In April, in the midst of her historic headlining performance at Coachella—a production The New York Times called “A gobsmacking marvel of choreography and musical direction,” and of which Chance The Rapper tweeted, “I just saw the greatest show to ever happen”—Beyoncé (AKA Queen B, AKA Bae) included a rendition of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; a tune penned by famed Jacksonville resident and Stanton College Preparatory School Principal James Weldon Johnson and first performed right here in the 904. Meanwhile, as The New Yorker noted this month in its profile of Florida’s Democratic nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum, attendees to the current Tallahassee mayor’s rallies have been known to break out into spontaneous recitations of the same song.
The fact that the most famous pop star of her generation and an historically important politician (the first African-American nominee for Florida governor) have made use of “Lift Every Voice” speaks to not only the historical importance of the tune, but its continued relevance. And shouldn’t that also then speak to our region’s status as an artistic and culturally important place?
For this issue, our 2018 fall Arts and Music season preview, we put together a roundtable of local music promoters, venue owners, and impresarios to discuss the state of the Northeast Florida music scene. One of the questions put to the panel was “What’s Northeast Florida’s musical identity?” Predictable exemplars were tossed around; Southern Rock staples like Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special, pop-punks Yellowcard, Nu-metal pariahs Limp Bizkit [cue groans]. But as we dug deeper, a more eclectic portrait emerged; from early-aughts rockers Red Jumpsuit Apparatus to ‘90s pop superstars Quad City DJs (come on ride that train!) to JJ Grey & Mofro to bedroom pop wunderkind Yuno, who signed to Sup Pop in April and whose tune “No Going Back” was arguably the song of the summer of ’18.
It’s an observable fact that Northeast Florida has produced a litany of successful mainstream acts in every decade of modern music. Often they’ve emerged to play music of a distinctly different genre than what came before. Occasionally, they invented their own.
So what is our region’s musical identity? One panelist, founder of Avant Music Series Keith Marks, suggested that we should aspire to be like Austin or Nashville, places historically viewed by outsiders as country music bastions, but places that anyone who has visited in the last decade recognizes as wildly diverse music scenes.
I’d argue that one look at the eclectic collection of artists, herein—from visual and performing artists to musicians—proves we’re already there. From historically important output from the LaVilla neighborhood (where, aside from producing the Johnson penned “Lift Every Voice,” hosted Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few) to Riverside’s incubation of The Allman Brothers Band (see “Don’t Keep me Wonderin’” by Daniel A. Brown), we can already boast a rich musical heritage to rival any region in America. And while we may not have satisfactory statues or memorials commemorating this legacy, musical acts like Yuno, The Young Step, Countach and Geexella, along with visual and performing artists like Erin Kendrick, Victor Ali, and the members of the 5 & Dime Theater Company [all of whom you’ll learn about in the pages that follow] are drawing on that distinctive heritage and making arresting, individualistic, and important art for a modern world.
We hope you enjoy what you encounter in this issue. We invite you to not only engage with it all on the page, but also do so in the world at large. Go to an art opening. Buy some art for your wall. Go see a local band perform. Buy an album and turn it up to 11. Because doing so is to play an important role in taking this region to the next level.