It’s no secret the First Coast’s music scene took a hit after venues like Freebird Live at the Beaches, Underbelly and Burro Bar downtown and The Birdhouse in Springfield shut their doors to artists and showgoers.
But in the gray of their ashes are inspired visionaries hungry to foster a fresh music culture in the Oldest and Bold Cities.
One musician making moves locally is Flash the Samurai, a rapper and member of hip hop collective L.O.V.E. Culture. He told Void he’s influenced by a drive for competition he discovered watching anime, which translated to music after he recorded bars to a Lloyd Banks instrumental on an iPhone.
“We’re trying to build a certain type of unity between the younger generation and older generation, just from my lane of music. L.O.V.E. Culture is trying to bridge that gap,” the 22-year-old rapper told Void. “I’m appreciative of the OGs, like Mal Jones, DJ Shotgun and Swordz, seeing us carry the torch.”
To Austin Sherrill, guitarist in local indie rock trio Gov Club, Jacksonville’s music scene can’t thrive without unity, too.
“I grew up at the beach and I’ve lived in Riverside for the past three-and-a-half-years, and it’s like, both groups don’t like each other. But it’s the same f***ing people in both places, for the most part,” Sherrill said.
“The more polarized we get, and obviously we’re living in a time when polarization is worse than it’s been in a long time, from a local standpoint, we should be supporting each other regardless of whether or not we live 20 minutes from each other.”
But with all the iconic venues and bars shutting down, where are the newer generation of musicians supposed to perform and promote unity the scene needs to thrive?
St. Augustine’s Ryan Kunsch, who owns, operates and creates art decor for a performance venue, craft beer lounge and grilled cheese cafe called Sarbez, is attempting to give an answer.
After graduating from Flagler College in 2013, he recognized a void in his city in terms of its music scene.
“My way of living is basically like, if I’m going to complain about something, I have to do something about it. My complaint was there’s no where in St. Augustine I wanted to go. There’s no spot with live, original music, no games, fun, beer or unique food,” Kunsch said.
“I spent days thinking about it, and thought, ‘Maybe, I’m the person who has to create this in St. Augustine. I just took that void and continuously tried to fill it, and it’s been awesome because there’s so many musicians and people that care. It’s really cool.”
Kunsch applied for a loan, engineered a menu ranging from a basket of bacon to vegan carrot dogs, painted the walls, built a stage, and so much more without looking back.
Kunsch said one the the biggest motivators to open Sarbez was his love for music.
“I could not believe how many bands and musicians there were around that were literally like dying,” Kunsch said. “Honestly it made me sad. It’s either you have to play the Amphitheatre or Madison Square Garden, it’s like, where were these people supposed to play?”
Now, there’s a spot in the oldest city to catch a metal show, hip hop showcase, open mic and comedy night all in the same week. Oh, and it’s open until 2 a.m.
Just like someone has to be a brain surgeon and someone has to pick the garbage up every week, Kunsch had to open a spot for creatives to do their thing and help each other grow. In Jacksonville, so did Little Geronimo and Teen Divorce drummer David Kennedy.
Since it started during the summer, Kennedy has opened his living room to touring and local bands, giving them a place to perform on the Southside — about three minutes away from Tinseltown. He and the local scene simply know it as, “The Bughouse.”
It’s a fresh take on the DIY music scene in Duval ever since Unit Six and Warehouse 8B stopped hosting shows downtown on Wambolt Street.
“I want to give people a venue, when even if you bring out three or four people, you get a chance to play to someone,” Kennedy said.
All shows are donations-based in an effort to encourage artists to keep doing what they’re doing, and Kennedy said he is already seeing artists benefit from the space.
“We already have a band, Runner’s High, who have played The Bughouse three times, and they’ve made a huge improvement from when they played the first time,” Kennedy said.
“It’s really encouraging to see people start out and continue just because they had a place to voice their work.”
Similarly, Gov Club drummer Adam Dooling agreed that creating culture starts with a spot.
“Having somewhere where you show up to hear the music is something that creates community,” Dooling said.
“There was a place called The Headlamp that a good friend of ours ran for about six months. There were probably about 20 to 25 shows there, but it just created this sense of community. Just having been there playing and going to shows. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Like the Atlantic Ocean’s surf laps the North Florida sand, local artists and venues come in waves … and the one on the rise is shaping up to be a gnarly swell.