Growing up an avid music fan here in Jacksonville had its ups and downs. Not that there was a lack of CD stores throughout town (remember those things?), but more of a disparity when it came to catching live shows. That’s not to say that we were fully left out when it came to touring acts in the Southeast, but oftentimes we’d be glanced over for the Miami’s and Atlanta’s of the region. We always had events like the Warped Tour and Punk-O-Rama, along with the occasional household MTV names swinging through for a night, but there was a lack of homegrown, unified enthusiasm that cities like Austin and Athens have championed for decades.
“I feel like we started seeing a change in the Jax music scene five years back or so, it really started with Jax based musicians and music fans branching out and traveling to see music in different parts of country. Those people then started playing shows locally or bringing artists to Jax who previously hadn’t considered stopping through our city on their tours.” –Dave McSweeney, Bassist of Greenhouse Lounge
As time went on, and spots like The Milk Bar and Club 5 came and went, many music fans in north Florida started to become more involved with the local scene. Over the last 5-10 years countless people I knew from the audience-side of things were starting bands, opening venues, putting on events, and organizing groups of like minded individuals with a common vision- bring the noise to The River City.
The relentlessly-touring, local picker Nicholas Williams, aka Weatherman, shared his perspective. “When I moved here five years ago, there didn’t seem to be much of a scene downtown or at the beaches for original music. Though Riverside has been and still feels like the epicenter of Jacksonville’s music scene, with the development of The Elbow and One Spark, while adding the growth of the Riverside Arts Market, and both the beaches as well as downtown having Art Walk, things have spread out a bit. Obviously with more creative outlets for musicians, that encourages more original music and more bands/venues popping up. Just in the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen a seemingly vast change in all aspects of Jacksonville’s music scene.”
The last 3 years in particular have seen the musical evolution of Jacksonville reach a fevered pitch. It seems that there’s a high quality event almost every night of the week. For the longest time there was a clear disconnect between the two main entertainment hubs of the city- downtown and the beaches- but even those lines have been blurred, with an unprecedented intermingling of music fans “crossing the ditch” in the name of ass-shakery.
Riverside has been and still feels like the epicenter of Jacksonville’s music scene, with the development of The Elbow and One Spark, while adding the growth of the Riverside Arts Market, and both the beaches as well as downtown having Art Walk, things have spread out a bit.
“I feel like the Jacksonville music scene is just beginning to come into its own little golden age. In twenty years, many of the bands you can go see for $5 right now will have become household names”, said Grant Nielsen, front man of Jacksonville’s JacksonVegas and Media Manager of The Elbow. “Most of my favorite musical memories have happened in our little art bubble, and there have been some legendary moments already.”
It’s a good time to be an upcoming musician in Jacksonville. There’s a plethora of venues, new and old, who are putting their best foot forward for music’s sake. Between Underbelly, 1904 Music Hall, Club TSI, Burro Bar, The Florida Theatre and others, downtown has something to offer daily, for fans of any flavor. Downtown aside, there are still plenty of options between Jack Rabbits, Freebird Live, The St. Augustine Amphitheater, Brewster’s Megaplex, etc.
“The Jax music scene just in the last two years has been blowing up. A lot of brother/sisterhood between musicians supporting each other. 1904 Music Hall and Underbelly are bringing amazing acts through downtown so the spread has reached farther across Jacksonville”, says Corey Peterson, saxophonist for local powerhouse Herd Of Watts. “If it stays on this track, there will be no stopping it. Jacksonville will be permanently on the map as a legitimate music scene.”
Along with the venues, groups like The Elbow, and events like One Spark, Jazz Fest After Dark, Artwalk, Crush Block Party and many more are providing artists with the stage they need to get their sounds into the public’s ears. Social media is playing an increasingly integral role in the process, as well. Whereas it may have been a struggle 15 years ago for a band to reach potential fans with their product, today sites like Facebook, Soundcloud and Bandcamp have replaced the outdated methods of marketing, putting the performer and their creations center stage. These sites provide the ideal medium for aspiring musicians to promote themselves, but with the benefit of having little-to-no overhead cost.
“One of the most inspirational things I’ve seen in the current Jax scene is the collaboration across different spectrums of music and art that enhance the live music experience. It’s not just the musicians anymore but the live painters, lighting designers, art installations, hoopers, fire spinners, videographers, and bloggers that are adding their touch to the show experience. Jacksonville used to be very segregated in its scenes and I think a lot of those walls are being knocked down thanks to the work of people like that.” – Jason Hunnicutt, Owner 1904 Music Hall
Coinciding with the influx of venues and events, there’s also been a huge increase of younger faces in the crowds over the last few years across Jacksonville. It seems logical to assume that the aforementioned increase in social media marketing goes hand in hand with the current internet-savvy generation of audio aficionados-in-training. That’s not to suggest that enjoying music from a young age is a modern phenomenon, but more that the potential for exposure to new sounds has increased dramatically. This has ushered in a new herd of fans to replace those whose time has been consumed by life’s priorities and adulthood.
One of the most inspirational things I’ve seen in the current Jax scene is the collaboration across different spectrums of music and art that enhance the live music experience. It’s not just the musicians anymore but the live painters, lighting designers, art installations, hoopers, fire spinners, videographers, and bloggers that are adding their touch to the show experience.
“Social media has allowed the free attainment of a sphere of influence. It’s easy to say that ‘Facebook event invites are annoying’ or ‘internet is saturating music’, but it’s also growing respect for art at a much more rapid pace than ever before. There are always going to be those huge companies that can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on promoting their permanently-successful events. But things like Facebook and Twitter spread information like wildfire, eliminating a need for being dependent on record labels. DIY and independent music has taken the next step. It’s very democratic.” -Vlad The Inhaler, local DJ/Promoter/Musical Mayor
If the current levels of enthusiasm, unity and collaboration are sustained for even a few more years, the sky appears to be the limit for how far Jacksonville’s live music devotees can go. The sense of community is palpable, with artists and fans of varying genres cross-promoting each other’s efforts and events. I predict that by 2020 (or sooner), we not only have a beautiful, thriving musical landscape, but a more forward-thinking community when it comes to culture and the arts as a whole.
“Building a tradition for the next generation of these artists, event coordinators and venues is a big part of the current growth we’re experiencing now… I believe it will continue to progress, as long as these foundations that are currently being laid continue to build.” –Nicholas Williams