Twin Cities music scene rocked by closures but creativity abounds


The beat of Minneapolis funk can be felt beneath the pavement downtown. The waters of the Minnehaha just might appear purple if you look close enough. Indeed, music is central to Minnesota.

Today, it is a tragic reality that the artists, venues, and businesses that both sustain and survive off of this vibrant legacy are bearing the tremendous weight of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizations and businesses

For music businesses in the Twin Cities, COVID-19 has proven both aggressive and complicated to navigate.

Governor Tim Walz issued a statewide stay-at-home order that began on March 27 and was recently extended to May 4. All non-essential organizations have been forced to cease operations and close their doors for the time being.

This includes countless entertainment venues that where large numbers of people would normally commune, thus putting them at risk. The grim reality is that many of these organizations may never open again.

In the past two weeks alone, Minneapolis has lost two prominent local music venues: Fifth Element backed by record label Rhymesayers, a staple of the Twin Cities music community for more than 20 years; and Honey, a beloved underground performance venue nestled in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis for more than 10 years.

KMOJ General Manager Freddie Bell said, “I’ve gone through some really difficult times before and this is about as difficult as I have ever faced in my career.”

For many organizations, COVID-19 has presented a terrifying balancing act of maintaining business while remaining a resource to both the patrons and local artists that make their businesses possible.

James Kline, owner of downtown Minneapolis restaurant and performance venue Bunker’s Music Bar and Grill is hoping for the best. “The decisions have been made for us,” he said. “I have the club pretty much booked out for a good six, seven months in advance… We just have to cancel the bands and see when we can have them come back.”

As both a restaurant and event space, Bunker’s serves food specials during the day while the other side of the business is generated by evening concerts and bar sales.

Bunker’s is the regular performance venue for a number of local bands, including Dr. Mambo’s Combo who have been performing weekly at the venue for nearly 30 years now. Likewise, the Reggae Allstars have been performing at Bunkers for nearly 10 years. “I just hope the thing works itself out sooner than later and that the bands can get back to work,” said Kline.

MSR News Online Mike Dreams

Artists and musicians

Because event venues are closing and canceling, albeit temporarily, countless musicians are now lacking the necessary resources, namely income, to maintain their day-to-day lives.

DJ Advance of 3Way Marketing Group shared, “The downside of things clearly is not making money as a musician/artist.”

As a response to what has become a common crisis among artists, many emergency-relief resources have been made available. Local organization Springboard For the Arts is currently offering a Personal Emergency Relief Fund to compensate independent artists up to $500 that may have been lost due to upcoming event cancellations.

Ryan Bynum is a local musician and musical director for organizations, including the United Way Twin Cities and Pimento Kitchen and Rum Bar. “I’m actually supposed to be in the Bahamas right now [to perform] and after the Bahamas, I was supposed to go to Colorado,” he stated regrettably.

He added that it is his due diligence as a musician to search the web for resources that support artists and entrepreneurs at this time. He encourages other artists to do the same.

Unlike many, Bynum is fortunate to keep one of his positions as a salaried musician at his church since they’ve begun to stream church services to comply with federal and state guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “I am still able to be on salary. But that salary doesn’t cover all of the bills and the two kids,” he said.

The light in the tunnel

The aftermath of something terrible is oftentimes new life. That is the mantra of many musicians walking this turbulent and unforeseen trek together. “It has been a great time to create new material with the extra time during these stay-at-home orders,” admitted Minneapolis based rapper Mike Dreams.

“For me, I’ve delved head-first into creating a new full-length album. It’s also been really cool to see my peers find new and creative ways to get their art out there to their fans and the general public through personal live-streams on social media,” he said.

 “What I’ve noticed during this downtime is the creativity being shown from all artists across the state. Even for myself, I’ve been able to work on things I haven’t been able to execute because of time constraint. Now I have nothing but time!” offered DJ Advance.

The challenge to stay afloat remains very real for musicians. What also remains unique to musicians is the opportunity and ability; time and capacity to create.

Gathering support

In a time of universal suspense, there are still ways for musicians to be both productive and find support, like streaming music live via social media; participating in online collaborations; creating new material; using virtual payment methods like CaShApp, Venmo and Paypal; and taking advantage of both local and national artist relief funds that are being made available.

 “Tragedy sometimes breeds opportunity,” said Bell, “This too shall pass.”

To learn more about the Springboard For the Arts Personal Emergency Relief Fund click here. Find more resources here.