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Top 10 Minneapolis Live Music Venues

There’s more to Minneapolis music than just Prince.

No, really.

While we love the purple one as much as the next guy, he’s only at Paisley Park or the Dakota once in a while, so while you’re waiting for him to make another surprise Minneapolis appearance, you’ve got to have something to do. Luckily, here in the City by Nature, we’ve got more live music than you can shake a tambourine at. Check out our picks for the top live music venues (nightlife edition) in Minneapolis and get your groove on at one or more of them soon.

Target Center Music Venue Minneapolis

1. Target Center

Do you desperately want to see your favorite national artist in concert? Have you always wanted to see your rock idol live on stage? One place tops this list: Target Center. This massive entertainment destination attracts the world’s top music artists and highly-sought after shows covering all genres of music. Each year it hosts over 200 events and 1 million visitors, and has greeted over 30 million guests and hosted almost 5,000 events since its opening. Local venues may have a tough time snagging all the big names, but you can rest assured that Target Center houses the biggest and best music shows in Minneapolis, whether it be a pop artist, rapper, country star or rock legend.

 This world famous arena is located in the heart of Minneapolis’ vibrant downtown scene, so why not make a weekend out of it?  Within walking distance of Target Center’s doors Minneapolis’ nightlife awaits you with award-winning restaurants, bars, shopping, hotels, theaters and clubs.

Prepare for an updated music experience with a large-scale renovation plan expected to begin in early 2014 and finish in the years ahead through 2032.This renovation will include additional clubs and amenities so music fans can indulge in witnessing their favorite performers for decades to come.

First Avenue is the premier music venue in Minneapolis.

2. First Avenue & 7th Street Entry

This downtown music venue is a world-known treasure to Minneapolis music fans, who can hear anyone from their local favorites from Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, to underground artists and internationally-touring stars. Formerly a bus depot, this venue boasts a full dance floor and a balcony with a great view of even the most-packed show; which “First Ave” regulars know is synonymous with any show held here.

For a more intimate music experience, First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry is an ideal venue for indie-friendly bands and local artists who are new to the scene. This option is a breath of fresh air, literally, for those who flock to the lower-key, less-crowded performance atmosphere.

Awarded City Pages’ “2013 best rock club” and ranked no. 2 on Rolling Stone’s “best big rooms in America” list, this music spot is a hipster hub with quality indie bands that have vied for a gig on First Ave’s stage. First Avenue scored the ultimate shout out when it was ranked fifth in Pollstar’s ‘2012 Worldwide Top 100 Club Venues’ list. So whether you are a visitor or a resident, First Avenue & 7th Street Entry is a Minneapolis destination you don’t want to miss out on.

Mill City Nights Music in Minneapolis

3. Mill City Nights

Mill City Nights may be new to the music scene with its opening in March 2012, but it has quickly risen to the occasion and currently thrives as a hip music hub for locals and out-of-towners alike. The space is operated by AEG Live, a Los Angeles-based entertainment tour program, allowing a plethora of local celebrities to national favorites. Mill City Nights boasts a multi-level space which is great for any latecomers who venture their way into the back. With an intimate setting including great bar service, this venue delivers in a quality concert experience.

If you’re looking to make a night out of your music experience, the Nether Bar, an additional venue located beneath Mill City Nights, is a lounge perfect for small gatherings with your friends prior to the nights’ performers taking the main stage. This bar also provides rental space for private concerts or pre-concert parties, so you can get the chance to chum it up with an artist favorite.

©2013 Erik Hess, City Pages

4. Fine Line Music Café

Fine Line is a downtown Minneapolis destination that consistently offers a broad range of musical acts and boasts a full event calendar with live music six days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, making it a perfect stop for a spur of the moment weekday jam session or long-awaited concert plans. This historical venue has housed thousands of nationally and regionally-known acts since its opening in the early 1990s and is a must-try for all music lovers.

The Dakota Jazz Club music venue in Minneapolis.

5. Dakota Jazz Club

If you’re looking for a swanky night on the town, Dakota Jazz Club is the hot spot for you. Planning happy hour with a date? Perfect. Visiting Minneapolis for the weekend? Even better. Dress yourself to the nines and get ready to be transported to Minneapolis’ jazz age as Dakota sets the standards high in music and culinary experience.

Jazz enthusiasts and foodies alike remark at Dakota’s rewarding ambiance, and the venue was City Pages’ 2012 “best jazz club” winner. Dakota’s high-caliber jazz is paired seamlessly with its top-notch dinner menu, and the club attracts both local and national artists and musicians, adding to the dynamic setting.

Whether you are a jazz enthusiast, an inquiring newcomer on the scene, or just there for the food, one thing is certain: A night out at Dakota is always a classy occasion.

©2011 McNally Smith, Flickr

6. Historic State Theatre

Visitors can get a taste of Minneapolis’ rich music history while listening to a great show all in one night when attending a show at Historic State Theatre, located in the heart of the theatre district. The Historic State Theatre has been restored over the years since its opening in 1921 on the brink of the roaring twenties, and to the numbers of patrons who’ve graced its ornate doors; the word ‘exquisite’ comes to mind. The theater continues to fall nothing short of this description today. The State Theatre’s spacious auditorium gives way to decorated ceilings, great sight lines, first-rate acoustics and vintage seats; all which provide an ambiance reminiscent of a bygone era.

The embellished architecture and vintage atmosphere paints a pretty picture into the history of Minneapolis’ rich background in arts and entertainment, and gives music-lovers and history-buffs a chance to come together and unwind for a good show. Being able to experience current, budding performers on the same stage as so many of their music predecessors is a unique experience you don’t want to miss out on. 

©2008 Jon Behm Photography

7. Cedar Cultural Center

If you’re feeling a bit ‘worldly’ and are looking to gain some cultural insight on your trip to Minneapolis, you might want to make a pit stop at the Cedar Cultural Center. Here you can listen to world-class international music brought to you by people with good intentions. The Cedar Cultural Center is a music venue with a mission: to promote inter-cultural appreciation and understanding through global music and dance. With volunteers on staff instead of hired help, the Cedar Cultural Center is revered for its friendly and cozy vibe.

Because of its wide variety of local, national and international music, the Cedar is popular for shedding light on the vibrancy and diversity of the city’s music and arts scene. Minneapolis may be a big city in the heart of the Midwest, but one trip to the Cedar and you will feel as far away from a typical American city as possible when you listen to music from across the world including global roots, folk, indie, experimental, jazz and blues artists, as well as spoken word performances and other culturally-focused events.

It’s not hard to feel included in the local community as people from all walks of life gather together under Cedar’s roof through the common appreciation for music. A night out at Cedar Cultural Center gives visiting music-lovers an unexpected glimpse into the vibrant and diverse community that Minneapolis has to offer.

©2008 Walsh Bishop Inc

8. Varsity Theater

The resurrected theater is one of the best places in Minneapolis to catch a concert, and was City Pages’ 2012 “best concert venue” winner. Located in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota’s campus, the theater’s ambiance and eclectic crowd make it a classic spot to see a show. The Varsity’s nostalgic atmosphere encompasses old-school elegance with a cutting-edge feel derived from its young crowd and hip location.

If you’re feeling a bit worn from your travels, be sure to grab a spot along the sides of the theater, which offer raised ledges laden with large, comfy couches and intimate table and chair settings separated by draped curtains. Not to mention, the recent media buzz surrounding their “uniquely” designed bathrooms makes the Varsity a tourist destination in addition to a music hot spot. 

©2010 City Pages

9. Triple Rock Social Club

Triple Rock Social Club is perfect for the traveler who has just arrived and looking for a last-minute place to enjoy some quality music. The club boasts a ‘come-as-you-are’ aesthetic, and since its opening in 2003, the Triple Rock has become a prime dive bar for visitors and locals who enjoy punk, indie rock and underground hip hop. So kick back, relax and enjoy a good show.

Music aside, the Triple Rock is an essential pit stop for any visitor who might have over-indulged the night before from Minneapolis’ vibrant night life, as the venue was City Pages’ 2010 “best hangover breakfast” winner. Enjoy a solid burger washed down with a superb Bloody Mary and let the high-energy rock and roll music waves wash over you.

©2011 Justin Kent, Flickr

10. Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill

Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill continues to keep Washington Avenue and Minneapolis’ Warehouse District neighborhood alive and is a reliable destination for fans of rock, funk, R&B and blues. Its vibrant atmosphere has lured occasional appearances from Prince and longtime resident bands that keep their fans, old and new alike, coming back for more.

For visitors on business or weekday trips, Bunker’s Music features house bands Sunday through Thursday night, while recognized local, regional and national artists play on the weekends. The venue radiates a casual, low-key atmosphere, making it a sound spot for the visitor who is looking for a less “touristy” music experience that is off the beaten path. 

Honorable Mention: Minneapolis Convention Center Auditorium

There is no such thing as a bad seat when you visit the Minneapolis Convention Center Auditorium and its expansive listening and viewing space. It provides an easily-reachable location with the benefit of a vibrant downtown setting. You will be pleasantly surprised by the look and feel of the auditorium’s unbridled quality in entertaining: With recording studio-worthy acoustics, dynamic seating configuration, and convenient connections to our skyway system along with ample parking space, concert-goers will quickly figure out why so many big names have graced our stage. With recent concerts by Paul Simon, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Louis CK and the Minnesota Orchestra, it’s more than just a convention venue. 

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