The Music Plays On in Minnesota’s Historic Venues

By Loren Green

In the performing arts, the history and character of a stage can be as powerful as the act itself. Minnesota is home to a number of older stages that have been lovingly restored and continue to host live music today. Here are five notable venues where spectators can appreciate not only the talent onstage, but also the history of the venue within its community.

Sheldon Theatre, Red Wing

Sheldon Theatre - Red WingOpening its doors in 1904 as one of the first municipally owned theaters in the United States, the Sheldon Theatre was built with donations from the estate of local businessman Theodore B. Sheldon. The theater was nicknamed “the jewel box” for its interior artfully adorned with sculptures, paintings and other ornate details, all within an unassuming exterior.

The theater fell into disrepair during its years as a movie theater (first for silent films, then during the early years of “talkies”). It was restored in 1988 by the city to match its original design, with updates to accommodate modern lighting and sound. Since 1988, the Sheldon has hosted more than 2,400 shows and 22,000 artists.

With just 466 seats, the theater is intimate, ornate, and reflective of Red Wing’s past. Recent performers include Buckwheat Zydeco, Nicholas David Mrozinski, the BoDeans, the Wailin’ Jennys and, closer to home, the Sheldon Theatre Brass Band.

Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis

Orpheum Theater Minneapolis marqueeBuilt in 1921, this theater has changed hands several times, and was owned by Bob Dylan and his brother David Zimmerman during the 1980s. Restored in the 1990s, the grand space is the largest of the four theaters owned by Hennepin Theater Trust at roughly 2,600 seats.

With a 2,000-pound chandelier, a domed ceiling with 30,000 squares of aluminum leaf and sculpted plaster, the entertainment on stage is only part of the experience. That said, the stage has held everyone from Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and the Gene Krupa Orchestra to Heart, Brian Wilson, Janet Jackson, Chris Isaak, Diana Ross and Robert Plant.

Turf Club, St. Paul

Few bars in the Twin Cities have consistently hosted music longer than the Turf Club, which started in the 1940s. From country to folk, dance music and louder fare, the club has changed with the times, in recent years hosting rock and alt-country from start-up local acts and touring musicians alike. Hank Williams III, Shonen Knife, the Jayhawks and many more have played on the small stage.

First Avenue purchased the venue in 2013, remodeling and upgrading it while leaving the atmosphere intact, promising live music for years to come. The horseshoe logo painted on the eastern wall is evidence of how the Turf Club has changed without really changing at all.

A Center for the Arts, Fergus Falls

Built in 1921 as the Orpheum Theatre, and later known as the Fergus Theatre, this venue has also evolved with the times. From vaudeville to film and back to stage performances, the Center for the Arts remodeled and updated the space in 1995. Now showcasing a variety of live performances, the theater has hosted the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Grammy Award-winning flautist Rhonda Larson with Ventus, classical pianist Lori Line, and a wide mixture of other performers.

Paramount Theatre and Visual Arts Center, St. Cloud

Paramount Theatre St CloudOpened as The Sherman Theatre in 1921, the Sherman was renamed as the Paramount in 1930. Like other venues on this list, the Paramount transitioned from vaudeville to cinema to disrepair and renovation, transforming into a multimedia arts center in the modern era, all while keeping the original design, acoustics and decor intact.

Recovering from a 1985 fire, the Paramount is now owned by the city of St. Cloud and operated by the Paramount Arts Resource Trust. Today’s booking includes Ricky Skaggs, Gaelic Storm, and stage events like “Peter Pan” and “Grease.”

Other historic venues of note include Minneapolis’ First Avenue (a mere 45 years old, but with a history of shows as close as one can get to the beating heart of live rock music in Minnesota), the Historic Paramount Theatre in Austin, the St. Mane Theatre in Lanesboro, Red Rock Center in Fairmont, Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes, and many more.

Find even more performing arts venues, as well as upcoming performances throughout the state.