It’s not often that 21-year-old Emily Schoonover performs at a nightclub for fans younger than her. That’s part of why vocalist/guitarist of rock band Bugsy loved St. Paul’s newest all-ages venue, the Treasury.
“I think it’s important to have musical spaces that aren’t alcohol-based,” said Schoonover, who started playing rock clubs at age 15 with his former band, Bruise Violet. “I always had to leave right after our set.”
And with the wariness of a young woman used to being around drunken men, she added, “It’s nice not having to worry about my safety after the show.”
Two decades ago, security would indeed have been a big concern along Payne Avenue, where the Treasury officially opened last month after a two-year COVID-related delay. But the historic strip east of downtown St. Paul — known to older music fans for the Minnesota Music Café and a Hold Steady song — has enjoyed a resurgence over the past decade with new restaurants, art galleries and other cool upgrades.
Consider the Treasury not just the latest feather in Payne Ave’s renewal cap, but a giant win for underage music fans – who have been sorely underserved with live music options in either twin towns.
Housed in the basement of the 99-year-old Swedish bank building, the nonprofit venue has no age restrictions and no alcohol. It does, however, look, feel, and sound like a good, high-energy, no-frills rock club with an official capacity of 180 (close in size to Mortimer’s or the 331 Club in Minneapolis).
After COVID blocked its opening, Treasury Operators expanded their mission statement to not only provide a safe space for young audiences to enjoy live music, but also everyone’s company.
“Music events are such an important way for young people to meet friends and have fun,” said Jack Kolb-Williams, executive director of Twin Cities Catalyst Music, the nonprofit organization behind the Treasury.
“These kids have had him sucked out of their lives for two years.”
Kolb-Williams already has a decade of experience operating a non-profit venue for all ages – the Garage in Burnsville.
Opened in 2001 and run by the City of Burnsville until Catalyst Music took over in 2014, the Garage is a bright, shining example of the benefits of giving teenagers a dark, seedy place to be creative and have fun. Some of the Twin Cities’ hottest young bands played their first gigs here, including Durry, Miloe, Remo Drive and Early Eyes.
As early as 2014, Kolb-Williams and Catalyst co-founder Logan Adams began discussing plans for a second location closer to one of the city centers.
“I was constantly hearing people, ‘I wish we had something like the Garage here,'” Kolb-Williams recounted, conceding, “It can be difficult to get to Burnsville if your only transportation is the bus. “
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t easy to find a landlord in Minneapolis or St. Paul willing to house a nonprofit space for a group of kids to make some noise.
When Kolb-Williams set up a table for Record Store Day 2018 at nearby Caydence Records & Coffee — which sporadically hosts gigs for all ages — Catalyst Music was introduced to future Treasury owner Dimitri Hatzigeorgiou. At the time, the former Starbucks executive was converting his three-story bank building into spaces for artists and other creatives through his Art Gallery at 967 Payne.
“It was like a perfect fit with a [landlord] who understood our mission in a bustling little corner of St. Paul,” said Kolb-Williams.
The approximately $60,000 it took to convert the building’s basement was largely funded by St. Paul’s Cultural Star arts grants and an online donation campaign (still ongoing). Just as the Treasury was ready to open in March 2020, the COVID lockdown began.
In the meantime, Catalyst staff and volunteers have continued to work on the space, whose walls are clad in salvaged wood from a historic house in the neighborhood. They also used the new stage and lights for live performances during the lockdown, also as part of Catalyst Music’s educational programs for recording and video production.
One staff member who came on board was Nadirah McGill, drummer/co-vocalist for the Gully Boys, who headlined the grand opening of the Treasury on April 21.
“This place is like a step up from basement shows,” said McGill, who oversees talent booking at the Garage and Treasury.
McGill is working to make the Treasury a viable venue for lesser-known bands: “We need more subdued, all-ages spaces like this for fans, but we also need more venues of this size for groups of babies to play in. There’s a big difference between having to fill a 180-seat room versus a 350-seat room.”
Among the names on the schedule in May are “country-core” rock band Rat Bath (playing Monday); indie rockers Pullstring (May 20); experimental instrumentalists Ologyology (May 22) and electro-rock Pure Shifter (May 28).
Performers don’t have to be under 21, but should appeal to music fans that young. Which leaves it pretty wide open.
The day before the band’s McGill gig last month, the drummer watched with excitement as the Treasury hosted touring headliner Oklahoma Skating Trio Polly, with two female-led punk bands from Twin Cities opening for Bugsy. and Viale.
Among the many underage fans who greeted the heavy triple bill, Alice Lavender, 17, of St. Paul, said she appreciated the “positive energy” in the new venue.
“It’s more about the music when there’s no alcohol. And it feels a lot safer,” Lavender said, echoing bandleader Bugsy’s comments.
Two teenagers who gave only their first names, Cam and Katelyn – they understandably became nervous when an old man with a notepad asked for their personal details – said they also enjoyed the ‘inclusive’ vibe of the Treasure.
“It’s more comfortable when it’s mostly people our age,” Katelyn said.
The Treasury has published a Code of Conduct on its website which clearly sets out policies against discrimination or harassment based on race, sex or gender. Kolb-Williams thinks these policies will also naturally become hallmarks of the Treasury, based on core demographics.
“I’ve worked with children for 10 years, and more and more I’m amazed at how this generation of children is working for inclusivity in such a tangible way,” he said. “It’s at the forefront of our mission here.”
It looks like a place that will be truly treasured.
Address: 965 Payne Avenue, St. Paul.
Tickets and more info: thetreasurystp.com or catalystmusic.org.
Performing this month: Bloodline (Friday), Rat Bath (Monday), Pullstring (May 20), Ologyology (May 22), Pure Shifter (May 28), the Ragetones (May 29).