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Rochester’s Castle fills a venue void, but still has room to improve

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Stage 1

There may be a new live music fortress in Rochester, but it’s not exactly the home of royalty – at least not yet.

The Castle is a new event space renovated from an old armory building downtown. Despite a population of 100,000, the number of performance spaces isn’t that impressive, as the Civic Center and small bar rooms account for the majority of Rochester’s few concerts.

That’s where The Castle hopes to come in.

The 4,500 square-foot event hall on the third floor can accommodate between 280 and 450 attendees. The exposed ceiling beams, wooden dance floor and warm lighting are all inviting, working to create an intimate yet not fully petite venue.

Friday night’s lineup celebrated its “grand opening,” officially declaring the space open for (musical) business.

On the bill was Rochester native Annie Mack followed by two Twin Cities-based bands, LowRay and The Suburbs. That local flare seemed the perfect way to usher in a new local spot.

Off the bat, Annie Mack is a queen fit for any castle. Her live vocals are velvety and emotional. While calmly sitting on stage, she still manages to demand ears to listen.

Annie Mack
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Annie Mack opened the show Friday, Feb. 1 at The Castle in Rochester, Minn.

Her combination of soul, blues and even rock – finishing off her set with a cover of “Voodoo Child” – was a wonderful start to the night. Her low-key performance style fit the size and atmosphere of The Castle. If only more people had actually made it to the venue to see it. Hopefully, more blues and jazz nights will arrive at the venue in the future.

But for such a health-conscious city, Rochesterites love to sit. The reserved tables and open chairs were the first to go. Then, and only then, did the GA floor start to fill. That will for sure have an effect on how many people can be brought into the venue in the future, but is an important note to know the audience.

LowRay was up next, and their driving, more up-beat rock tunes brought the energy. Celebrating the release of their debut album Friends and Fakers, the four-piece band filled the room wonderfully, balancing its driving pop-rock without being overly in the audience’s face.

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LowRay performed at The Castle in Rochester, Minn. on Friday, Feb. 1.

As it was time for The Suburbs to start, that ballroom-esque dance floor finally filled up – with plenty of elbow room to spare.

The Minneapolis-iconic headliners pulled out all the stops, featuring two guitars, a bass, keyboard, tambourine, drum set, trumpet and two saxophones all on stage.

While this full, big-band sound is essential to their performances, it might’ve been too much for the smaller space. While lead singer Chan Poling’s voice could be heard up close, the sound didn’t seem to mix well to the back. That could be a unique problem for this particular show, or something that needs to be accounted for with future acts of a similar size and volume.

These drawbacks didn’t stop the dancing for most of the night. Heads and bodies bobbed to their classic hits like “Music for Boys” and “Rattle My Bones,” as well as the newer tracks “Turn the Radio On” and “Hey Muse.”

Suburbs 2
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The Suburbs headlined the Grand Opening of The Castle in Rochester, Minn. on Friday, Feb. 1.

However, no matter what energy did exist in the room that night, an encore must’ve been skipped. A Sharpie-written setlist showed the Rochester audience missed out on two of the band’s more notable songs – “Cows” and “Love is the Law.” The world may never know why, whether it was due to the iffy sound management, energy or something else entirely.

Overall, there was an undeniable energy for those who were there at the Grand Opening night at The Castle. Is there room for improvement in sound, size and attendance? Yes, of course. But did people ultimately enjoy the show? Yes, of course. That’s what really matters at the end of a set.

This unique space is already on its way to filling a live music void and finding its home within Rochester. It will be fun to watch who plays next.

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