The Music Plays on in Minnesota's Historic Venues

By Loren Green

Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing

The Sheldon Theatre was nicknamed "the jewel box" for its ornately decorated interior / A.D. Drumm Images

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

Opening its doors in 1904 as one of the first municipally owned theaters in the United States, the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing 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.

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.

Exterior of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis

The grandiose Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis was once owned by Bob Dylan

Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis

Built 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.

Fergus Falls theatre marquee

Fergus Falls theatre marquee / Lisa Meyers McClintick

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 exterior and marquee

The Paramount is a multi-function arts hub that includes the restored theater, an art gallery and visual arts studios

Paramount Theatre & Visual Arts Center, St. Cloud

Opened as The Sherman Theatre in 1921, this St. Cloud theater 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 bookings include performers like Ricky Skaggs and Gaelic Storm, and stage events such as “Peter Pan” and “Grease.”

Exterior of First Avenue in Minneapolis

Formerly a Greyhound bus depot, First Avenue is now Minnesota's premier live music venue / First Avenue, courtesy Meet Minneapolis

Other Historic Music Venues in Minnesota

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.

Loren Green

Loren Green is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer covering music, culture, food and beverage across the state. His work has appeared in The Growler, City Pages, Paste and more.