If one needed any further proof of concert promoter Sue McLean’s impact on our community, they needn’t look any further than First Avenue’s big black stage on Saturday night, which served as a rotating door for many of the pillars of the live music scene. It says something that some of the evening’s highlights came when the stage was at its fullest, with some musicians only showing up to play a single song. It was more than a concert; it was a chance for artists to show their appreciation for a woman who not only helped shape their individual careers, but propelled the entire scene forward.
Sue McLean’s favorite saying was that “Music is good for your soul,” and they didn’t need to project it onto the screen at First Avenue Saturday to proof that was true. After a few quieter, more pensive sets by Sue’s nephew, Jake, and the Jayhawks’ Tim O’Reagan and Marc Perlman, the night reached its first climax when Paul Metsa brought out an unbelievable cast of characters to power through an emotional and hair-raising rendition of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” that got more than a few concertgoers misty. Patty, Ricky, and Jason Peterson were on hand, as were Bobby Vandell, Willie Walker, Bobby Z, Wain McFarlane, and more—and that was just for the one song. They filed off as soon as they were done, only to be replaced by Mick Sterling and his horn section moments later for another soulful cover of “Into the Mystic”; as I wiped away a few of my own tears, I remember thinking that if they kept up at that pace, there would be well over 100 musicians moving across the stage by the night’s end.
Things got more playful as Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers took the stage for a rollicking honky-tonk set, with Erik Koskinen backing Maher on guitar and Curtiss A taking the stage to blast off a harmonica solo. There was a break in the music for a live auction, with proceeds benefiting Sue’s 12-year-old daughter, Lilly, and then the crowd grew to its largest for what was clearly the biggest draw of the night: Eric Hutchinson, who performed an acoustic set, followed by alt-rock radio titans the BoDeans.
The rest of the evenings was an all-out Twin Cities rock ‘n’ roll love fest, with Dave Pirner taking a moment during Soul Asylum’s set to put a fine point on the evening. “This is about the people that aren’t on stage. The crew guys, the sound guys. You know, Sue had to take a lot of risks”—and then, before things could get too serious, he added, “I like a woman with big balls.”
Pirner also made a note of paying tribute to the X-Boys (a supergroup that features members of the Suburbs, Suicide Commandos, and other pioneering punk rock bands), who were due to take the stage later in the night, saying “they taught me everything I know.” And he hopped back on stage with the Boys for a swaggering rendition of the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You Babe” (which the band joked should be renamed “Can’t Get Next to You Dave”).
In between all those boys Haley Bonar blew the crowd away with a powerful solo set, getting people swaying and singing along to her “Candy Machine Gun.” And though the crowd started to thin out as the X-Boys performed—by then, the show was pushing past the five-hour mark—Chris Koza brought out his band Rogue Valley for yet another strong set, showcasing just how big and bold (and Fleetwood Mac-channeling?) his band’s sound has become.
All told, it was one of those beautiful, scene-spanning nights that can only seem to happen on that magical Mainroom stage, and a fitting tribute to one of our music community’s biggest champions.