Late on a December school night, Maude Lorr, a sophomore at Central High School, found herself onstage at a restaurant in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side. Lorr wasn’t there to perform with her band, RiGBY, a punk quartet that got their start through School of Rock. Along with the rest of Twin Cities Catalyst Music and a couple hundred other people, she was gathered in the upstairs bar of Brunson’s Pub to raise money for a new HVAC system for a new all-ages music venue.
The venue, currently unnamed and under construction, sits kitty-corner from Brunson’s and has hopes of opening in 2020. With Caydence Records & Coffee just down the street, the venue will be a petri dish of talent where many artists can cut their teeth. The former bank currently sits empty with scarce lights scattered around the basement level. The main room for the venue wraps around empty spaces for the restrooms and green room and sits adjacent to the old bank vault. The Minnesota Historical Society is working with Twin Cities Catalyst Music to preserve the space to maintain its essence and to make sure its story is not lost when gutting the rooms.
As Lorr spoke into the mic at Brunson’s, she touched on the importance of having a diverse selection of venues where young kids can perform and come into their own as musicians.
Twin Cities music programs such as School of Rock and She Rock She Rock help to jump-start an artist’s career by developing their sound and helping them understand the industry. But there’s a serious lack of space for them to perform — only a handful of Twin Cities venues cater to all-ages shows, with The Garage in Burnsville and the Cedar Cultural Center leading the pack.
That’s not to say venues categorically refuse to host all-ages shows, but the show has to make financial sense to book an artist in a room. Three out of four fans will buy merch at an all-ages show since they aren’t spending at the bar, and this allows venues to recoup some of their money. The Amsterdam Bar and Hall recently hosted a sold-out all-ages mxmtoon show; tickets went fast, as did merch.
But before they can bring their work to the stage, young artists like mxmtoon and Billie Eilish are finding national platforms through DIY recordings and online distribution. With an online audience mixed with venues that cater to all ages, young up-and-coming artists can be unstoppable.
Unbound by these limitations of age, the purity of a performance between artist and listener can live in a different space. It can be a space where artists have the freedom to practice their live performances and cultivate their stage presence. Speaking earlier this year about the importance of live performance, Joe Hastings of Hastings 3000 told me, “[The freedom] is a very important thing, especially for cultivating young up-and-coming artists who can’t get a gig anywhere else. They need a place to sort it out. You gotta play with people watching you. Music is all about interaction.”
Many young artists in the Twin Cities music scene — Hippo Campus, Lydia Liza of Bomba de Luz — have walked through the fire and come out relatively unscathed. The most difficult thing young artists run into is their supposed lack of credibility when they walk into venues. At the ages of 19 and 14, Annie and Nissa of Loki’s Folly are already a few years into their music career but still find themselves defending their work.
“I think there are plenty of people who when we first meet them, see that we’re kind of quiet and kind of shy, and we’re obviously very young. So maybe at first, a lot of people will think that we’re new to this, which we are, but we tend to be upfront about what we don’t know. We do our best to do whatever we need to prove ourselves, and once we start playing, we get to show we can hold our own,” they say.
Lorr affirms, “I think I, and our bass player, as young girls that are playing punk, get defensive when people tell us that our work isn’t punk or that it’s not hardcore. As a young musician, I think it’s hard to hear when people will say, ‘Oh, you’re just a high school band.’ We’re just trying to play music in the local scene.”
The reason the Twin Cities has found the scene flourishing over the last few years points to Jack Kolb-Williams, executive director at Twin Cities Catalyst Music. Kolb-Williams got his start with the intention of being a band teacher but found through his work as a camp counselor that his talents were better empowering young kids as they found their own paths.
The nonprofit also runs The Garage, one of the most established all-ages venues in the area. Director of operations Nicole Fallon Breidel, who also runs the Minneapolis branch of Sofar Sounds, credits places like the Garage for the work she is doing in the music industry, sharing, “If I hadn’t been able to go to shows at an early age — with my mom driving me — I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. I recently had a baby girl, and I want those same opportunities for her.”
One of the biggest barriers The Garage faces is accessibility and the lack of transportation to the venue. Listening to that need, Kolb-Williams and the rest of his team sought to build an inclusive space on the East Side — inclusive to the gay community, people of color, anyone wanting to share their work — that will be deliberate in their programming and expand to becoming a hub for young artists to congregate in a community that helps develop entrepreneurial skills in their careers (along with providing employment opportunities for people on the side.)
Diverting the credit given him, Kolb-Williams doesn’t easily accept the praise. “I guess it’s just in my DNA to deflect that stuff,” he says. “But it doesn’t feel like work. It’s part of my identity and who I am. I’m just so blessed and thrilled to be able to even be doing this work for young kids.”
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the January edition of The Growler.