Eight days a week
Monday — Terminal Bar, 490 E. Hennepin
It’s more than an hour into open mic night, and there are three people in the bar — me, a man with a gray ponytail, and the guy onstage playing guitar.
What looks at first like a sad scene, however, proves to be the perfect Monday soundtrack, as singer-songwriters deliver acoustic numbers intended as much for their own enjoyment as the audience.
“It’s like therapy,” said the gray-pony-tailed Ralf, who has played many an open mic in the past. “It’s better than therapy; it works.”
There was some benefit for the audience, too. Chris Thompson played the inspired, well-written and well-sung guitar numbers one can expect from a local scene veteran. The next guy needed some practice, but Greg Reese, who followed, cast a 45-minute-long spell over the near-empty room with beautifully sung Dylan songs, resembling David Gray and Andrew Bird, whom he mimicked perfectly, down to the whistling, on one cover.
Reese’s long, leisurely set was a luxury; some weeks, the room is packed and the sign-up sheet runs into the 20s, said Tim Anderson, the new host of the event that has gone on for nearly a decade. Many a musician has stepped onto the Terminal stage and, while the more the merrier, you never know what you’re going to get.
— Jeremy Stratton
Tuesday — Eagles Club, 2507 E. 25th St.
Pop Wagner looks like he stepped right out of the Old West, with his shaggy mustache, floppy cowboy hat, button-down shirt and blue jeans. On Tuesdays, Wagner leads the Twin Cities Playboys and the Texas-based Gillette Brothers in an evening of old-time country and folk tunes at the Eagles Club, which Wagner called the crossroads of the area’s thriving country and Cajun music scene.
The regular schedule of nightly music has indeed made the 50-year-old American Legion a destination for fans of local music. “It’s like the West Bank in the ’70s,” said Wagner, “all under one roof.” Beneath that roof is a retro, wood-paneled interior, dioramas of stuffed eagles, two brands of beer on tap, plenty of pull-tabs and a wall-mounted American flag.
“It’s straight out of Texas, with the music I grew up with,” said Kevin Anthony, a Texan and fiddler for the Playboys.
At one point, Pop urged the mostly middle-aged-and-older crowd to “sit real close, like you’re around a campfire” for a cowboy love song. A handful of regulars stayed at the bar, while others moved in close to tap their toes or dance.
— Anna Pratt
Wednesday — Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Ave. S.
The word is right in the name: rock. With a concert almost every night, the Triple Rock can be a roll of the dice, in terms of style and quality, but one thing is assured: Minneapolis’ mecca for local and further-flung punk will satisfy your need for loud, fast and furious.
The venue has seen larger crowds, for sure, but this hump-day bill delivered, with Minneapolis trio The Diealones powering through an energetic set of screaming vocals, pounding drums and ripping blues-riff guitar that more than made up for the lack of bass. Singer Johnny Evans raged around the stage, opening up to the crowd with the last number’s shouted chorus: “I’ve got a drug problem!” and then politely thanking the audience as their ears buzzed in the wake.
Headliners The Go, from Detroit, aspired back to the British invasion, glam metal and the earliest punk, such as the MC5. Kudos to the lead singer for walking offstage before the set to fetch two cocktails and a tambourine.
— Jeremy Stratton
Thursday — The Blue Nile, 2027 E. Franklin Ave.
The mural on the stucco façade outside the Blue Nile Restaurant and Lounge conjures faraway lands, and the archways, columns, ironwork and hanging plants inside lend a touch of the exotic as well.
As the Ethiopian restaurant and bar goes nocturnal; the lights are dimmed, the darkness is punctured by the neon glow reflecting from the disco ball above the dance floor and stage.
A diverse crowd has gathered — sporting miniskirts, silver shoes, glitter, dreadlocks, upturned collars, sweater vests, hats, sunglasses and gold chains — to hear Prince Jabba, Lynval Jackson and Les Exodus’ reggae stylings. Some danced to the love songs, and one bartender (who did not give his name) bragged that the Blue Nile attracts “the most music and the most people.”
That’s pretty good, considering the regular cover charge of $10. (The evening might have drawn two too many, however; a pair of women got in a fight outside the bar, drawing the police.)
Little more than a week later, Yawo and the Afrofunk Band were rocking The Blue Nile for an after-party for Afrifest, a weekend-long celebration of African culture and music.
Friday — Aster Café, 125 SE Main St.
On a balmy night just nine days after the 35W bridge fell into the river, a band called Honeysuckle Rose played its regular Friday gig, providing a bit of a balm for café patrons and passersby, just six blocks up Main Street from the site of the disaster.
Guitars, fiddle, stand-up bass, saxophone and the voice of singer Rose Oyamat filled the air with gypsy jazz, soothing the general rawness, as sure as the evening breeze.
The words “I’m in Heaven” lilted over the 50 or so people who’d wandered through an iron gate to sit under trees strung with lights in the Aster Café’s brick courtyard. “This is so nice,” said a man in shorts and a convention-goers’ lanyard, stopping to listen.
— Chris Steller
Note: Holle Brian, who plays bass for Honeysuckle Rose, is production manager at The Bridge.
Friday — Merlins Rest, 3601 E. Lake St.
It doesn’t get much more authentic than Friday nights at this new “Isles” (as in British) pub, with the men dressed for kilt night and a group of the Twin Cities’ finest Celtic music players seated at the front, corner booth, turning out fine Irish reels on guitar, banjo, fiddle, penny whistle, bagpipes and more. It’s open session, technically, but “this is the session that you have to know what you’re doing,” said Sean McGarrity, a chef at Merlins.
The music isn’t loud, but it rolls along beneath the din of the crowd until a song ends and the patrons applaud as the music and conversation continue.
“They’re playing for each other, not for us,” said the kilted Paul McCluskey, who teaches Ceili (pronounced kaylee, Gaelic for “party” or “social”) dance. “We all benefit,” he said, “but they’re learning from each other.” Some sit in just for that reason, he said. “The important thing is to not make noise if you don’t know you’re doing.”
There are other nights for that, like the Old Molly’s folk jam on Wednesdays or Mondays’ open mic.
— Jeremy Stratton
Saturday — Nye’s Polonaise, 112 E. Hennepin Ave.
The wood-paneled polka lounge is crawling with people: beer-bellied men in silk button-up dress shirts huddle at one end, while a middle-aged man with a straw golf hat over his braided ponytail chats up a woman with an ultra-gelled perm and floral-print top. A bleach-blonde bride-to-be and her bachelorette-party entourage further pack the long, thin barroom. And why not? The self-dubbed World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band is playing at the Esquire-annointed “Best Bar in America.”
Bandleader and accordion player Ruth Adams barks in rhythm during her notorious “Barking Dog Polka.” Soon after, she outdoes herself, rapping the “Too Fat Polka,” which, like Adams herself, surely predates hip-hop by several decades. Even after the song ends, one bar-goer saunters from the bathroom to the bar, belting: “I don’t want her/ You can have her/ She’s too fat for me!”
In the main room, patrons are singing along, too, bellied up and queuing for their turn at Nye’s famous piano bar, which on any given weekend hosts some of the cities’ best — and worst — amateur crooners.
— Liz Riggs
Sunday — The Varsity Theater, 1308 SE Fourth St.
Our week-long experiment ended like it began — in an empty room lonely for a crowd that didn’t know what it was missing.
The Varsity’s main room was set like a stylish, untouched temple between the long stretch of bar at one end and the stage at the other, where DJ Verb X was spinning a spectacular assault of deep, driving hip-hop, and R&B groove that shifted and blended on a beat that was constantly changing but never ever stopped. The music was infectious and very loud, and the ballroom décor and rows of set tables begged for a crowd to sit or shake their, well, booties.
Outside, where the music played on over sidewalk speakers, bartender Gabe Douglas said the Vinyl Lounge and salsa nights — which alternate every other Sunday — do draw crowds. “We roll out a carpet for the salsa dancers,” he said. The Varsity’s regular booking of shows sometimes fill the room.
Back inside, lost in the sound and red-light glow of his dais, the DJ seemed to care little that the room was empty — more room, perhaps, to fill with his beats, scratches and seamless transitions. But don’t you think he’d like to see you? And if you don’t go, how will you know what you’re missing?
— Jeremy Stratton
last revised: September 12, 2007