A look at Minnesota punk, new wave music history comes to Rochester

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Mar. 17—ROCHESTER — For Minnesota indie and punk music fans, Jay's Longhorn Bar in Minneapolis was the epicenter of a growing scene.

From 1977 to 1982, Jay's Longhorn attracted musicians and fans of new types of music and cultivated a vibrant scene.

Minnesota music royalty such as the Suburbs, Hüsker Dü and Suicide Comandos played there. Nationally known indie and new wave music acts including Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Blondie and the Police and the B-52's performed there as well.

Fondly remembered by people who went there, Jay's Longhorn heyday came after large broadcast corporations had begun to monopolize the airwaves.

"There was no radio support whatsoever for these bands," said Mark Engebretson, a Minneapolis musician, historian and filmmaker.

The DIY and punk culture that thrived there was sandwiched in an era between the end of independent radio and before social media, Minnesota Public Radio's The Current and the ubiquity of camera phones.

That means little readily-available media of shows and events there exist today.

"I felt it was in danger of being forgotten," Engebretson said.

Engebretson produced and directed a documentary "Jay's Longhorn: Let's Make a Scene," about the music scene there. The film has garnered multiple awards and is screening at Pop's Art Theater March 19, 2024. Engebretson will be at the screening to talk about the film and answer viewer questions about it.

The screening is a collaboration with Pop's, Sound Unseen film series and the Frozen River Film Festival.

Seeds of an idea to do a project detailing some of the Longhorn's history had been in the back of Engebretson's mind more than a decade ago, he said.

A Suicide Comandos reunion show — opening for the Sonics — at First Avenue in 2014 was the catalyst Engebretson needed.

"I thought, 'if I'm ever going to do this movie, I've got to go to that show,'" he said.

The Suicide Comandos were at the center of the scene in the era Engebretson planned to spotlight.

People in the center of the scene were also getting older, which was another impetus to move forward with the project, he added.

The people he approached were eager to participate, he said. Photographers were glad to share their work to contribute to the project as well. Getting video footage was difficult.

"There was very little at that time," he said.

The movie was released in 2019 and won several awards, including the 2021 Minnesota Documentary Award at the Frozen River Film Festival and Best Music Feature at the Queen City Film Festival in Maryland.

It was the reception closer to home that Engebretson said he appreciated the most. Three screenings accompanied by shows including sell-out events at the Parkway Theater and the Minnesota History Center.

"It was like a punk rock reunion," Engebretson said.

With photographs and an accompanying soundtrack, the film straddles the line of a musical homage and documentary.

"To me, it's an accurate telling, but it does have that spirit," Engebretson said.

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Where: Pop's Art Theater, 619 Sixth Ave. NW.

How much: $10, at the door or in advance at