Monday, January 24, 2011

The music ends at Maude

Nathan Hanson
Cafe Maude opened in southwest Minneapolis on Thursday, June 7, 2007, and has featured live music nearly every weekend ever since. Not just live music, but really good live music by top area musicians and visitors from out of town. And not just really good music, but usually improvised music, a.k.a. avant-garde music, free jazz, or whatever you choose to call it.

An incomplete list of musicians who have performed at Maude, in no particular order: Chris Thomson, Chris Morrissey, Bryan Nichols, Tim Glenn, Anthony Cox, Jay Epstein, Dean Granros, Patrick Harison, Dean Magraw, Dosh, Paul Metzger, Michael Lewis, Adam Linz, JT Bates, Chris Bates, Dave King, James Buckley, Milo Fine, Davu Seru, Alden Ikeda, Earworm, Eric Gravatt, Park Evans, Luke Polipnick, Rahjta Ren, Jeremy Boettcher, Sean Carey, Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Josh Granowski, Todd Clouser, Peter Schimke, Graydon Peterson, Babatunde Lea, Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler, Pete Hennig.

As of March 1, there will be no more music at Maude. Bookings already scheduled for that month have been cancelled. I spoke with owner Kevin Sheehy yesterday to find out why, although I already knew the reason: the challenge of running a restaurant in a cruel economy. Over the past few years, he had done everything possible to keep the doors open and finally concluded that the music had to go. If he stops paying musicians, moves the piano out, and replaces the stage with a banquette and more tables, maybe Maude will survive.

“It absolutely breaks my heart,” he said. “I held off as long as I could. I’ve been trying for three and a half years to figure out a way for that restaurant to make a profit, but we haven’t made money yet. We have lost money every year.

“I don’t have deep pockets, and there’s only so much that’s discretional. I’m so grateful, and so proud of the scene we created, but to hang on and keep losing money for the sake of the music would not be acceptable. I’ve been poring over numbers, and it’s a matter of survival. I owe it to my investor, my landlords, my employees, my bank, and myself. But it breaks my heart.”

Mine, too.

Brian Roessler and Pete Hennig
HH and I were at Maude on Saturday, the night before the news about Sheehy's decision started getting around. It's been one of our favorite neighborhood hangs for years. We were having dinner and listening to saxophonist Nathan Hanson, bassist Brian Roessler, and drummer Pete Hennig play their richly inventive, uplifting music only inches away. We had asked to be seated near the music, and the last table available was right in front of the stage. One edge actually hangs over the stage. It’s as close to the music as you can get, and at Maude, that’s not a bad thing if you’re there to listen.

Maude has always been a yin-yang kind of place: one part trendy restaurant, one part serious music venue. Some people have come for the music; others have complained on Open Table and Yelp that they couldn’t hear themselves talk over the music. Often, the crowd noise has drowned out the first set. 

On Saturday, Hanson, Roessler, and Hennig played a short first set for that reason, then returned for a lengthy and mesmerizing second set, full of expression and nuance, fire and dreams. There were two long pieces, one a playground of time signatures, the other an exploration that resolved into Hennig's solemn and thoughtful "Inversion Is the Condition," and two shorter ones including a Cambodian folk tune. Because we were sitting so near, the chatter receded.

Maude has gotten away with being noisy because, well, it’s Maude. Sheehy loves music and treats the musicians well. The people who book the music at Maude (most recently, Paul Hirte) know what they’re doing. And sooner or later on a typical evening, the crowd thins enough or quiets down enough that the music rises up and carries you away.

You can still hear music at Maude through February. After that, if the economy improves, if the restaurant business brightens, Sheehy says, "I'd bring the music back in a heartbeat."


This is the second time in a month I’ve had to post bad news about improvised music in the Twin Cities. First the Clown and now Maude.

There are still places to hear improvised music—most often (and regularly) the Black Dog, less frequently the Acadia, Madame of the Arts (the new home of the Tuesday Series), Homewood Studios, and the West Bank School of Music, occasionally the Dakota and the Artists’ Quarter, the Walker and the Southern, the Cedar, Studio Z, and MacPhail, and now (fingers crossed) the Loring Theater. But as of March 1, the Black Dog will stand alone as the only place in the Twin Cities where you can hear improvised music weekly. It feels like the incredible shrinking scene. Where’s our Stone?


Ode to Maude (September 27, 2009)


  1. man this blows. i had some great times seeing nichols there, and it was fun to see the chris morrissey quartet cut there teeth at maude. a shame

  2. Frankly, I hate to lose a jazz venue but I stopped going there for music
    a long time ago. The volume level of people talking there was just crazy.
    People would clap at the end of a tune but few there were actually listening.

  3. Maude was (still is--the music continues through February) an exercise in focused listening and tuning out, but often worth it. I used to wonder how the musicians did it.

  4. "I used to wonder how the musicians did it":

    Practice! The chatter is by no means a peculiar problem of Maude's...Cou(Acadia)ugh!.


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