Dirt Train, Chris Koza, Kiss the Tiger, and DJ Jake Rudh performed at the Varsity Theater last night to celebrate its re-opening under new ownership. The 962-capacity venue has a very long history, spanning over 100 years in Dinkytown. The new staff opened the theater’s doors to some very cold Minnesotan music fans, who felt the warm embrace of local music.
The mood in the room was undeniably upbeat, with friendly staff and bartenders. With live music having essentially ceased during an ownership turnover resulting from a boycott following accusations of sexual abuse against former owner Jason McLean, fans were eager to enjoy the Varsity’s storied ambiance once again.
Kiss the Tiger opened the show with more kick than my first vodka mixer of the night, sounding huge on the venue’s sound system. Led by vocalist Meghan Kreidler, the band ran through much of their catalog, including songs from last year’s Elliot Park EP.
Then, Chris Koza of Rogue Valley took the stage alone: just him, his electric-acoustic guitar, and a harmonica. His set got off to such a calming start that you might’ve missed it if you were at the bar. It was an abrupt change from the raucous Kiss the Tiger, but his charm grew on the audience with lilting melodies and casual banter.
After a lengthy intermission, Dirt Train emerged to kick the Americana vibes up a notch. The Minneapolis five-piece brought an edgy energy to their set. Lead vocalist Tucker Sterling Jensen also seems to have done his blues homework, providing a strong voice and stage presence; the band, consisting of Lightnin’ Joe Peterson on keys, Andrew Wozinak on lead guitar, Ben Peterson on drums, and Patrick Nelson on bass, were able to get people dancing around a bit to some of the groovier cuts from their catalog.
There isn’t an uncomfortable place to view a show at Varsity, whether you want to lounge on the couches and love-seats or be lofted above everything on the mezzanine that wraps around the room so you can get the ideal viewing angle. With upcoming shows ranging from Uriah Heep to the Indigo Girls to Jon Batiste, the Varsity Theater is back as one of Minneapolis’s premier concert venues.
Kiss the Tiger
Writer Adrian Williams is a musician, audio engineer, and music business student at Augsburg University. Photographer Maddy Fox is a student at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities.