Lovers of Gainesville’s music scene will have one last chance this weekend to enjoy a beloved local venue before it closes its doors.
The Jam, located at 817 W. University Ave., will host Spirit Fest, a three-day music festival with more than 30 bands performing, starting Friday. Food, art and clothing vendors will also participate in the festival, with acroyoga performers and live painting demonstrations. Headliners include Morning Fatty, Flat Land and Locochino, with shows taking place in both The Jam’s indoor and outdoor stages.
These performances will be the last ones at The Jam, as it will shut down at the end of May after almost four years. During that time, The Jam has hosted more than 1200 musical performances and more than 20 charity events, said owner and manager Blake Briand.
The Jam began as a hobby for Briand and his co-founders, siblings Veronica and Eduardo Arenas, but quickly became something special in the Gainesville music scene.
“I think we helped revitalize a somewhat stagnant music scene,” Briand said. “I’ve been told by a lot of people that The Jam kind of brought the music scene back a little bit… gave it a style or vibe that wasn’t there before.”
Briand found out in early April The Jam would close in the next few weeks, to be torn down and replaced by apartments and retail space, and he immediately began to plan how the venue would say goodbye to it’s loyal fans.
“The very first thought right off the bat was, ‘We have to go out big, we’ve got to do something that leaves a mark,’” he said.
Briand wrote an open letter to all of the bands he knew in Gainesville and a few outside of town, hoping to put together some kind of goodbye show. Within two days, he said, he had more than 30 bands willing to come play the final weekend at The Jam.
The three-day music festival is something that “may be the largest event ever put on by a single music venue in the history of Gainesville,” Briand said. “To my knowledge, what we have planned has never been done before.”
As for the name Spirit Fest, Briand took inspiration from the goodbye notes people had started to write on the wall of The Jam in the last few weeks.
“One of them read something to the effect of ‘The world works in mysterious ways,’ and the last line was ‘prepare for spirit mode,’” he said. “That was like the spirit of The Jam will live on forever and maybe we’ll pop back up somewhere else. Spirit Fest felt right because that’s kind of what we’re doing, we’re transforming into something else.”
To make the final weekend a true tribute to The Jam, all 200 performers, artists and vendors have agreed to participate in Spirit Fest pro bono.
John Pop, bass player for Morning Fatty, said the band has been playing The Jam since it opened its doors in 2012.
“We used to play there every Tuesday back when it was a single room with a stage the size of my bathroom,” he said. “We’ve made plenty of money playing there over the years, it seemed right to help Blake out with some closing costs.”
Though Morning Fatty has played shows throughout Florida and the Southeast, Pop said the venue is unlike anywhere else the band has played.
“The Jam has always felt like we were playing a big house party,” he said. “We built a large portion of our fan base by playing there. It will be missed.”
Locochino credits The Jam with much of the band’s growth in the Gainesville music scene and didn’t even hesitate when deciding to play Spirit Fest for free.
“The friendships and experiences that we’ve made there have been a large part of sculpting Locochino into what we are today, if for no other reason than the solid foundation that comes with The Jam family’s genuine support for the arts,” said Dave Johnson, the manager for the band.
Locochino will be playing two shows at Spirit Fest, one Saturday night and one Sunday night, and Johnson wants the audience to be ready to “dance their asses off during Saturday’s set and maybe cry a little at Sunday’s.”
For Briand, the goal of Spirit Fest is to give back to the Gainesville music scene that has given him so much.
“We want people to have a great experience, like a last hoorah, we want everyone to have a great experience and enjoy that,” he said. “I don’t want to fizzle out. I’m trying to burn bright for a shorter period of time, do something big.”
Tickets can be bought online at squareup.com, where it is $20 for a three-day pass or $10 for a one day pass. Performances start at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.