Text by Andrea Swensson and Steve Cohen
“Now” photos by Steve Cohen
Now that every address is available with a quick Google search and every concert is Instagrammed from 100 angles, it can be hard to remember a time when things weren’t so heavily documented.
Even massive concerts like the Beatles’ visit to Minneapolis in 1965 and Elvis’s stop in town a decade earlier were scarcely photographed (at least by today’s standards). It can make photos from that era feel like long lost relics, like rarely opened windows that peer into a forgotten time.
In the spirit of remembering and revisiting our history, we dug through the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis Public Library, Old Minneapolis, and other sources to find the influential venues that predate today’s popular clubs like First Avenue. For the sixth installment of the “Then and Now” series, we’ll revisit the Capri Theater, which hosted a pair of historical gigs by Minneapolis icon Prince.
In early 1979, Prince played his first shows as a solo artist at the Capri Theater, which sits at the corner of Broadway and Logan Ave. N. in north Minneapolis. The shows took place on January 5 and 6, 1979, and the proceeds from the tickets sold the first night (which cost a mere $4) went toward the Capri.
Photo via Prince Concert Tickets
Prince’s career was already moving forward by the time he played the Capri shows—he had signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1976 when he was just 17, and recorded and released his debut For You in early 1978. But it wasn’t until the winter of 1979 that Prince formed a band and performed his first solo show. At the Capri, he was joined by childhood friend and former Grand Central and Champagne bandmate André Cymone, Bobby Z, Dez Dickerson, Matt Fink, and Gayle Chapman.
Prince and Dez Dickerson at the Capri Theater in 1979 (Photo via Prince.org)
According to a fan setlist, Prince began the first show with the title track off his debut album, “For You,” and also performed the songs “Soft and Wet,” “So Blue,” and “Just as Long as We’re Together.” Longtime Star Tribune critic Jon Bream was at the show and wrote that Prince “strutted across the stage with grand Mick Jagger-like moves and gestures. He was cool, he was cocky, and he was sexy.”
Here’s an excerpt from the book Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro that details his first concert:
The Capri Theater was built in 1927 as a movie theater. It operated as the Paradise Theater from 1933-1967, and its named was changed to Capri during a series of renovations, including the closing of the retail space in the building (which housed a drug store), an expansion of the lobby, and an overhaul of the orchestra pit. The late-’60s remodeling allowed the seating capacity to top out at 507 seats.
Shortly after Prince’s fateful shows at the Capri in 1979 the building was taken over by the Plymouth Christian Youth Center, who continue to operate the Capri to this day. The PCYC is in the midst of what former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak dubbed the “Capri Renaissance,” which began in 2007. Phase one of the renaissance included an $800,000 investment in new sound, lighting, and lobby renovations; and phase two of the renaissance will involve a major expansion of the Capri onto neighboring property. The land sale is expected to take place in 2015, with construction to be completed by October 2016.
And the Capri Renaissance is already paying off: In recent years, the Capri has become home to productions by the Children’s Theatre Company and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and in 2011 Minnesota Monthly named it “Best Jazz Venue” in the Twin Cities.
Update July 12, 2018:
The Capri Theater is undergoing a $10 million renovation. The theater will be closed for the yearlong construction and is scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2019.