Minnesota's concert scene remains rocky as another downturned summer approaches

Country bashes like We Fest and Twin Cities Summer Jam are still on for now, but many big concerts are being pushed again.

The Jayhawks in 2019 at the Basilica Block Party, which is being pushed to the fall as only a few big summer concerts remain on tap for summer.
The Jayhawks in 2019 at the Basilica Block Party, which is being pushed to the fall as only a few big summer concerts remain on tap for summer.

— Aaron Lavinsky / Star Tribune

If you're a country music fan, things are looking hopeful for concerts this summer. For most others, autumn will be the earliest to enjoy performances on a large scale.

That's the simplest way of saying where things stand right now for the concert industry in Minnesota. Basically, everything else is still as erratic as a Replacements gig circa 1983.

"It remains a waiting game," veteran promoter Gene Hollister of Rose Presents said last month.

The biggest bashes of summer in Minnesota will likely be what's left of the music festivals; namely the country-heavy We Fest and Twin Cities Summer Jam and the country/classic-rock hybrid events in Prior Lake (Lakefront Fest) and Walker (Moondance Jam). Other festivals are postponed until fall (Basilica Block Party, Winstock) or called off until 2022 (Rock the Garden).

"We strongly believe that by August, capacity will be high enough for [We Fest] to go on as planned," said Matt Mithun, who is co-producing the Aug. 5-7 event in Detroit Lakes with Live Nation.

Both We Fest (with Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton) and TC Summer Jam (July 22-24 with Carrie Underwood and Zac Brown Band) hinge on loosening state guidelines that cap audiences at 10,000.

"We've been in contact with the governor's committee about every two weeks to get them to commit to what we can do and what we can't do, [but] still don't get any answers," said Jerry Braam, CEO of TC Summer Jam. "It's very frustrating."

There has already been a rash of postponements of big summer tours. Rage Against the Machine, Kenny Chesney, the Weeknd, Roger Waters and Elton John were all pushed to 2022 after being bumped from 2020.

Target Field representatives confirmed the Guns N' Roses and Green Day concerts will roll over to 2022. Expect the same for Def Leppard at U.S. Bank Stadium. Even fall arena gigs by Harry Styles and the Eagles seem iffy.

Smaller concert offerings are plentiful, but not indoors. Most of the main music venues in Minnesota are holding off until fall at the earliest to open to near-capacity crowds — which is the only way they can turn a desperately needed profit.

"The last thing any of us need to do after this difficult past year is take an extra risk losing money on shows," said Nate Kranz, general manager at First Avenue, which will resume shows in September for all its venues, including the Palace, Fine Line and Turf. The same scenario is unfolding at the Fillmore, Varsity Theater, Armory and Cedar Cultural Center.

First Ave still has two big outdoor gigs in August at Surly Brewery (the Decemberists and Ween). Music in the Zoo promoter Sue McLean & Associates could not reach an agreement for its annual outdoor series, so it's instead staging concerts at Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Hilde Amphitheater in Plymouth.

Some Twin Cities venues — those lucky enough to have space outside — have pivoted to outdoor concerts, including the Hook & Ladder, Palmer's, Icehouse and Crooners. The latter is also hosting music indoors. Only a handful of venues are willing to operate at limited capacity (usually 50%). Others include the Cabooze, Medina Entertainment Center and Minnesota Music Cafe.

The Dakota and Amsterdam Bar & Hall hope to reopen soon. "I'm optimistic that we will be doing shows in July at significant capacity," said Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett.

He underlined what's at stake.

"The capacity isn't the metric. The metric is vaccination rates and the prescribed safety of people together in a room like that. I want to make sure our staff, artists and customers all feel safe."