Local Current Blog

Mall of America at 25: Ten memorable music moments

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America grand opening in 2014. (Bridget Bennett for MPR)

A shopping and entertainment destination for many people across the country, the Mall of America has also been a stopping point for many famous musicians. The shopping supercenter has also been home to a number of exhibits spotlighting music in Minnesota and beyond.

Now, as the country’s biggest mall celebrates its 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look back at some of the memorable music moments in its history.

Ray Charles performs for the Mall of America’s grand opening

Accompanied by a full orchestra, Ray Charles performed “America” during the Mall of America’s grand opening celebration on Aug. 10, 1992. According to a New York Times article, the mall paid Charles $50,000 to perform the song.

*NSYNC’s autograph session is cut short after a surprise water balloon attack

After thousands of fans waited for hours to meet the iconic boy band in 1999, their autograph session was cut short after someone threw a water balloon at the artists. *NSYNC went on to perform a concert later that night at Target Center, but many of the fans who couldn’t make it to the show were devastated by their missed chance to meet the swoon-worthy quintet.

New Kids on The Block perform for Best Buy’s grand opening

In 2008, New Kids on the Block performed for an audience of screaming kids as part of Best Buy’s grand opening at the mall. After singing “Summertime,” “Tonight,” and “Single,” the band stayed to meet with some of their fans.

First annual “Clouds” choir takes place in honor of Zach Sobiech

On Dec. 6, 2013, an estimated 5,000 people gathered in the mall’s rotunda to pay tribute to the late Zach Sobiech by singing his song “Clouds.” Sobiech died in 2013 after fighting a rare form of bone cancer for four years and wrote “Clouds” as a way to say goodbye to his family and friends. The event, which raises money for children’s cancer research, has continued to go on every year and is scheduled to take place agin this December.

Prince exhibit comes to the Mall of America

In fall 2016, the Mall of America briefly hosted a free Prince exhibit with well-known artifacts from Paisley Park. Entitled Prince: The Artist, the Icon, the Legend, the exhibit was announced amidst the news of an unexpected delay in reopening Paisley Park.

The 400 Bar and Midwest Music Museum (R.I.P.)

The 400 Bar, a longtime West Bank mainstay, was set to reopen at the Mall of America in the summer of 2014 — but ultimately was evicted before it even opened. Included in the eviction was its partnered Midwest Music Museum, which operated from June through September 2014 with a Beatles exhibit.

While it existed, the museum was very briefly a live music venue. Club owners and bookers told The Current at the time that they hoped to carry on its vision of the 400: highlighting rising stars, as it the club did with Arcade Fire, Conor Oberst and Devendra Banhart.

Mary-Kate and Ashley film TV episode in the mall

You’re Invited to Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Mall Party was filmed in the Mall of America and released in 1997. The video begins with the two girls bored from being stuck inside all day when their cousin comes to the rescue with plane tickets to Minnesota and lets them go on a shopping spree in the Mall of America with all their friends.

Margaritaville opens its first Minnesota location

Perhaps the mall’s most recent notable musical addition is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The restaurant chain’s first location in Minnesota opened in fall 2016, and is themed, of course, after Buffet’s famous lyrics. With an indoor tropical setting, the menu includes beach favorites like nachos, fish and chips, and a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” to go with your margarita.

Hard Rock Cafe reopens at the Mall of America

The national chain known for its rock memorabilia opened its latest Minnesota location (after closing one in downtown Minneapolis) at the Mall of America in 2014. To mark its opening, Minnesota legends Morris Day and the Time performed an 80-minute set.

The restaurant is home to Prince outfits, autographed guitars from the Replacements and Soul Asylum, and a Bob Dylan chain curtain. Other quirky items include Alanis Morissette’s orange sweater from the “Ironic” music video and pictures of musicians like Elvis.

Kurt Cobain goes shopping

In 2015, Babes in Toyland’s Lori Barbero told Andrea Swensson an amazing story from when Nirvana were recording In Utero at Minnesota’s Pachyderm Studios.

One day I was down there, and Dave [Grohl] was doing drum tracks, and I took Kurt and Krist [Novaselic] to the Mall of America. Steve Albini was doing their album and he was like, “You can’t go there, you’re going to get mobbed!” And we were like, whatever. Just come to the Mall of America. We had so much fun. I said, “Kurt, there’s the greatest shop I want to take you to called Barebones,” and that’s where he bought everything for In Utero, and for the video for “Heart Shaped Box.” All of that, the fetus and baby and bones and invisible lady and all of that stuff, all of that is from Barebones. He spent tons of money, and he said they never cashed the check because it was his autograph. And it was thousands of dollars. So he got all of it for free. Kind of crazy. But yeah, he told me they never cashed his check because it was Kurt Cobain’s check with his autograph.

Researched and written by Simone Cazares and Jackie Renzetti with Jay Gabler