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Even though his nationally reputed watering hole was shuttered last spring and again all winter by COVID-19, Palmer's Bar owner Tony Zaccardi considers himself one of the lucky ones.
"We just so happen to have this big, amazing patio," Zaccardi said. "It'd be a waste not to use it for something good."
That something is live music.
Sensing pandemic-weary music fans' desperate urge to get out and rock out, Palmer's is among a handful of Twin Cities venues getting an early jump on the (hopefully) warmer weather by hosting outdoor gigs starting now, or very soon.
Friday's kickoff show in the Palmer's outdoor series follows the lead set last year by Icehouse and Crooners. Both of those jazzy supper clubs threw together reserved-table outdoor concerts on the fly last summer and enjoyed relative success — enough to do it again, but this time earlier in the season, and with a few tweaks.
"We learned a lot to apply to this year," said promoter Beck Lee of Crooners, which kicked off its outdoor season last weekend with a new, fancier tent setup.
Saturday sees the launch of the most ambitious new entry — the Hook & Ladder Theatre's Under the Canopy series.
Starting with blues-piano vet Cornbread Harris' 94th birthday concert, the nonprofit performance hall in Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood will host two to four concerts per week for 180 attendees under a large tent in its parking lot. More than 40 shows have been announced so far, and a good chunk of them are already sold out or nearing it.
"We are pleased to report that demand has been strong," said executive director Chris Mozena.
Setup began last week with the construction of a new fence, followed by the raising of the tent and stage. All that is a reminder of why Hook & Ladder talent buyer Jesse Brodd said, "We need to spend money to make money."
That's why ticket prices are slightly higher than usual for the Hook — though still under $30 for the most part. "Hopefully, people will be understanding," said Brodd.
Similarly, Crooners has not only invested in fine-tuning its outdoor setup but also its indoor space.
After rebuilding its stage (with plexiglass) and spacing out tables, it's among the rare venues hosting 50% capacity indoor concerts as well as livestreaming for folks who want to stay home — something it will do for the outdoor gigs, as well. "Everyone has a different level of what they're comfortable with," Lee said.
The outdoor stage is something Crooners hopes to continue in years to come.
"Pandemic or not, it doesn't get much nicer than being outdoors in Minnesota in the spring and summer," said Lee.
Here's an inside look at what to expect outside.
The Hook & LadderWhat: About 180 people will be spread out among 56 tables in the nonprofit venue's Under the Canopy series, which takes place beneath a 75-by-30-foot A-frame tent in the parking lot outside the historic firehouse (3010 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls.).
When: Starts Saturday and continues through September. Most shows at 7 p.m., with some doubleheaders at 5 and 8:30 p.m. or afternoon matinees.
How it works: Reserved tickets must be bought in two-, four- or six-person pods. Patrons can use their phones to place orders from the bar and a food truck to be delivered at each table. Indoor restrooms will be open with spaced entry. Masks required except while drinking or eating.
Highlights: Cornbread Harris (Sat.), Belfast Cowboys (May 7), Kiss the Tiger (May 8), Davina & the Vagabonds (May 15), Paul Cebar (May 22), Monica LaPlante (May 28), Keller Williams (June 5), Erik Koskinen (June 11), New Orleans Suspects (June 12), Dr. Mambo's Combo (June 13), International Reggae All-Stars (June 18), Lady Lark (June 19), ELnO (June 25), the Big Wu (June 26), Dale Watson (June 27), Turn Turn Turn (July 9), Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Fest (July 15-18), Deke Dickerson (July 30), Matt Wilson (Aug. 6), Malamanya (Aug. 18), Tina & the B-Sides (Aug. 19-20).
CroonersWhat: Dubbed the Belvedere, the Fridley supper club's new outdoor stage features reserved tables for around 150 customers on patio flooring under a climate-controlled tent overlooking Moore Lake (6161 Hwy. 65 NE.).
When: Outdoor gigs began last weekend and continue through fall. Showtime is usually 7 p.m. with some 4 p.m. sets, too.
How: Tickets are sold individually and in two- and four-seat pods. Patrons will be waited on with full dinner and drink service just like inside the club, and have access to indoor restrooms.
Highlights: Joyann Parker does Patsy Cline (Fri.), New Standards (Sat.-Sun.), Butch Thompson & Southside Aces (May 2), Mia Dorr (May 6), Yolande Bruce and Debbie Duncan tributes (May 7-8), Mick Sterling does Van Morrison (May 13), Storyhill (May 14 and 16), Andrew Walesch does Sinatra (May 15), Dan Newton does Bob Wills (May 16), Marilyn Maye (May 20-23), Leslie Vincent (June 5), Martin Zellar (June 18-19), Charanga Tropical (July 3).
Tickets: $20-$45, 763-760-0062 or croonersloungemn.com.
Palmer's BarWhat: Sold in 2018 to a well-known local musician, the 114-year-old West Bank Minneapolis dive that Esquire magazine named one of the best bars in America is reconfiguring its 2,700-square-foot patio to host up to 60 people per show (500 Cedar Av. S.).
When: Starts Friday and continues through summer, mostly on weekends. Showtimes are usually 6-10 p.m.
How: Five four-person tables are for sale for each gig, and the rest of the tickets are general admission. Masks are required except when seated.
Highlights: Gay Witch Abortion (Fri.), JRD & the Big Mistake (Sat.), Michael Gay's Old Country Buffet (Sun.), Doug Collins and Mother Banjo (May 7), Pretty Boy Thorson (May 8), Silverback Colony (May 9), Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs (Thursdays starting May 13), Annie & the Bang Bang (May 14), Nato Coles & Blue Diamond Band (May 15), Kinda Fonda Wanda (May 16), John Louis and Sarah Morris (May 23), Becky Kapell (May 28), Butcher's Union (May 30), Cole Diamond (June 11).
Tickets: $15-$30 per person, palmersbar.net.
IcehouseWhat: The Eat Street staple south of downtown Minneapolis is easing into the outdoor season starting with stripped-down brunch and dinner sets on its large, tiered stone patio, with about 65 people spread out among 25 tables. Ticketed concerts will start on Memorial Day weekend (2528 Nicollet Av. S.).
When: Starts this weekend and continues through the fall. Dinner shows usually begin 6-7 p.m., brunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Highlights: Turn Turn Turn (7 p.m. Sun.), Yoursmith DJ sets (Sat. brunch in May), Red Hot Django Peppers (Sun. brunch in May), Steve Kenny Quartet (May 7), Dean Granros' 58 Belvedere (May 14-15), Dosh album release (May 30), Kiss the Tiger (every Thu. in June), David Huckfelt (every Sat. in July), Heiruspecs (July 15-16), more to be announced.
How: Seats are sold as two- and four-person tables with a small number of general-admission single tickets. Waiter service for full dinner and drink menu at the tables.
Tickets: Some shows are free with dining reservations to around $20, icehousempls.com/events.
Other optionsRelief Sessions: Burnsville's drive-in parking lot concert series returns for a second year and expands to Rosemount, too, under the leadership of bandleader Mick Sterling. Performers include the Suburbs, Big Wu, Davina & the Vagabonds, Martin Zellar and many tribute groups. (Starts May 28, thereliefsessions.com)
Canterbury Park: Sue McLean & Associates, which runs the popular Music in the Zoo series, announced last week it is moving to the Shakopee horsetrack this summer, with eight to 12 shows in August and September yet to be announced. (suemclean.com)
City parks: Mill Valley Market at the Theodore Wirth Trailhead and Sea Salt at Minnehaha Falls host local bands on weekends. Concerts are also expected to trickle back at Minneapolis' Lake Harriet Band Shell, St. Paul's Como Pavilion and Mears Park, St. Louis Park's Wolfe Park and Plymouth's Hilde Amphitheater later this summer.
Yard concerts: Informal pass-the-hat concerts at people's homes flourished last summer and are already coming back in force. Stay tuned to your friends', neighbors' and favorite local artists' Facebook pages or neighborhood apps for options.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658