New Century Sessions liven up City Center

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 3/27/2014

Ghostly downtown mall gets a local music boost.

Taj Raj at New Century Sessions last year.
Karen Nelson

"City Center used to be the center of our scene / Now City Center’s over, no one really goes there.”

The Hold Steady might have to rework those lyrics to “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” now, thanks to the New Century Sessions.

For four Friday nights at least, City Center will prove it isn’t over. The once vibrant, now ghost-townly downtown mall — not to be confused with downtown Minneapolis’ other skeletal retail ruins, Block E and Gaviidae Common — is the unlikely new home of what looks to be a popular new concert series.

Resuming Friday with a sold-out performance by Dessa, the New Century Sessions take place in the namesake New Century Theatre, a small, 250-capacity venue with tiered chairs on the ground floor of City Center. Hennepin Theatre Trust, the organization that runs the Orpheum, State and Pantages theaters, opened the New Century in 2011 as an incubator of sorts for local/fledgling theater and comedy productions. The venue sits on the site of the original Century Theater, which opened in 1908 but was destroyed by a fire in 1965.

The idea for the series was sparked by Cities 97’s well-received Studio C performance there with Icelandic folk-rockers Of Monsters and Men in December 2012 — with the stage props for “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” humorously providing a quaint holiday backdrop.

“That show really taught us it’s a great space for music, with impeccable acoustics and a great intimate vibe,” said Sam Anderson, interactive marketing coordinator for Hennepin Theatre Trust, who spearheaded the series.

Eager to work with more local musicians besides the few who can fill the State Theatre — see: Mason Jennings, playing there next weekend — the HTT crew tested out the series with two shows last September featuring Jeremy Messersmith and Rogue Valley. After Dessa, the series continues April 4 with Adam Levy and Bethany Larson & the Bee’s Knees, followed by Communist Daughter on May 2 and Chastity Brown on July 25.

“I definitely didn’t know about the venue prior to our show,” said Rogue Valley leader Chris Koza, who was pleasantly surprised once he found the place. He compared it to attending a seated show at the Cedar Cultural Center.

“The sound was great, and from what I could tell, the audience that is interested in seeing a show like this appreciated being able to hang on every nuance. The fact that this is basically an undiscovered venue for most people really gives it a ‘first-time-experience’ [appeal].”

Something else to make the New Century Sessions a unique experience: All the shows include VIP meet-and-greet tickets and a Q&A on stage, modeled after that initial Studio C radio session. Dessa’s show will feature an interview with Cities 97 jock Paul Fletcher, but most other shows offer fans a chance to submit questions on paper before showtime.

“They’re another way to take advantage of the space, make it even more intimate,” Anderson said.

He compared Messersmith’s recent album-release parties at First Avenue to his New Century gig. “These shows aren’t meant to compete with something as a great as a First Ave show — they’re just sort of a supplement to that. It’s a very different way to enjoy local musicians you love.”

 

New Century Sessions

Friday: Dessa (sold out).

April 4: Adam Levy.

May 2: Communist Daughter.

July 25: Chastity Brown.

Where: New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

Tickets: $15-$45.