Local Current Blog

How many Minnesotans have First Avenue stars?

First Avenue's wall of stars, March 2020. (Lucy Hawthorne for MPR)

In honor of Minnesota’s 162nd birthday, we’re breaking down the 77 Minnesotans that have stars on First Avenue’s wall. Much like the music scene they all came from, these artists represent a variety of genres and subcultures. Some have international fame, others are local gems. In total, 18% of the stars are Minnesota locals.

American Head Charge
An ‘00s nü-metal outfit that combined thrash and industrial elements. The band’s apocalyptic dress and hectic live-shows earned them a spot in Ozzfest and a place in Twin Cities metal history.

Arcwelder
Arcwelder mark a transition in the Minneapolis punk scene: apathetic, droning vocals and skeletal guitar that feels more in-line with the Seattle Grunge scene, as compared to the early ’80s hardcore that dominated First Avenue for much of that decade.

Atmosphere
Easily the Twin Cities’s most famous hip-hop act, Atmosphere put the Minneapolis hip-hop movement on the map with artful wordcraft and piano-based beats. The group is also the heart of Rhymesayers, the state’s go-to rap label.

Babes in Toyland
Musical kin to Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, Babes in Toyland refused to let the Minneapolis punk scene be a boys’ club. Barbed-wire guitar tones and spiteful screams define their rebellious rock.

Boiled in Lead
A Celtic-rock outfit that evolved beyond pub fare. The band’s influences went on to include Russia, African, and Eastern-European folk textures as they toured the world.

Brother Ali
Alongside labelmates Atmosphere, Brother Ali is easily one of the most prolific and well-known hip-hop artists from Minneapolis. His polished rhymes and political consciousness evoke blues-rock just as much as rap.

Cloud Cult
Cloud Cult started as a basement project but eventually grew into a chamber-rock institution. Craig Minowa’s innovative production — which included the use of buckets, pans, and couch cushions as percussion — and emotionally exploratory songcraft creates a sense of reverence for Minnesota’s natural beauty. (Launched in Duluth, Cloud Cult are now based in Wisconsin.)

Kevin Cole
Current KEXP host who DJed at First Avenue during the ’80s.

Conrad
The mononymous stage-manager (hint: his brother also appears on this list) who’s led First Avenue’s stage management for decades.

Cows
The explosive punk of Cows employed the use of rockabilly, charged sax, and mosh-pit intensity. For a decade (1987 to 1998), frontman Shannon Sleberg’s harrowing rants helped define the Minneapolis punk scene.

Curtiss A
The granddaddy of Twin Cities punk, Curtiss A’s 1960-styled rock ‘n’ roll brought the New York punk sound to Minnesota. His genealogy can be traced to acts like David Peel and the Lower Eastside and the Holy Modal Rounders.

Del Counts
A doo-wop rock band that gained notoriety in the Twin Cities. Their song “What is the Reason” was a local hit in 1967 and the band continues to play to this day.

Dillinger Four
A ’90s pop-punk band that deviated heavily from the other Midwestern-emo outfits with their California quick power chords and alpha attitude. Leading man Erik Funk owned and operated the Triple Rock Social Club from 1998 to 2017.

DJ ESP
Woody McBride, aka DJ ESP, was a house and techno pioneer who was at the forefront of the early dance music scene in Minneapolis. The world-traveling producers and curator still finds time to host shows in Minnesota.

DJ Smitty
Longtime DJ who’s worked at First Avenue for years.

Doomtree
A confident, eclectic hip-hop collective that combines the contrasting flows of rappers P.O.S, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, and Sims with beats by Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger. While the members are now releasing their solo material, Doomtree still come together occasionally to lay down hard beats and harder rhymes.

The Flamin’ Oh’s
Flamingo formed in 1977, part of the punk scene that congregated at Jay’s Longhorn and the 7th St Entry. They became the Flamin’ Oh’s in 1980 after the doo-wop Flamingos threatened to sue. The band members remain active on the scene, with an occasional reunion for good measure.

Slim Dunlap
Dunlap is known in the history books for replacing Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson. However, he was an accomplished songwriter in his own right and has been a staple of the Minneapolis music scene for decades.

Eyedea & Abilities
With their unique equation of rock and rap, Eyedea & Abilities set themselves apart from their Rhymesayers counterparts by utilizing emo-rock and street phenomenology in equal parts.

Byron Frank
First Avenue might very well not be in business as a venue if Byron Frank hadn’t bought the club in bankruptcy court in 2004. He would go on to invest a million dollars and reorient staff training, kicking off a thriving new era for the club; it’s his daughter Dayna who’s now leading First Avenue, and independent venues nationwide, through the existential crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Roy Freedom
One of the original First Avenue DJs, Freedom was a part of the crew that ran things when the club was called “Uncle Sam’s.” Prince would sometimes slip Roy his latest recordings to gauge how audiences would respond.

The Gear Daddies
Still as poignant as any other alt-country act of the time, Gear Daddies have an appealingly goofy sensibility and Minnesota spirit captured on tracks like “(I Wanna Drive The) Zamboni.”

The Hang-Ups
An unequivocally pop act that leaned heavily on wholesome melodies and accessible aesthetics, the Hang Ups were championed by Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner.

Har Mar Superstar
An inimitable member of the Minnesota music pantheon. Sean Tillmann’s funk nostalgia and pop sensibilities are the perfect background music for his humorous stage antics.

Grant Hart
The lifeblood of Hüsker Dü’s frantic punk energy, the late Hart was an irreplaceable component of the punk scene and his solo career speaks to his eclectic abilities as a musician. He boasts a catalog of records that employ everything from lo-fi pop to industrial rock to operatic anthems.

The Hold Steady
Although the Hold Steady were formed and remain based in New York, even a casual listen to any of their albums makes clear that frontman Craig Finn still very much represents for his native Gopher State. If Bruce Springsteen defines the angst of living in New Jersey, Craig Finn and the Hold Steady do the same for Minnesotans. Finn’s blue-collar vocals and epic storytelling abilities invoke the same spirit, albeit less self-seriously, as the state’s most famous songwriter: Bob Dylan.

The Honeydogs
A country blues-tinged rock group that were contemporaries of Wilco, the Jayhawks, and Run Westy Run. Formed by brothers Adam and Noah Levy, the Honeydogs are still active in the local scene.

Hüsker Dü
The definitive punk band of Minneapolis. Hüsker Dü’s destructive distortion and tongue-in-cheek choruses put the Twin Cities rock scene on the map during the early ’80s.

Hypstrz
The proto-hardcore of Hypstrz defied expectations in the mid-1970s before the word “punk” had really entered the common vernacular. You can hear the Twin Cities punk scene germinating in their explosive garage-rock.

Impaler
Along with Prince, Impaler share the distinction of having been Minnesota musicians targeted by Tipper Gore and her crusading Parents Music Resource Center. They were your classic, campy horror metal band.

Ipso Facto
An outlier in a rock-dominated ’80s scene, Ipso Facto brought in contemporary pop sounds to refine their dub and reggae tuneage.

The Jayhawks
The patriarchs of the Minnesota alt-country scene, the Jayhawks sought to make country and folk cool again when grunge and rap dominated the airwaves.

Mason Jennings
For two decades, this Americana singer-songwriter has been composing straightforward folk ballads that heal broken hearts and guide lost travelers.

The Jets
The Jets coalesced their South Pacific heritage — their parents emigrated from Topanga in 1965 — with the contemporary R&B of the ’80s to create summer radio hits that put a fun, youthful spin on the Minneapolis Sound.

Sonny Knight
Before fulfilling his dream of fronting a band, Sonny Knight was a retired truck driver. In 2014, the 68-year-old brought Minneapolis back to its roots with his energetic mid-century funk and soul.

Koerner, Ray & Glover
A barebones blues act that started in a University of Minnesota dorm room during the early ’60s and became one of the most internationally respected acts of the Folk Revival, this trio are also known for being early mentors to Bob Dylan in his Dinkytown days.

Lifter Puller
A precursor to the Hold Steady, Lifter Puller were an unconventional take on classic rock that utilized wacky synths and irregular time signatures.

Low
The dominant ambient rock group of the state; one that captures the introspection that comes with a long winter. Low’s cerebral sound experimentation and heartbreaking songwriting is still going strong three decades later.

The Magnolias
Rough around the edges but pop artists at heart, the Magnolias were influential players in the early ’90s alt-rock boom.

Mark Mallman
A peculiar, magnetic rock artist who defies genre conventions. Mallman will use AutoTune and 808 drums on one track, then croon a heartfelt folk anthem on the next.

Man-Sized Action
A cathartic punk act that was produced by Bob Mould. Guitarist Brian Paulson, who joined the group in 1985, would go on to produce and record with artists like Son Volt, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Dinosaur Jr., and Slint.

Mighty Mofos
With their rowdy, unkempt style of rock n’ roll, the Mighty Mofos stuck to a simple philosophy: be as loud as humanly possible.

Motion City Soundtrack
A fixture of early 2000s pop-punk, MCS wore their hearts on their sleeves and have maintained a steady stream of albums since their inception.

Bob Mould
The frontman of Hüsker Dü went on to produce countless LPs after the dissolution of the beloved power trio. His solo act and his new band, Sugar, would continue to bolster the diverse sounds of Mould’s songwriting.

Alexander O’Neal
A former member of the Time who eventually found success as an electro-R&B solo act. O’Neal took the “Minneapolis Sound” and brought it into the modern era with a mixture of new wave and old-school soul.

P.O.S
P.O.S started out playing in punk bands as a teen but by the mid-2000s, he was rapping with Doomtree. He’s a successful solo artist who also collaborates in groups like Four Fists and Marijuana Deathsquads.

Polara
Polara’s self-titled debut encapsulates everything intriguing about ’90s alternative rock: a premium on distortion, inspiring apathy, and a knack for turning pop-rock on its head. Frontman Ed Ackerson was not only a prolific musician in many different guises, he was a beloved behind-the-scenes mentor who ran Flowers Studio in Minneapolis.

Prince
Prince’s star has long been prominent on First Avenue’s wall; in the wake of Prince’s 2016 death, local artist Peyton was moved to cover the star in gold leaf and its distinctive look has since become integral to the club’s aesthetic.

Rifle Sport
One of the lesser-known outfits from the heydays of the 80s punk scene, Rifle Sport took their name from an antique arcade location that operated from the ’40s through the ’60s.

Run Westy Run
Despite being produced by Grant Hart and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Run Westy Run never found the kind of national fame some of their contemporaries did. The band remain very much part of Minnesota’s tight-knit indie rock family.

Savage Aural Hotbed
An experimental percussion project that walks the line between music and soundscape, this industrial act might be one of the most unusual acts on the wall.

Semisonic
To the rest of the world, they’re the “Closing Time” band. But to Minnesotans, they’re a staple of the ’90s with their earnest pop sentimentalism and catchy hooks. Frontman Dan Wilson stands as one of the most artistically and commercially successful songwriters the state’s ever produced.

PD Spinlove
The most reclusive local star on the wall, Spinlove was one of the first people to DJ at First Avenue’s Danceteria.

Solid Gold
One of the many electro-rock groups to come out of the indie boom of the late ’00s. Solid Gold’s synth-infused pop music was essential college radio listening, and the band have recently been teasing a comeback album.

Soul Asylum
Few acts capture the cultural moment of the early ’90s like Soul Asylum: gritty yet heartfelt vocals, reverb-heavy acoustic guitar, and lyrics packed with existential longing. Adding to the band’s impressive record is the fact that their career began in the early ’80s, when they were slightly younger contemporaries of the Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

Soundset
This rap festival has been dominating the Twin Cities Memorial Day celebration for over a decade. Since 2008, Soundset has been curated by Rhymesayers.

Sounds of Blackness
A gospel group of over 40 musicians, this St. Paul group performs innovative R&B with a smooth, spiritual blend of ’90s pop production and traditional gospel.

Tapes n’ Tapes
An underrated group from the cerebral dance-rock craze of the early ’00s, Tapes n’ Tapes brought their Minneapolis fire to a movement most commonly associated with the East Coast.

Jack Meyers
The former general manager and promoter of First Avenue and the 7th St Entry.

The Replacements
The defining rock ‘n’ roll band of the Twin Cities, the Replacements spoke to every kid picked last in gym class, every son or daughter from a broken family, and to the great unknown that is your early 20s.

The Revolution
Prince’s personal Wrecking Crew, the Revolution are probably the best-known backing band besides, well, the Band. The Revolution originally shared a star with Prince, but were honored with their own as they helped celebrate his legacy with recent performances at the club he made world-famous.

Rhymesayers
Hip-hop label Rhymesayers is the home of Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Eyedea & Abilities, and countless other Minnesota MCs.

R.T. Rybak
The former mayor of Minneapolis who famously stage-dived during a GWAR set after he helped keep the club afloat through its 2004 financial crisis. In 2010, on the day of the club’s 40th anniversary, he declared April 3 “First Avenue Day.”

The Suburbs
The Suburbs brought together the free-form experimentation of new wave with the biting humor of punk rock; check out their anthem to bovines (“Cows”) and parody of suburban life (“Tape Your Wife To The Ceiling”).

Billy Sverkerson
A tireless worker who managed things behind the scenes of the 400 Bar and First Avenue, Sverkerson was honored with a star after his passing in 2013.

Nick Swardson
Notable Minnesota stand-up comedian who performed sets at First Avenue. Swardson would go on to have his own Comedy Central sketch show, Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time.

The Time
The first band Prince formed to further his specific amalgamation of funk, rock, and synth-pop. The group would go on to record multiple hits and two of the members — Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — found blockbuster success as writer-producers for artists including, most notably, Janet Jackson.

Tina & The B-Sides
Led by Tina Schlieske, this band found national pop-rock success in the ’80s and ’90s. Schlieske has since continued a successful career that included a run with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band Double Trouble.

Tiny Tim
The uke-slinging novelty act didn’t spend his career as a Minnesotan, but he became a permanent resident when he died in Minneapolis in 1996 after suffering a heart attack while playing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” at the Woman’s Club. His remains are interred in Lakewood Cemetery.

Trampled By Turtles
Trampled By Turtles started off with humble beginnings in Duluth, but would go on to have multiple #1 bluegrass records, commanding a worshipful fan base across the state and far beyond.

Trip Shakespeare
A playful rock act that was short-lived, but well-loved, Trip Shakespeare also served as a launch pad for members who became staples of the scene. Guitarist Dan Wilson and bassist John Munson would go on to form Semisonic.

The Wallets
Punk-folk artists that combined polka with beat poetry. They were signed to Twin/Tone Records and would go on to compose music for TV and ads.

Walt Mink
The cattywampus Walt Mink (who took their name from a psychology professor the band had) were able to synthesize atonal guitar licks and nasally vocals into several compelling works of alt-rock.

Paul Westerberg
One of America’s most influential underground rock stars. Westerberg’s self-deprecating lyricism and commitment to never holding punches made him a hero to the countless angst-ridden teens who bought his records with the Replacements, and he also has a well-regarded solo career that kicked off with two tracks on the iconic Singles soundtrack in 1992.

Monty Lee Wilkes
A legendary sound engineer who worked with Nirvana and the Replacements, Wilkes passed away in 2016.

Willie & The Bees
This country-blues act were fronted by longtime scenester Willie Murphy. The Bees refined Murphy’s Dr. John-inspired saloon rock into a more commercially viable pop sound.

Zuzu’s Petals
This three-piece merged endearing melodies with ferocious punk rock, Zuzu’s Petals shared the grrrl power of Babes in Toyland and the accessible aesthetic of the Replacements.

  • John Smith

    PD Slimlove is actualy PD Spinlove. Mastermind behind Sunday Night Dance Party, the all ages dance night.

    • Diamondo

      Slim, Spin, hey man they’re both local.

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  • Diamondo

    “Rifle Sport
    One of the lesser-known outfits from the heydays of the 80s punk scene, Rifle Sport took their name from an antique arcade location that operated from the ’40s through the ’60s.”

    That’s the best you can do? Mention that our name came from an arcade? We were given that star originally by Steve McClellan because he figured we played more shows in the Entry as an intact band than any other local “outfit”.
    J Christopher started a record label, “Big Money”, that put out Stereolab’s first 45 and lots of “local” and international bands. Flour the bassist, put out four solo albums on Touch & Go, and toured with Pigface. Todd Trainer went on to play in Shellac, after releasing four solo albums himself.

    But I suppose it’s better to be considered “lesser known” than “unknown” in the “80s punk scene”

  • IWitness

    “Curtiss A
    The granddaddy of Twin Cities punk, Curtiss A’s 1960-styled rock ‘n’ roll brought the New York punk sound to Minnesota. His genealogy can be traced to acts like David Peel and the Lower Eastside and the Holy Modal Rounders.”

    From where and who came up with the idea of “can be traced to acts like David Peel and the Lower Eastside…&c.? Boggles.

  • Jason Brown

    You missed Beat Radio’s Alan Freed.

    • Jeff C.

      And he was the mastermind between Beatopia, a regular Friday night First Avenue VIP room dance night that went on for a few years in the mid- and late-90s, if I remember correctly.

  • amwilt

    You missed Steve McClellan!