Sue McLean’s impact on the Twin Cities music scene continues to reverberate in big events launched and musicians championed.
The 1973 graduate’s 2011 Pollstar ranking was 97th in the world with 126,000 tickets sold for 130 shows and nearly $3.7 million grossed.
She booked acts ranging from Johnny Cash, Al Green, Etta James and Tony Bennett to Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Los Lobos, Lyle Lovett and newer favorites such as Adele, Jack Johnson, Derek Trucks and the Avett Brothers. She also worked with numerous top Minnesota musicians including St. Cloud State non-grad alum Leo Kottke, Soul Asylum and countless others.
“She became the world’s most successful independent female concert promoter, bringing good times to Minnesota music lovers for more than three decades at the Basilica Block Party, the Minnesota Zoo, the Guthrie Theater and other venues,” wrote Star Tribune pop music reporter Jon Bream in his tender tribute to McLean upon her death from cancer May 17 at the age of 63. “McLean
had a human touch that set her apart from other promoters.”
That human touch extended to many a fledgling musician who benefitted from her tenacious promotion of people and programs she believed in.
“She had the respect of the industry because she helped cultivate musicians and bring them to the right venues,” said Jo McMullen-Boyer ’91, station manager for 88.1 FM KVSC, the campus radio station where McLean worked as a student. “She started them, stuck to them and nurtured their careers.”
“Her work at KVSC was a very positive experience that she frequently brought up in our conversations. It was something she enjoyed as part of her college experience.”
88.1FM KVSC station manager
A St. Cloud State graduate in speech and communication from Dayton, McLean became a major force in the Twin Cities music scene, a concert promoter extraordinaire who never forgot her St. Cloud State roots as a news reporter and anchor in campus media.
“Her work at KVSC was a very positive experience that she frequently brought up in our conversations,” said McMullen-Boyer. “It was something she enjoyed as part of her college experience.”
“She was always willing to tell that story of how to write news and deliver it,” McMullen-Boyer said of McLean’s mentorship of St. Cloud State students through presentations in the mass communications marketing sequence.
Leading up to KVSC’s 40th anniversary celebration McLean was a go-to person who helped book musicians. “It was nice to get her input and support — to see her relationship with St. Cloud State come full circle,” McMullen-Boyer said.
“I knew Sue from her days in St. Cloud,” recalled top Twin Cities drummer Bobby Vandell in a Star Tribune article. “She was a waitress at the Grand Mantel, a bar I played in when I was 18, and she couldn’t have been much older. It was apparent even back then that Sue loved music, was drawn to musicians as friends and was put in this world to be in this business.
Sue’s success came in a very male-dominated business — it never fazed her.”
After college, McLean went to work for Randy Levy’s promotion company in Minneapolis, then on to 10 years of booking concerts at the Guthrie. It was at the Guthrie that she first booked Etta James, which turned into a stint of booking the four-time Grammy Award winner throughout the country.
She started Sue McClean & Associates in 1998, a company that is now led by her niece, Patricia McLean.
Sue McLean left some lasting footprints in the field of music promotion and in the lives of many she touched through her profession and the many charitable activities she led. She helped initiate the St. Catherine University Women of Substance series to find and develop artists who have been marginalized in the music industry. “Her efforts to spotlight women artists really speaks to her character,” McMullen-Boyer said.
“How she took risks was something to admire,” McMullen-Boyer said. “She developed the Mill City Music Festival … literally blocked off sections of Minneapolis for stages downtown. She went out of her way to spotlight Minnesota artists, to help build their careers.”
Inspired by her 11-year-old daughter Lilly, McLean also took action to help young people get their futures on the right track. She started the Tweentown Rock & Roll Camp for Girls, giving participating girls 10-14 an opportunity to tackle new instruments and to learn to play in a rock band.
She also joined the innovative program Imagine the Possibilities at Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis, helping to put at-risk students together with successful business leaders/mentors for the purpose of designing an innovative project.
Sue McLean left behind a legacy of groundbreaking accomplishments and a legion of grateful musicians young and old whom she helped along the way.
Sue McLean tributes
Sue McLean’s legacy has been memorialized throughout the state from her small hometown of Dayton to her homestage at the Minnesota Zoo.
- The Minnesota Zoo named the stage in its Weesner Family Amphitheater the Sue McLean Stage in honor of the Music in the Zoo concert series that Sue McLean & Associates books.
- Her hometown Dayton renamed Mississippi Park the Susan McLean Park for her contributions to the city.
- A Tribute To Sue McLean concert benefiting the Lilly McLean Fund featured Eric Hutchinson, Soul Asylum and more at First Avenue in Minneapolis.