makes his way and supper by singing in the streets. In reality, he makes a fortune doing his thing. People were dancing in the old baggage claim area, while the balcony and main floor proper were swaying and rocking and shouting. A steady flow of new customers entered the club, discovered the crowds, and took their places wherever they could find room.
Nate Kranz, First Ave’s general manager, told the Star Tribune last year, “It’s been almost 45 years, and I still hear often from people who were there that night and remember it well. He holds a special place at this club, that’s for sure – almost right up there with Prince.”
Cocker played at First Avenue one more time in 1994, the same year he played at the 25th anniversary Woodstock festival. His last local performance was in 2009 at Mystic Lake Casino. Cocker died of cancer on Dec. 23, 2014.
Feelin’ Alright: A Tribute to Joe Cocker will take place on Nov. 25 at Pepito’s Parkway Theater. Mick Sterling and 13 other Twin Cities band members will be playing at the tribute show.
“It’s such a huge show with 14 musicians on stage,” Sterling said in a phone interview. “It’s an unusual spectacle. There’s two drummers and two percussionists, it’s not something you see every day. That alone makes it a unique show.”
Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the door. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. and the music will start at 8:00 p.m.
“It will be an unbelievable night of music,” Sterling said. “It’s an incredibly powerful show, visually and audio-wise. It sounds like Mad Dogs and Englishmen; it’s the closest thing people can get to that classic Joe Cocker band.”
Sage Larson is a junior at Concordia College, where she is double-majoring in multimedia journalism and Spanish, and minoring in communication studies. You can view more of her work in her portfolio.