Tom Miller is a familiar name to many around Gainesville, to say the least. The artist of many talents has been performing in the city for longer than many of its students have been alive, boasting the longest-running open-mic show in the country, “The Tom Miller Show.”
“The Tom Miller Show” has been running under a multitude of names since 1985. The most current installment of the show, “The Reverend Angel Dust’s Tabernacle Of Hedonism,” takes place every Monday night at Maude’s Side Car Bar.
“I specifically picked the worst night of the week at the worst time so people actually have to sacrifice if they want to come to it,” Miller said.
This type of decision is something characteristic of Miller, who isn’t afraid to step outside the box with his events.
He said the Tabernacle show isn’t designed to please everybody, as the performers aren’t afraid of any topic. Guests may love the show one week but will choose to leave mid-performance the next.
“It’s incredibly wacky, weird, wonderful and sometimes it’s been epochal,” he said. “You’ve never seen anything like it.”
Inspired by the current political climate and with the motivation for Gainesville residents to embrace the arts, Miller has expanded his talents to hosting a weekly show called “Tom Miller’s Hardback Whoopee-Do!,” which will take place every Wednesday night at the Hardback Cafe. The free show made its debut last night.
The open-mic event will be the opposite of the Tabernacle, as it will be very structured, Miller said. Artists of all kinds are invited to perform and will be given the opportunity to play three songs or entertain for 10 minutes. Sign-ups are first-come, first-serve and open at 9 p.m., with the show running until about midnight.
“The real focus of the show is going to be on music, and the uber focus of the show is going to be originality,” he said.
Any artist’s work must be original, Miller said. Covers aren’t allowed unless the artist is doing something extreme with them.
“Tom Miller’s Hardback Whoopee-Do!” will also come with a featured performer, Miller said. Last night’s show featured Michael O’Meara, a local musician who has played shows around the nation.
Although he was inspired by the political climate, Miller doesn’t want the show to be political, he said. He wants people around Gainesville to embrace the arts and free speech while working through the tense atmosphere the country is currently in.
“Now is the time that art and music and comedy and theater become essential to our survival as a species,” he said. “I’m not even fooling around when I say that. Art and music is where we get the deepest messages in our world.”
The show’s location is significant, with the Hardback Cafe being one of the only venues for smaller local acts to perform.
Alan Bushnell, the owner of the Hardback Cafe, originally ran the venue at a location downtown from 1988 to 1998. During the 90s, the Hardback Cafe fostered many of Gainesville’s notable bands, including Less Than Jake and Hot Water Music, and musician River Phoenix, Bushnell said.
Bushnell sold the Hardback Cafe in 1998 before going to law school, but the venue closed shortly after. Come 2015, he realized that Gainesville musicians needed a place to play, especially after his daughter Julia joined a band.
Bushnell now leases a new space for the Hardback Cafe, located at 211 W. University Ave. This venue has been open for a little over a year and is giving local musicians a place to display their originality once again.
“The philosophy is the same,” Bushnell said. “I love musicians and working with them.”
Bushnell approached Miller about hosting the show because he’s such a great master of ceremonies, he said. The two have been friends for decades, working on and off together to put on performances for Gainesville.
As for “Tom Miller’s Hardback Whoopee-Do!,” Bushnell hopes to see the show revitalize an aspect of Gainesville that has changed over the years: the music scene.
“I’d like to see the music scene be appreciated by a wider selection of students,” he said. “It’s really something that Gainesville’s amazing for.”
Miller also said he hopes the show will be fun for everyone and that it will showcase original ideas that deserve a voice.
“I’m very happy in my little world where I’m not making a million bucks putting on shows, but I’m setting the boundaries for people to play and enjoy themselves,” he said. “Somebody needs to be on the fringe and not doing what’s expected. Somebody needs to be saying something important.”