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Music acts come to Fargo Theatre

When ex-Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley played the Fargo Theatre in March, the historic theater's executive director was a shade nervous. "I was in and out, just making sure the place was intact," Margie Bailly said. It's not likely to be her last bou...

When ex-Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley played the Fargo Theatre in March, the historic theater's executive director was a shade nervous.

"I was in and out, just making sure the place was intact," Margie Bailly said. It's not likely to be her last bout of nail-biting in the near future.

The 82-year-old art-deco theater, known more for art-house and independent films, is playing host to a growing number of concerts - even rock acts rowdier and louder than the folk, blues and country artists that have played there in the recent past.

"It's a little scary to me, to be perfectly honest with you," Bailly says. "We need to expand our horizons a little bit."

The push for more concerts is serious enough that the Fargo Theatre is conducting a quiet campaign to raise as much as $20,000 to bolster its sound and lighting setup. The drive is part of efforts to raise $300,000 for the 78-seat second screen expected to be done by the end of the year - which will free up more time for the 870-seat main theater to double as a concert venue.

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The next week serves as a taste of shows to come, as the Fargo Theatre will host alt-country troubadour Steve Earle, singer-songwriter Marc Cohn and Boss-loving bar-rockers The Hold Steady in the course of six days.

Jade Nielsen, who is promoting or co-promoting all three of those shows, said he is excited to have a venue for bands too big for The Aquarium, a 300-person rock bar, and too small for The Venue, the 2,000-capacity nightclub inside The Hub.

"We're stretching our arms," Nielsen said.

Bailly said the goal for 2009 is to have up to two dozen concerts, tripling the six to eight shows of recent years. "It depends on how they're supported and where the film industry goes," she said.

The second theater will help with that because many films come with restrictions from the distributor requiring they be shown a certain number of nights without interruption, Bailly said. Movies carrying those sorts of strings could be bumped over to the small screen for the night.

"The distributors are getting more and more vigilant. It used to be I could be sneakier," Bailly said.

Chris Hennen, the main promoter at The Aquarium, said having the Fargo Theatre more available as a venue will increase the number of touring bands promoters can land.

Example: The Hold Steady concert - a show Hennen has been trying to get for three years and is co-promoting with Nielsen - might not have come off if they couldn't have scheduled it at the theater.

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"There are not a lot of bands that can fill The Venue. There are not a lot of bands that can fill the Fargodome anymore. There are a lot of them that can do about 500," he said.

More shows will make Jarrett Johnson happy. He's a 24-year-old recent Minnesota State University Moorhead graduate who moved downtown in February, in part for the live music. He said he'd appreciate the midsize option the theater could provide.

"There are probably three or four concerts a year at The Aquarium that are a little too big, that are just pushing it," he said.

Nielsen and Hennen both said they still would like to see a 500-capacity venue open because the Fargo Theatre does have some limitations.

"The pros are that it's a beautiful space right in the heart of downtown," Nielsen said. "The only con is the seating for some kinds of events." For instance, pretty much any metal band would be a no-go there, he said.

Hennen said beefing up the permanent lighting and sound is essential because renting that equipment takes at least $1,000 a show and can make for narrow profit margins that might scuttle some deals.

An uptick in concerts could be a boost for the theater, Bailly said. First off, it's good to have "800 people in here as opposed to 12."

Another benefit for the Fargo Theatre is that a busy lineup of shows exposes it to a different demographic: young concert-goers such as Johnson.

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"We really want to engage and retain young people. We have a responsibility to do this," Bailly said.

If you go

What: Steve Earle

When: 8 tonight

Where: Fargo Theatre

Prices: $25 and $29.50

If you go

What: Marc Cohn

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fargo Theatre

Info: $29.50 and $35

For more information: (701) 235-4152

Upcoming shows

Jonny Lang, Aug. 26

Martin Sexton, Nov. 5

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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