There's a fantastic scene in The Blues Brothers where Cab Calloway, playing the venerable Curtis Blues, gently chides the wayward John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd to let a little light back into their lives.
CURTIS: You boys could use a little churchin' up. Slide down to the Triple Rock and catch Reverend Cleophus, the preacher there. You boys listen to what he's got to say.
JAKE: Curtis, I don't want to listen to no jive-ass preacher talk to me about heaven and hell.
CURTIS: Jake, you get wise... you get to church!
The musical number that follows will go down as one of the greatest in movie history, and was especially formative for me as a kid. I decided at a young age that religion wasn't going to be for me, but when "The Light" hits Jake and Elwood Blues, I realized that music could provide that same kind of rapturous experience.
We found sanctuary
I'd see my own light a few years later, around 2004, at a venue of the same name owned by Erik and Gretchen Funk on Minneapolis' West Bank. They hosted all-ages punk and ska shows, often on Sundays, and my friends and I would all get dressed up in our "church" clothes and head down, sometimes with parents in tow.
We were mired in the thick of our teenage angst, but within those walls we found sanctuary, we found community, and we found our purpose. Eventually, we started to book shows of our own. We were hooked on the music, hooked on the experience. We were on a mission from god.
I remember in those early days that every trip to the Triple Rock felt like some sort of incredible adventure that we couldn't believe we were getting away with. The smoking ban hadn't quite taken effect, so we would leave smelling like the inside of a locker room ashtray, covered in sweat from moshing and dancing.
We wore our black X's proudly at school the next day, applied thoroughly, sternly, and kindly by Big Pete, the bar's massive and eternal bouncer. Just last week, Big Pete and I went through the motions of checking my ID for a show, even though the man literally watched me grow up, week to week, for the past 13 years.
A couple years later, my teenage pop-punk band got our first crack at playing the Triple Rock, opening up for a harder-edged touring group from NYC. When we finished our set, we giddily asked the gruff, tattooed sound guy named JB if he thought there'd be any money for us at the end of the night. He cracked something close to a wry smile and said "Kid, if you wanted to make money, you got into the wrong business," before sauntering off. It was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me.
The Triple Rock bar
Fast forward a few more years and I finally got my first taste of the Triple Rock's forbidden fruit, the bar side, on my 21st Birthday. I'd continue to celebrate there nearly every year in some form or fashion. No bar in town could match their legendary jukebox, packed to the brim with all manner of metal, punk, soul, and classic rock jams, or their stiff rail pours and multitude of beers on tap.
Two-for-one-Tuesdays showed me the outer limits of my drinking tolerance with gut-wrenching specificity. Strapped by college and pinching pennies, we'd try to squeeze four meals out of their notorious Po'Boy sandwiches, which to this very day resemble a semi truck crash of meat, potatoes and cheese, more than their New Orleans namesake.
I'm a religious drunk and this is where I pray
The church of alcoholics can't break up the congregation
Give us air to breathe, through carbonation
We are at liquor church, genuflecting on barstools
We're praying that the taps will keep the holy water flowing
-NOFX, "Seeing Double at the Triple Rock"
Oh, and the shows
The Triple Rock offered us unfiltered access to our musical heroes. Erik Funk's band, the seminal midwest punk band Dillinger Four, played at least two unforgettable shows there every year on the 4th of July and St. Patrick's Day.
The band would be nearly legless by the time their set time rolled around, and stumbled brilliantly through their songs, punctuated by hilarious quips and philosophical musings from bassist Paddy Costello. If Paddy managed to keep his pants above his ankles at the end of a D4th of July, it was considered an uncharacteristic show of restraint. The next day, you might see a severely hungover Billy Morrisette, the band's other guitarist, blearily tending bar at happy hour.
Therein lies the secret magic of the Triple Rock: the intimacy between performer and fan. The venue's stage was set low, with no barrier or security standing between crowdsurfers and their 10 seconds of glory. With a green room no larger than a closet, artists often opted to hang behind merch tables or mingle with fans. Naturally, this led to some great stories, including the time when a fan got a little too close to Detroit rapper Danny Brown.
I could rattle on like this for ages, with more war stories about being two-hand choked by over-aggressive moshers or seeing way more of Paddy's genitals than I'll ever be comfortable with, but it won't bring the Triple Rock back.
Nineteen years is a hell of a long time to run a bar, and as Minneapolis marches ever faster to the steady beat of "progress," the Triple Rock won't be the last casualty.
That's why I'm imploring you to look up to the light like Jake and Elwood. We've got to get to church, all of us, wherever that church is. Maybe it's your favorite dive, record store, or neighborhood restaurant, it doesn't matter. Show these places that they matter with your patronage, because they represent the soul of this city, and that's something worth fighting for.
It's time to get the band back together, you're on a mission from god now.