For almost 20 years The Garage has been the all-ages music venue version of First Avenue. With the similar stylistic themes of black bricks and a variety of talented national and local artists, the correlation between the two is separated most by the location. The Burnsville venue has been an important resource for developing young adults and providing a safe space for fans. It’s been a launching pad for local bands such as Dropping Daylight, Last Import, Four Letter Lie, Quietdrive, and Motion City Soundtrack. The venue has also been named “Best All-Ages Venue” between 2004 to 2008 by City Pages.
“I find this generation seem to be the most mature that I’ve really encountered in past years. Like, beyond their years. Being able to accept people of different backgrounds and sexual orientations and gender identities, culturally, it’s very refreshing and amazing to see.” ~Jack Kolb-Williams
The Garage has continuously evolved by specializing in after school programs that are all music-related, such as artist production, recording, and music production. 2013 saw them going fully digital in the main room, while keeping an analog system in The Lounge. In 2015 they built a recording studio that is utilized for recording music videos, teaching, and recording music. The main stage was renovated in 2017, which extended the size of the stage, added a brand new sound system, and improved sight-lines by restructuring the layout.
The main room has a capacity of 350. It showcases eight 18″ sub-woofers across the front, with five monitor mixes. The line array system has two speakers on each side with a center fill in the middle. It’s a robust setup that any national artist can stand behind. The side room, called The Lounge, has a capacity of 120 and has a more intimate feel to it. It gets used for a lot of local music and at a capacity of 50, 60 people, feels really good. There are times both stages are being used the same night, like a festival-type style. Other times, if the main room is sold out, they will use The Lounge for band merch.
In the back of the venue resides what has to be the largest green room in the state. Bands are able to unload through garage doors and not deal with any stairs or elevators. There are couches, a TV with video games, a ping pong table, air hockey, and a fridge. There used to be a tradition of signing the bricks in the main room. When those bricks were painted over in 2015, the tradition moved to the back of the green room. The wall is now a collection of traveling bands and local artists who have left their print and memory at the venue.
There are a couple important facets behind the venue that drive its role in the community. Catalyst Music is a nonprofit organization with the mission to provide equitable access and opportunities for young people to see, experience, and participate in the Twin Cities music scene. Burnsville Youth Collaborative is a multi-organizational partnership between them, school district #191, and the YMCA. As a satellite location, The Garage fulfills the Arts component of a program that supports around 600 middle school kids.
Many of the programs are designed for young adults who were never really in a band or choir because of their circumstances. These programs provide a good outlet to work with young folks of color who live in the community. The programs are relevant to today’s music industry and teach things intended to further their development as artists. They also can then perform, see other shows, and develop their own community at the venue.
For students in the district, these services are totally free to use. The Garage is also working with the high school to be able to teach classes for credit in the future. Expanding that accessibility is the core purpose of their mission. For many young adults, seeing artists on YouTube and wanting to duplicate that craft is a large unknown. The ability to give resources to them so they can gain exposure and experience is a crucial step in determining future career paths and passions.
So what does The Garage do that is extensively unique in comparison to other music venues? In uncovering the large amount of programs, outlets, and stories behind the venue, there is one main theme that keeps coming back. The Garage develops young artists. Everything they support is driven around that core idea.
The recording studio is filled with multiple production stations for students to sit around and learn recording software. The software is cloud-based, which allows anyone to play something and then have it immediately available for editing at any other station. As a teaching tool, it’s changed the game because they can now teach production in a real-life setting, where anyone has the ability to record into their phone and pull samples to make music.
The venue also hosts “Live Studio Sessions” that are no cost to the artists. The Garage sells tickets for the event and everyone sits around the room with headphones on to watch. They get to hear the recording, as well as help crowdfund the project. The artists walk away with a professional video and audio recording.
The main room can be rented out for rehearsals for bands as well. A lot of groups may be preparing for a tour and wanting to test their front-of-house lights or in-ear systems. They can set up and spend time on a large stage making sure everything works and can be duplicated for the tour.
The Garage shares that the mindset for developing people is getting them active from day one. After an orientation, you are thrust into helping turnover the stage for bands, setting up lights, and assisting in all sorts of roles. There is an immediate range of exposure to help a person figure out what they like.
Steffan Soulak has been the Production Manager since 2007. He started as a volunteer and now works all over the Twin Cities at music venues, and even heads out on tours.The Garage is his home base and continues to develop interns and a team of 4-5 individuals. They help young adults in high school, who could be working in the theater department, to experience something a bit more difficult than setting up lapel microphones.
Developing young adults for a potential career path in the music industry is important. For many kids who don’t have this experience, it could mean thousands of dollars saved by not enrolling at a specialized college like IPR and Hennepin Tech, only to find out it’s not your passion. The Garage provides opportunities and paths to discover music from all different angles.
Jack Kolb-Williams, Executive Director
Jack Kolb-Williams has spent over 12 years in the Arts. He composes music, develops curricula, and teaches students of all ages. His background is in Music Education, and as an active musician, his experience of playing hundreds of shows across the country and multiple recording projects is invaluable at The Garage. Tucked around the studio are instruments he owns that find double duty by being used for recording sessions and teaching.
“I worked for the city from 2012 to 2014 and found out in 2013, when they did the budget projection that they were going to cut funding for The Garage completely,” Jack shares.
Jack went on to co-found Catalyst Music in order to take over the venue and become stewards of it. They put together a plan on how the transition would happen and designed a mission to maintain all the ideals that the place has always represented. Financially, it was stressful in the midst of building an organization from the ground up. They now rent the space from the city and have more control and security in the future of the venue.
The benefits of the partnership with the city are easily seen with connections in the school district and being able to work with young folks in the community. All of the courses and curriculum that they build is based on Minnesota Department of Education standards. He’s maneuvered through stipulations and rules, always ensuring the district requirements are being met. Jack’s passion for educating and paving a path for others is easily felt in everything we talked about. There’s a spark and vision for keeping the venue a place that protects the dreams of future generations.
The Guest Room
Jane Halldorson, Drummer for Last Import
Jane Halldorson first heard about The Garage through She Rock She Rock, which was crucial in how her band Last Import formed. They gave them a list of all ages venues that they could play at.
“My mom drove me and my friends out there and we couldn’t find the door. And I feel like that’s everyone’s first time at The Garage. It’s like, how do you even get in here?”
Her experience there was transformative as eventually she was booking shows at the venue while in high school. She would get a bunch of physical tickets and hound people at her school, asking if they wanted to come to a show. Jane got to watch the venue change and grow while she learned valuable music business skills.
“It’s really cool how they get so many teens and younger people involved in it. It’s so hard with all the business stuff. Figuring out booking was so great there because they just were like, here’s how the spreadsheets work and this is how normal venues do it. Now I work at First Avenue and I’ve seen the booking spreadsheets and they’re literally almost exactly the same thing,” Jane shares.
Last Import has given back to the venue for all the experience and support. They shot a music video called “Money” and did their own Live Video Session in the recording space. The venue is filled with memories for many young bands. It’s the place that taught them how to create and be yourself. The place where you can learn and develop. Last Import chose the venue for shooting the video in because of the history of performing there so many times.
“That’s just the place that means so much to us cause that’s where we got our start.”
Keep your eyes out for The Vault, a collaboration between The Garage and Caydence Records. They will look to expand and replicate the all-ages format in St. Paul along Payne Avenue. The space will have more of an indie-rock vibe; comparing it to the Triple Rock Social Club, which closed in 2017.
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.