Local Current Blog

Big bookings for Palace Theatre expand First Avenue and Jam Productions’ reach

The Palace Theatre's marquee on March 6, 2017. Photo by Cecilia Johnson/MPR.

Atmosphere. Phantogram. The xx. Ryan Adams, Bryan Ferry, At the Drive-In, and now, Belle and Sebastian. It’s not an eclectic new festival line-up or the contents of a mixtape; it’s a sampling of the bands booked at the Twin Cities’s newest venue.

The Palace Theatre, which is soon to reopen in St. Paul after decades of disuse, has not wasted any time packing its show calendar. Regina Spektor’s March 26 concert was the first to go public. In January, the Palace announced a trio of opening weekend shows (Atmosphere with Sims and deM atlaS, the Jayhawks with the Cactus Blossoms, and Phantogram from March 10-12). Since then, the 2,800-capacity, open-floor theater has added 13 shows, their genres ranging from punk rock to bluegrass.

While the City of St. Paul owns the venue, First Avenue and Jam Productions have signed “long-term” co-managing leases (First Avenue’s will last 15 years, according to the Star Tribune). “We both have very long histories doing shows in the Twin Cities,” Nate Kranz, First Avenue’s general manager, says. Jam co-owner Jerry Mickelson says, “Having the ability and the chance to work in a theater that’s basically been dormant for such a long time and bring it back alive is really a dream for us and for First Ave.”

The Palace’s ticket prices sit a bit higher than the average First Avenue admission, but Mickelson and Kranz say it’s all part of the process. “As a band takes the next step up in its career and goes up that ladder, they always charge more,” Mickelson says. “They have more people on the road; they have a bigger production.” Kranz adds, “This room is considerably larger than First Avenue, so all of the expenses are also considerably more.”

The Palace’s opening comes on the heels of a big honor for Sonia Grover, a seasoned First Avenue booker. At the Pollstar Awards in February, she won best nightclub talent buyer, and she’ll also bring that expertise to the Palace. “She books way more shows than I do,” Kranz says, “and she just naturally has a knack for creating relationships.”

Grover, Kranz, Mickelson, and their respective companies will work together on this project, a “labor of love” that Mayor Chris Coleman and his office foresee invigorating downtown St. Paul. “A large amount of credit goes to [St. Paul Director of Arts and Culture] Joe Spencer,” Mickelson adds, “who really kept his foot on the gas.”

That he has, but jubilee shines through when Spencer talks about being able to move on. “I am ready to hand the key over. I am done,” he told Brian Oake and Jill Riley. Thursday morning on the air, he’ll do just that.

The Current’s Belle and Sebastian presale begins on Thursday, March 9 at 10 a.m. For a gallery of photos of the updated space, check out Nate Ryan’s work from a December sneak peek.