“There are a lot of genres and a lot of bands.” “The talent’s there, the music’s there.” “I think the creativity is there.” “There is a rich scene for whatever it is you’re into.” “Talent is here.”
These are the voices of promoters, bands and the audience. Some of these voices have been involved with the Jacksonville music scene for over 20 years. Combined, they have almost 100 years of experience in the scene. So if the talent is here, why is everybody hatin’ on our scene?
It’s no secret that Jacksonville is a huge city. Geography has always played a huge role in attendance. People from Jacksonville Beach have a hard time going downtown or to Riverside for shows, and vice versa. I don’t blame them. Why drive 40 minutes to a small show for a band you’ve never heard of and might not even like?
But in the same vein, why not?
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, most people relied on live shows to discover new music. They got to a show early to hear the openers, so they could get to know their city’s local bands. They relied on mixed bills to discover genres. Everyone had to pack the same venues, because there were only two or three to choose from.
“There weren’t enough places to get people musically fed,” said jack ringca (As a musician he prefers his name to be lowercase in print). ringca has been involved in the Jax scene since the ‘80s and currently plays in five different local bands.
But now, there are around 30 “venues” in Jacksonville. There are more shows and more bands and more people.
So where is everyone?
They’re at home, listening to music on Spotify or Pandora or YouTube. They value convenience over a live show, their bed over a beer with friends. Instead of passing out flyers, or dropping them by the local record shop, evites go out to Facebook friends. People scroll past shows, not interested because the name isn’t national.
“Even though there are lots of people that love going to shows, sometimes it feels like people in Jax don’t mind missing shows because the band/artist will usually come back through or there will be a different show the night after,” said Luke Barber, bassist in the Jacksonville metal band Yashira.
With the amount of music available, attention spans are shorter. People want instant gratification.
“People just don’t come out. They don’t give a s**t,” said Mike Ciero of For Your Friends Booking.
Going to shows isn’t so much a lifestyle anymore, and it should be. When you’re in the hardcore, punk and metal scene, it becomes the center of your life.
“Overall there’s more of an alignment where people come from and they’re able to fixate on that. Hardcore and punk rock is a lifestyle … You become part of another family, so to speak,” Ciero said.
“There isn’t a unified movement,” said Ben Saunders of Teen Divorce, a local indie rock band.
According to Jason Hunnicutt, booking manager at 1904 Music Hall, Jacksonville is known for being a “walk-up town” — known for being finicky and last-minute.
That being said, there are positives to the Jacksonville scene. Even though there aren’t a lot of big live-music-only venues, there are a lot of small venues and even more venues that double as restaurants, cafes or bars.
“I think it’s the best it’s ever been. I remember when there were two clubs that did live music … Now, there are probably 30 in the city that play original music,” said Tim Hall, a Jacksonville concert promoter who mainly books Mavericks and Jack Rabbits.
“I think Jacksonville is more diverse than people give it credit for,” jack ringca said.
Phill Newton plays in a melodic black metal band, The Noctambulant, and a German oompah band. “The Jacksonville metal crowd is fantastic. It’s not huge, but it’s dedicated. There are some wonderful people that work hard to put on quality shows and fans that make sure they support the scene as much as possible,” he said.
Ian Ranne is the co-owner of Rain Dogs, Nighthawks and Shantytown Pub. “The scene is big enough where there is plenty of work to be done, but everyone is not splintered into their own tiny micro scenes yet to where people don’t know each other. This is a sign of positive growth, but [it] also maintains a unity and familiarity you don’t get in other larger cities.”
The internet isn’t all bad, either. Any style of music, anywhere in the world, is available right at your fingertips. Anyone can create a Bandcamp or a YouTube account to share their music. You can teach yourself to play any instrument with the amount of tutorials online. That’s exactly what Saunders did. He didn’t even know how to sing, but taught himself through online tutorials.
It’s easier to get the word out about shows, too. A band can go on Facebook, invite all their friends to a show, who invite their friends, who invite friends of friends, and so on until a crazy amount of people know about the show.
So how can we, collectively, make it better?
One, we have to remember that growth is cyclical. Freebird and Underbelly (RIP) gave us good, big shows for a long time. Now it’s time to support smaller venues while we wait for something to take their place.
“Freebird going down hurt the scene, as far as it was a good mid-sized venue, but Mavericks is picking up the slack on a lot of the shows,” Hall said.
You have to support the scene you want to have. Make it a lifestyle.
“You create your own reality,” Hunnicutt said.
To the bands: Keep working really, really hard. Jacksonville loves you, even if they don’t know about you yet. Create for the love of creating. Be shameless about your self-promo (and know Void is always here to help).
To the promoters: Keep doing the good work you do. Stay optimistic. We’re better off than we used to be and hopefully, we’ll keep climbing.
To the listeners: Get more comfortable going somewhere you’ve never been — see someone you’ve never heard before. Be open to meeting new people who listen to different things.
To everyone: Remember that growth is cyclical. Old things end to make room for new things. There’s something for everyone in Jacksonville, you just have to find it.
***I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who helped with this story. It would not have been possible without you, and neither would Jacksonville’s music scene.***