A Tale of Two Steves

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 01/21/10 at driftlessmusic.blogspot.com

Driftless Music got a nice little write up in the Second Supper today (page 5).

Choice quote: “Many of the events take place in the Twin Cities–which our geographer friends may not classify as being in the Driftless Region–but La Crosse gets lots love too, and in a city as digitally dry as our own, we’ll take what we can get.

Aww, that “can-do attitude” is what makes La Crosse so lovable. And while the Twin Cities and the Driftless Region may not be connected geographically, I like to think there is some sort of cultural connection between the two. Minneapolis and La Crosse certainly share a strong commitment to live music, regardless of their differences.

For instance, Minneapolis’s landmark music venue is First Avenue & 7th St Entry. The club is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. I’ve been serving on the DEMO board for the past year with Steve “the last independent” McClellan, who worked as a booker, and ultimately as general manager, at First Avenue from 1973-2005. Anyone who knows Steve can attest to his passion for independent music. His monologues and rants can be both hilarious and brutally honest. Most of all, he is operating on the grassroots and genuinely cares about the bands he books and rooms that host them.

Check out a vintage Steve diversity rant (with a kind quote from Bob Mould) in the First Avenue: HayDay movie trailer HERE. Read his “night out” blog post HERE.

In some ways, he reminds me of another Steve…

La Crosse’s landmark music venue has honestly got to be the Warehouse. The club is celebrating its 19th anniversary this year. Its owner and sole proprietor Steve Harm is quick to note that the Warehouse is the nation’s longest running all ages, no alcohol music venue. I’m not sure how one would verify that claim, but club’s longevity is very impressive. Like McClellan, Steve Harm is also good with words, rants, monologues, and opinions (i.e. There are signs all over the Warehouse explaining and spouting many different things). While some people are put of by their “grouchy teddy bear” demeanor, McClellan and Harm are really just gentleman that can sometimes come off as slightly intimidating. The reality is that they are the two most passionat, intense and honest supporters of the independent music community I know.

Of course honesty and passion doesn’t always translate to monetary success. Nowadays most shows are still decidedly geared toward the high school crowd, but Steve-o still manages to bring in great touring bands (Meat Puppets coming back in April, Toki Wright & Ari Herstand in March). More importantly, the Warehouse is still rockin’…for now.

First Avenue declared bankruptcy in November of 2004 and was forced to briefly close. A few months later Steve McClellan parted ways with the club; forming DEMO and teaching Music Business courses at McNally Smith College of Music. Hopefully La Crosse’s Steve can avoid a similar fate in his current situation with the Warehouse. I’m not against for-profit businesses requesting donations–bands do it too. I simply think the Warehouse would be better off in the long term as a non-profit organization. I just see a natural connection there. All Ages venues provide a valuable service to their communities. That is all. Thanks La Crosse, I’m yours.



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