Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge will reopen on May 1 with five months of live entertainment outdoors under a large tent. The South Minneapolis venue has been closed for the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the $280,000 in damages it suffered last May in the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.

Located in a former fire station at 3010 Minnehaha Ave. S.—just around the corner from the Third Precinct police station that was burned down by rioters on May 28—Hook and Ladder is one of the few music venues in the Twin Cities that is nonprofit. It opened in 1999 as Patrick’s Cabaret and was incorporated as Hook and Ladder in 2016.

Hook and Ladder
Executive director Chris Mozena and board chair Kristine Smith stand outside the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge, which will open a new series of live music on May 1 on the patio at 3010 Minnehaha Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“By 2019 we’d really started to rock,” said Kristine Smith, co-founder of Hook and Ladder and chair of its board of directors. “Then the pandemic hit. Just as things were getting going, we were handing out water to protesters (in the days following Floyd’s death).”

Smith, Hook and Ladder cofounder and executive director Chris Mozena, members of their staff and friends guarded the theater and lounge as masked looters roamed the neighborhood in late May, attempting to blend in with peaceful protesters. “We were there every day, but not at night because it was too dangerous,” said Smith, who lives in the nearby Seward neighborhood.

Vandals eventually gained entry and inflicted $250,000 in damages to the Hook and Ladder building and $30,000 in damages to such moveable equipment as tables and chairs. While insurance covered the building, it did not cover the moveables.

A little help from their friends

Smith credited the Lake Street Council and the Longfellow Business Association for the donations that made up for some of the losses. Concerts by local musicians live-streamed from Hook and Ladder also helped.

“We deeply appreciated the support from our business neighbors. Many of them will not be back,” Smith said. “People must think we’re completely nuts to launch our new outdoor season as the trial (of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin) is coming to an end. But we’re persistent.”

 

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The summer season, dubbed Under the Canopy, kicks off on May 1 with a concert by Twin Cities blues pianist and singer Samuel “Cornbread” Harris and his band on the occasion of Harris’ 94th birthday. Harris was one of the first musicians to perform at Hook and Ladder after its incorporation. He will be followed on May 7 by a sold-out album release concert by the Belfast Cowboys, a Van Morrison tribute band.

The summer season, dubbed Under the Canopy, kicks off on May 1 with a concert by Twin Cities blues pianist and singer Samuel “Cornbread” Harris and his band on the occasion of Harris’ 94th birthday. Harris was one of the first musicians to perform at Hook and Ladder after its incorporation. He will be followed on May 7 by a sold-out album release concert by the Belfast Cowboys, a Van Morrison tribute band.

Davina and the Vagabonds will perform their vast repertoire of jazz, rock and rhythm and blues Under the Canopy on May 15. Davina Lozier, a resident of Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood, is looking forward to the show. She has played close to a dozen times at Hook and Ladder and Patrick’s Cabaret. “It’s a miracle they didn’t get destroyed (in the riots),” Lozier said. “In my 42 years, I’ve never seen anything like that. It was just insane.”

Hook and Ladder “has gone above and beyond to help the community and the music industry through hard work and perseverance,” Lozier added. “It’s wonderful to find a venue that isn’t just out for financial gain.”

“The Hook is special because it’s run by artists,” said singer Terry Walsh, leader of the Belfast Cowboys. “They’re not just in it for the money by any means.”

Smith and Mozena are hoping to reopen their two indoor theaters this fall. “We’ve structured it as COVID-safe as it could possibly be,” Smith said. “If we can’t open (in the fall), we’ll go back to live-streaming with limited attendance.”

Walsh’s nine-piece band, which includes Merriam Park bassist Joe Baumgart, has played Hook and Ladder and Patrick’s Cabaret many times over the past two decades. The Belfast Cowboys also played some live-streamed concerts on Hook’s stage during the pandemic.

“It’s pretty admirable the way they pieced it together over the last year,” Walsh said. His upcoming album release show sold out quickly partly because social distancing allows just 200 tickets.

Guitarist Phil Schmid, who backed the late blues singer and harmonica player Big George Jackson at many Hook gigs, said the intimate concert hall “was perfect” for a performer like Jackson. “The audience is right there,” Schmid said. “It’s fun to play like that. And the sound system is good.”

Smith and Mozena are hoping to reopen their two indoor theaters this fall. “We’ve structured it as COVID-safe as it could possibly be,” Smith said. “If we can’t open (in the fall), we’ll go back to live-streaming with limited attendance.”

Live-streaming with a technical crew of about 20 people “helped us keep local music alive over the past year,” she added. “Live performance is necessary for the soul. It was already under a lot of threat before COVID with Spotify and other such services.”

Tickets for the Under the Canopy concerts range from $10-$50 depending on the artist. For more information and reservations, visit thehookmpls.com.

— Carolyn Walkup

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