The Dinkytown music venue and events facility near the U of M campus is hosting a “pre-opening party” on Friday night with local acts Dirt Train, Chris Koza and Kiss the Tiger, plus a warm-up DJ set by one-time Varsity fixture Jake Rudh. Tickets are $8 advance or $10 at the door. Rudh was one of the first local muic figures to boycott the otherwise well-liked venue while it was still owned by Jason McLean, who is now on the lam from sexual abuse charges from when he was a Children's Theatre actor in the 1980s.
Bought up by a L.A.-via-Hong-Kong-based property investment firm last summer, the Varsity is hosting this soft-opening event to get ready for what’s turning into a wide array of 2018 shows at the 960-capacity venue. Live Nation was heavily involved in booking the room before charges against McLean surfaced, and it will be even more active there under the new ownership as it signed on to manage the place.
"The overall aesthetic and the experience that made music fans love the place really hasn't changed," said local Live Nation talent buyer Josh Lacey, who got his start as a Varsity staffer.
Lacey pointed to "a few modest upgrades" to things like the air-conditioning and heating unit, box office and bar space, but otherwise he said the main difference will be an even stronger commitment from Live Nation: "We're really excited to have it back," he said.
The new Varsity regime's first round of touring shows start this month with rapper PNB Rock, pop-rocker Trevor Hall and Danish pop-punk trio New Politics, the latter the kind of teen-centric rock act that will once again be a staple at the venue. Some of the other bookings on down the line now vary greatly from “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” bandleader Jon Batiste to the Indigo Girls, and from a stand-up appearance by “SNL” alum Jay Pharoah to even a surprising date with what’s left of the ‘70s prog-rock band Uriah Heep.
Feb. 15: PNB Rock
Feb. 21: Trevor Hall
Feb. 22: New Politics
March 6: Red + Lacey Sturm
March 9: Casey Abrams
March 20: Lil Skies
March 25: Protest the Hero
April 8: Todrick Hall
April 13: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
April 27: Indigo Girls
May 5: Jon Batiste solo set
May 8: Jukebox the Ghost
May 11: Jay Pharoah