Local Current Blog

Interview: First Avenue owner Dayna Frank on leading the new National Independent Venue Association

First Avenue, photographed in March 2020. (Lucy Hawthorne for MPR)

Dayna Frank, owner of First Avenue, has long been a leader in the Minnesota music community. Now, with First Avenue and all independent music venues in crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, Frank is stepping into a national leadership role by spearheading the founding of a new association advocating for suddenly vulnerable clubs and theaters across the country.

On March 12, Frank told The Current’s Andrea Swensson, “We had Chelsea Cutler in the Mainroom. Watching soundcheck, [we were thinking], ‘Okay, this is going to be the last show, probably, for a while.’ We were kind of watching the counts, and it was a sold-out show. We maybe had like 1,200 people come so it was like, ‘Oh, God. People aren’t feeling comfortable. This isn’t good.'” (Mainroom capacity is 1,550.)

When First Avenue decided the next day to close all its clubs, the news was developing so rapidly that a band had already loaded in to play the Fine Line. When First Avenue had to furlough all its employees, Frank said, “it was the worst day in the history of any business owner’s life. Just the worst.”

Frank emphasizes that she doesn’t see it as her place to advocate for opening timelines. Instead, given the health necessity of remaining closed indefinitely, the National Independent Venue Association is making “one ask”: for government action to help venues survive.

So how’s it going? “It’s going as well as humanly possible,” laughed Frank, “without having anything to show for it, without having any support.” The association has hired a lobbyist, but they’re still waiting for a fourth national stimulus bill. “We’re still really hopeful,” said Frank, who said she’s hearing signs of support from many members of Congress.

With respect to the protests over racial inequity, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, that have left the First-Avenue-owned Turf Club completely gutted, Frank said her business supports the movement and is “really examining everything from hiring practices to who’s on our stages to security measures…how we can keep our patrons safe and how we can use that platform that we have in order to push forward a variety of voices.”

At end of the conversation, Frank imagined the unknown day when live music returns, the first show back at a reopened First Avenue. “Just…tears.”