It's not often Emily Schoonover, 21, gets to perform in a nightclub for fans younger than she is. That's partly why the singer/guitarist of the rock band Bugsy raved about St. Paul's new all-ages venue, the Treasury.
"I think it's important to have music spaces that aren't based around alcohol," said Schoonover, who started playing rock clubs at 15 with her previous band, Bruise Violet. "I'd always have to leave right after our set."
And with the wariness of a young woman used to being around drunk men, she added: "It's nice to not have to worry about my safety after the show."
Two decades ago, safety indeed would have been a great concern along Payne Avenue, where the Treasury officially opened last month after a two-year COVID delay. But the historic strip east of downtown St. Paul — known to older music fans for the Minnesota Music Café and a Hold Steady song — has enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade with new eateries, art galleries and other cool upgrades.
Count the Treasury as not just the latest feather in Payne Ave's renewal cap, but a giant win for underage music fans — who've been sorely underserved with live-music options in either of the Twin Cities.
Housed in the basement of the 99-year-old Swedish Bank building, the nonprofit venue has no age restrictions and no alcohol. It does, however, have the look, feel and sound of a good, low-frills, high-energy rock club, one with an official capacity of 180 people (close in size to Mortimer's or the 331 Club in Minneapolis).
After COVID stalled its opening, the Treasury's operators expanded their mission statement to not only offer a safe space for young audiences to enjoy live music, but also each other's company.
"Music events are such an important way for young people to meet friends and have fun," said Jack Kolb-Williams, executive director of Twin Cities Catalyst Music, the nonprofit organization behind the Treasury.
"These kids had it sucked out of their lives for two years."
Kolb-Williams already has a decade of experience operating a nonprofit, all-ages venue — the Garage in Burnsville.
Opened in 2001 and run by the city of Burnsville until Catalyst Music took over in 2014, the Garage is a bright and shining example of the benefits of giving teens a dark and dingy place to be creative and have fun. Some of the Twin Cities' hottest young bands played early gigs there, including Durry, Miloe, Remo Drive and Early Eyes.
As far back as 2014, Kolb-Williams and Catalyst co-founder Logan Adams began discussing plans for a second venue closer to one of the downtowns.
"I would constantly hear from people, 'I wish we had something like the Garage up here,'" Kolb-Williams recounted, conceding, "It can be hard to get down to Burnsville if your only mode of transportation is taking the bus."
Not surprisingly, it wasn't easy finding a property owner in Minneapolis or St. Paul willing to house a nonprofit space for a bunch of kids to make noise in.
When Kolb-Williams set up a table for Record Store Day 2018 at nearby Caydence Records & Coffee — which sporadically hosts all-ages gigs — Catalyst Music was introduced to the Treasury's future landlord, Dimitri Hatzigeorgiou. At the time, the former Starbucks executive was converting his three-story bank building into spaces for artists and other creatives through his gallery Art at 967 Payne.
"It felt like a perfect fit with a [landlord] who understood our mission in a vibrant little corner of St. Paul," Kolb-Williams said.
The $60,000 or so that it took to convert the building's basement was largely funded by St. Paul's Cultural Star arts grants and an online donations campaign (still going). Just as the Treasury was ready to open in March 2020, though, the COVID lockdown began.
In the interim, Catalyst staffers and volunteers did further work on the space, the walls of which are lined with reclaimed wood from a historic home in the neighborhood. They also used the new stage and lights for livestreaming performances during lockdown, also part of Catalyst Music's educational programs for recording and video production.
One staffer who came aboard was Nadirah McGill, drummer/co-vocalist of Gully Boys, which headlined the Treasury's grand opening April 21.
"This place is like a step up from playing basement shows," said McGill, who oversees talent booking at both the Garage and the Treasury.
McGill is working to make the Treasury a viable venue for lesser-known bands: "We need more sober, all-ages spaces like this for fans, but we also need more venues this size for the baby bands to play. There's a big difference between having to fill a 180-capacity room versus a 350-size room."
Among the names on the schedule in May are thrashing "country-core" band Rat Bath (playing Monday); indie-rockers Pullstring (May 20); experimental instrumentalists Ologyology (May 22) and electro-rock act Pure Shifter (May 28).
Performers do not have to be under 21, but should appeal to music fans that young. Which leaves it pretty wide open.
On the night before McGill's band played last month, the drummer watched with excitement as the Treasury welcomed a touring headliner, Oklahoma trio Skating Polly, with two punky, female-led Twin Cities bands opening, Bugsy and Vial.
Among the many underage fans who took in the heavy triple bill, Alice Lavender, 17, of St. Paul, said she appreciated "the positive energy" in the new venue.
"It's more about the music when there's no alcohol. And it seems a lot safer," said Lavender, echoing the Bugsy bandleader's comments.
Two teens who only gave their first names, Cam and Katelyn — they understandably got nervous when an old guy with a note pad asked for their personal info — said they also appreciated the Treasury's "inclusive" vibe.
"It feels more comfortable when it's mostly people our age," Katelyn said.
The Treasury has posted a code of conduct on its website which clearly states policies against discrimination or harassment related to race, sex or gender. Kolb-Williams believes those policies will also naturally become hallmarks of the Treasury, based on the core demographic.
"I've been working with kids for 10 years, and more and more I'm amazed at how this generation of kids works for inclusivity in a way that's just so palpable," he said. "That's at the forefront of our mission here."
Sounds like a venue that truly will be treasured.
Address: 965 Payne Av., St. Paul.
Tickets and more info: thetreasurystp.com or catalystmusic.org.
Performing this month: Bloodline (Fri.), Rat Bath (Mon.), Pullstring (May 20), Ologyology (May 22), Pure Shifter (May 28), the Ragetones (May 29).