Halfway between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities lies a theater that hides a secret venue. For many people that travel along Interstate 94, the Parisian themed St. Michael Cinema is a bit inconspicuous. Inside the theater sits a unique musical experience, one which is expertly capitalizing on a new growth in venues throughout our state. The trend of listening rooms and non-bar environments where music lovers can be comfortable and detach from devices is expanding. Le Musique Room has become a haven for keeping music alive and transforming expectations in seeing a show.
“I don’t have a sign on the building. For us, everything that we’ve accomplished has been 100% organic because of people’s word of mouth.” ~Tom Pickard
The theater was originally built in 2006 and quickly closed in the market crash of 2008. The population of St. Michael’s at the time couldn’t support a movie theater. When it reopened in 2015, the landscape had dramatically changed. St. Michael had doubled in population, and its neighboring city of Rogers was number one in community growth since the last census. With Maple Grove being 8th on that list, the surrounding population now needed more entertainment options.
In 2017, Le Musique Room hosted 50 shows. In 2018 they more than doubled that number with 105 shows. This year will be another step of growth as the venue continues to expand by word of mouth and bringing back a talented group of tribute bands. There’s a familiarity with the audience and a growing collection of series that entice all styles of music lovers.
For many people, walking into the movie theater atmosphere and smelling the popcorn and seeing a full bar upstairs, the feeling is surreal when turning a corner and seeing a huge 32′ x 14′ stage for bands. It’s this unique environment that leaves people talking about it.
The 199 seat venue is incredibly intimate and most people don’t actually realize how close they are until they experience it. The front row hugs the stage, while the upper row has a drink rail and full view of the space. The lighting board is in the upper corner while the sound board is softly tucked into the middle of the room. Their footprints are hardly noticeable, which is typically the opposite of other venues. The front of the room is filled with a huge stage and almost 200 feet of metal trussing. The halo above the stage allows the venue to accommodate a variety of performances by special lighting and moving effects.
Le Musique Room has a direct connection to Pioneer Place on Fifth in St. Cloud. The same production company runs their sound and oftentimes supports bands traveling back and forth between locations. The mixing boards are identical between the venues, allowing them to save settings to send back and forth. This saves time with soundchecks by having presets determined from a previous show.
The venue’s largest demographic are older folks, the theater often hosts busloads of seniors for a particular show. Their diverse and dynamic tribute shows honor the eras and styles that are the foundation of today’s music. Tribute bands are filled with highly talented and skilled musicians who have been performing all their lives. Le Musique Room carries the past cultures of music and showcases them for a new generation of kids to discover. Families traditionally buy seating blocks for the extremely popular holiday shows. The venue has become this bridge between the older music and discoveries for younger fans.
Supporting this venue is a large volunteer base that handles many aspects of the shows. Dale is one of those volunteers and ended up seeing 97 shows last year. He shares, “There’s not a bad seat, and the reaction is always the same – ‘I didn’t know it was here. I drive by it on the freeway all the time.'” He’s gotten to know the people that keep coming back as well. All of the volunteers add a welcoming touch to the venue. The super-comfortable seats, adult beverages, and refillable popcorn buckets are definite perks that any crowd can enjoy.
“It’s not a concert, it’s an experience,” Dale expresses.
Designed as a movie theater, the venue is THX certified. There’s an inch and a half of cotton map (in red) that is especially designed for sound deadening, absorbing, and tuning the room. It cuts back on any reflections and makes everything sound direct and immediate. It’s a huge key to the quality of the sound. It gives the sound engineer clean, clear sonics to work with. Sitting in the venue, you don’t hear the room. You’re able to hear every instrument you see on stage and can accurately focus on each part. It’s definitely an extraordinary event.
Another cool key of the venue is the existing surround sound speakers. They use these to slightly fill and delay the music. This ensures the sounds are evenly distributed in all 199 seats. The flown speakers also keep the distance that someone is hearing the sound almost the same, no matter where you are sitting. All of this translates to an extremely professional sound for the audience.
Any venue wants the sound to be the heart of what makes them special. For Le Musique Room, the identity of their environment is another huge chamber of that heart. The original movie screen sits behind the stage. Many shows utilize video elements for added impact. The target is to provide better fidelity and not be piercingly loud. The show has dynamics and range in volume, but you aren’t waking up with ringing ears.
“The crowd that attends the smaller concerts appreciate it the most because when you’re getting older, your ears starting to wane. People want to have a seat after a hard day of work. They’re willing to pay $6 for a good cocktail, see some great music for $25-$35 a week. The benefit of the room not being one more loud bar is a real plus here,” shares Tom Pickard.
Tom Pickard, Owner and FOH Engineer
Tom Pickard has over 30 years of live sound engineering under his belt. He witnessed a movement with live venues designed towards connecting to the music, and less about the bars. Driving by the megaplex and watching it undergo a $1 million refurbishment, he jumped right in. The uniqueness of the location isn’t lost to Tom, he knows the venue being locally owned is important. He shares there is no way a larger corporation like Marcus Theaters would allow a music venue to reside in a theater.
“I saw a gem in the location. It’s the venue I’ve always dreamed about operating,” Tom explains. “The room will give patrons the highest quality sound and video experience only seen at major stadium shows but in an intimate setting.”
His venue supports a large community of artists and tribute music who have found a strong refuge at Le Musique Room. They also support original music, with 2 to 4 CD release parties a month. Now, after 4 seasons, Tom wants to expand into the next tier of traveling artists. His goal is to pull in artists from LA, Chicago, New York and Nashville, assisting in supporting younger people in their careers.
Currently he’s exploring an expansion with AirBnb. Artists traveling on tour might not ordinarily be able to come to Minnesota. Airbnb is growing their “Experiences” feature and bringing new artists to intimate venues across the country. All of a sudden there’s an outlet to host and provide a show to the area for new artists. Social media plays a huge role in learning about these intimate shows, and AirBnb is the perfect vessel with their huge marketing department.
Book your tickets online, where you have the ability to choose your seats. Hang out at the upstairs bar for pre-show drinks and quick, easy access to the venue. The Fabulous Armadillos consistently sell out, so buy tickets well in advance. Also look for Mick Sterling shows, which have a devote following and provide highly talented evenings of music.
The Guest Room
Paul “Stretch” Diethelm, Guitarist for Fabulous Armadillos
Paul has had an extraordinary career, from performing alongside guitar gods Eric Clapton and B.B. King to touring with Jonny Lang for 8 plus years to even playing on two Grammy-nominated albums. His current role is guitar virtuoso for the Fabulous Armadillos, who have become a regular at the venue.
He has known Tom Pickard since 1983 and always recognized his ingenuity and forward way of thinking. When he heard about the new venue being tucked inside a theater, there was a pause as he wondered how people’s mindsets were going to change and accept something so nontraditional. Paul then heard the room and learned that, acoustically, it’s incredible. It’s a very dry sounding room, so onstage it can feel really different from other venues.
“Anybody that plays music knows that a little bit of ambience coming back onstage is a comforting thing. If you play your guitar and just goes out into the void and nothing comes back, it’s kind of an unsettling feeling. But it really tunes the band up and makes you play better as a group,” Paul shares.
The benefits of playing in a venue like this is huge for Paul. You can hear more mechanics of the band since the space is not a bouncing room of reverb. It also gives the sound engineer full sonic control of your sound and the ability to design your tone exactly as you want. The venue is extremely intimate when one is onstage. The crowd has their full attention towards the stage and unlike a typical bar setting, are actively engaged in the music.
Paul is excited to bring the Fabulous Armadillos “What’s Going On” themed show to the venue for the very first time this November. The show focuses on music from the Vietnam war era and will include veterans telling their stories intermixed with the music. It’s a powerful experience that has helped veterans heal and feel like they are not alone.
The full schedule can be found here.
Music venues are the lifeblood of our community. By providing musicians the opportunity to showcase, collaborate, and experiment with their craft, venues are essential in their development. This series will continue to promote and support our local venues across Minnesota. Please see the previous articles below and go support local music. Our hope is these articles show the importance of supporting venues and places where creativity can thrive.