The Listing – The Cedar Cultural Center
- 416 Cedar Avenue South
- Minneapolis, MN 55454
- Opened as a movie theater in 1946, established as The Cedar in 1989
- 4,500 square feet, capacity is 450 for seated, standing room concerts at 625
- Dependent on the show, but always handicap seating options available upon request.
- Concessions include beer choices focusing on the local/regional beer scene. The wine selection is through a partnership with The Wine Company. They offer a variety of snacks including chocolate, nuts packaged by Midwest Northern Nut, and cookies from Cookie Cart in North Minneapolis, an organization providing local teens with work, life and leadership skills.
- Parking is available at the University of Minnesota 19th Avenue Ramp, just 1/3 block east of the Cedar Cultural Center on Riverside Avenue.
Never putting an audience member more than 30 feet from the stage, The Cedar Cultural Center has been a prime location for discovering new music in the Twin Cities for almost 30 years. With 200 shows a year, finding new music isn’t tough. As a prior movie theater, the space was originally intended to be a dance hall. After stripping down the sloped seating, tearing up all the chairs, and redoing the floor as a “sprung” dance floor, they placed the stage on the side in order to provide a wider space for circle dances. A small investment of $300 for acoustic panels from a recording studio helped transform the space for music. Adding six inches of cellulose insulation onto the ceiling and installing a thick velour drape in back finally gave them a pulpit to host a diverse amount of music.
The Cedar is unique because their booking is a direct result of their non-profit business model. They rely on earned income from show revenue as well as contributed income from donors and funders. This allows them to take risks like presenting artists who they believe speak to their mission and promote intercultural appreciation and understanding through global music. This shows on their calendar, which is filled with a wide range of eclectic artists that you don’t typically see elsewhere in town. A fixture of their venue is the donation vessel, typically located next to the merch area. Donated by a local artist, this piece showcases why their donations are so important. The mission always comes before profit.
Alana Horton, Director of Marketing and Communications shares, notes that the process for booking international artists has become much more difficult over the years. “Applying for US Visas is a very time consuming and expensive process. Just the cost and the difficulty from the start of the process makes it prohibitive for a lot of artists to be able to consider touring the US. Recent changes to US tax law and visa processing are only making this process harder. These laws especially hurt smaller and more emerging artists, but don’t pose such a challenge to more established artists. It’s getting harder to bring emerging international voices to The Cedar.”
When we think of music venues, we oftentimes focus on the final product in front of us. The Cedar is much more than just a venue, though. Its mission carries a core of programs and people that work together to promote intercultural appreciation and understanding through the presentation of global music and dance. They are “committed to artistic excellence and integrity, diversity of programming, support for emerging artists, and community outreach”. These messages are easily seen in their Green Room. Filled floor to ceiling are posters of shows, records to listen to, lounge furniture, and signed artist memorabilia. Their mission certainly strikes a chord with the artists that play there. There’s an appreciation for their programs and dedication in them.
The Cedar has four cornerstone programs. Much more information can be found online, but below are brief descriptions of them.
Midnimo, the Somali word for “unity,” is a program that features Somali artists from Minnesota and around the world in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music.
The Cedar Commissions program for local emerging artists was made possible with a grant from the Jerome Foundation. Since it began in 2011, the Commissions have showcased new work by over 50 Minnesotan emerging composers and musicians, including Dessa, Aby Wolf, Adam Levy, Maria Isa, Joe Horton, and many more. Artists receive mentorship and financial support to create 30+ minutes of brand new music.
The Global Roots Festival offers Minnesotans three nights of free music, featuring local bands on their community plaza, mainstage performances with two international bands per night, and “extra-curricular” events like artist lunches, Q & A’s, educational programs, and more.
Artist Collective is a group of curatorial artists and cultural liaisons from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities who are advising efforts at The Cedar to expand access and diversify programming. This is the first-ever multicultural, multi-genre music collective in the organization’s 30-year history.
Chris Frymire, Technical Director
Chris Frymire has had an illustrious career in the music industry. His impressive resume includes touring with bands (Wizard, The Bees Knees), a stint in the U.S. Air Force handling AV, and working at Red House Records. Named one of the best live sound engineers by City Pages, his friendly face has blessed The Cedar for almost 30 years. His Midas Legend 3000 analog board has been running the system for over a decade. With 7 flown EV Fri+122/64 mains and 3 EV FRi-181S 18″ subs, the system can easily handle anything thrown at it. Although there is enough volume to squeal your ears, Chris’s approach to volume is more artistic. He explains how dynamics get lost and ruined by pushing the volume too loud. By keeping the volume a bit lower, the music can breath and expand in a musical way. Bottom line: you won’t leave The Cedar with ringing ears. The analog board also serves immensely well in a venue that has a different artist in it every night. The EQ is easy to grab, monitor mixes quick to adjust, and no digital bulky menus to flip through for sound checks.
Chris excels in working with artists from all over the world. Each genre and country seem to have their own focuses. Germans typically bring a ton of extra equipment with them. Artists from India are very particular in their sound, often finessing their instruments. The French are concerned with phasing and schematics. It’s this universal, worldly, musical language that Chris translates well with. Experience does pay off, and having a magical set of ears doesn’t hurt either. There are always challenges with the range of instruments that walk through the door. Because it’s so quiet, the Oud has continued to be the trickiest thing to microphone for Chris. Typically played with dance music, pushing its volume up can be difficult.
You can tell when speaking with Chris that audio is his passion. He can dive into the details on how things work, share anicdotes of past lessons, and reminisce about his favorite nights of mixing. There’s a level of appreciation of all artists, all types of shows, and music that transcends throughout. I fully believe that personality comes through the speakers at The Cedar for each and every show.
Be prepared to dive into the concession stand upon arrival. It’s a popular line due to its low pricing on local beers, variety in snacks, and quality of wine options. If you’re attending a standing room show and you want to sit, there early to snag limited seating along the side wall. This usually goes fast. If you want an affordable way to discover new music, I suggest volunteering. You earn credits toward free passes and get to hear new music. Volunteers are crucial to keeping The Cedar running for each show.
The Guest Room
Laura Buhman, Photojournalist at Music in Minnesota
We are so lucky to have myriad of great venues in our state, but the Cedar is something special. The volunteer staff is so passionate and genuine from the moment you walk in the front door. Each person that is working at the show is there because they want to be. It changes everything.
The venue is simple. You walk into a large room with a stage in the front, merch just to the left. The stage is low to the ground and makes for an incredibly intimate performance every time. There is a concession stand in the back and one near the entrance to grab a beer or snack before shows or between acts. The lines are almost always short so you can get back to enjoying the show.
It’s clear that the booking staff wants to bring world culture of the world rather than just one or two main genres. Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo returned to their stage in February and brought her incredible band to perform the Talking Heads album “Remain In Light” with their own afrobeat stylings. She sprinkled in her own work, as well as covers from legends like Miriam Makeba. It was absolutely stunning. The crowd was clapping and dancing along the entire night as Kidjo colorfully moved around the stage. She even had audience members join her on stage for a dance off.
Two days later, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief graced that same stage with just a stool, guitar, and cup of tea, transforming it into a quieter and more introspective space. The audience hung on every word from their seats. I stood in the back and the staff would peek in to enjoy a song or two before going back to work. Lenker proved to Minneapolis that she belongs in the rankings of the greatest poetic lyricists of our time.
Both of these sold-out shows buzzed with energy from the crowd. However, I can almost guarantee that the overlap in attendees between these shows was very small. That is the beauty of the Cedar! The bring us the best quality of performances no matter the genre. There is always something new to be excited about. I always feel inspired when I push the door open and walk out to Cedar Avenue after a show there. It’s never an ordinary experience.
Full schedule can be found here. A few immediate highlights include:
3/22- AAR MAANTA & FRIENDS “Ubadkaa Mudnaanta Leh” Album Release – The free album release show flows between generations and genres, mixing traditional Somali music with hip-hop influenced beats, spoken word and poetry, Islamic greetings, educational children’s songs, and much more.
4/5 –FAARROW with backing band Astralblak and special guests – FAARROW’s sound fuses African rhythms with modern production resulting in a drum-heavy fusion of hip-hop and pop music.
4/24 –An Evening with VALERIE JUNE – There’s no one quite like Valerie June with her unmistakable, yet difficult to pin down vocals and her genre-smashing banjo playing. Blending folk and soul, country and R&B, and the blues, Valerie June returns to The Cedar for an intimate performance.
9/23-9/25 – 11th Annual Global Roots Festival – The Festival features six international artists who have never been to Minnesota before, providing Minnesotans the opportunity to hear live music rooted in traditions from around the world. Look for the complete lineup this summer.
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.