Below the Music Box Theatre near the northern terminus of Nicollet Avenue lies one of the oddest historical sites in Minnesota (and yes, I’ve been to Ed’s Museum). After several decades as a movie theater, the 1920 building served as a Pentecostal church presided over by the to-be-notorious Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The basement was the gathering place for their youth group, the Navigators Club, and its walls still bear dusty hand-painted murals of the Holy Land, complete with a once-functioning wall-mounted fountain. It must have been a magical land for those little Navigators.
The basement also contains two-foot marquee letters reading loring, from another of the building’s previous lives. Most recently, the Triple Espresso performers parked there for over ten years; the theater is now reopening as a venue for music, theater, and other entertainments.
Already the place is a mecca for the Twin Cities’ most ardent music lovers. At Monday night’s press event, the Art Deco lobby was like a young music journalists’ Nighthawks at the Diner: Culture Bully‘s Chris DeLine behind the bar, City Pages music editor Andrea Swensson leaning against it, Vita.mn‘s Leslie Plesser coming in from the rain, Carl Atiya Swanson conducting tours and his CakeIn15 blogmate, photographer Stacy Schwartz, in the house enjoying a performance by Nikki Schultz. Schwartz is the venue’s booker, and Swanson its art curator; already, he’s wasting no wall space.
The Music Box is a superb place to hear music, particularly from the vantage point of the 214 orchestra seats, which wrap around the large stage. A spacious balcony makes room for another 226. There’s no Orpheum-style gilding, but the building is in good shape inside and out, with a rough-and-ready sturdiness behind its veneer of campy glamour. (The Broadway posters left by the Espresso troupe feel a lot more ironic than they probably did a year ago.) The sound is excellent for acoustic performances, and for the unplugged crowd the venue will be a great alternative to the Cedar.
Outside, general manager Pete Christensen noticed me taking a picture of the blank marquee. “What do you want to see up there?” he asked.
“How about subscribe to the twin cities daily planet?” I replied.
“Sure,” he laughed. “I think we can do that.”
That would be great, Pete—but really, it will make me quite happy enough to see bands’ names up there, and even happier to go inside to hear them play.