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Saturday, October 01, 2022

Gainesville venues continue post-pandemic recovery amid Independent Venue Week

Two years after complete closures, local venues welcome artists and fans once more

<p>High Dive hosted the Gainesville Girls Rock Camp showcase Saturday, July 16, 2022. </p><p></p>

High Dive hosted the Gainesville Girls Rock Camp showcase Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Like a selection from a proverbial box of chocolates or a toy at the bottom of the cereal box, the nightly offerings at Gainesville’s High Dive remain a consistent mystery.

A group of actors presented the second performance in their semi-annual series of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Wednesday, national touring artist Matt Maeson stripped down his usual high-energy shows for an acoustic set Thursday and Forever Ozzy paid tribute to the Black Sabbath frontman Friday.

Saturday, adorned in red and black with instruments at the ready, The Thunderstorm — a group of girls ages 10-14 from Gainesville Girls Rock Camp — stood center-stage, primed for their debut performance.

The showcase came at the end of Independent Venue Week, an annual nationwide event celebrating the contributions of more than 400 entertainment locales not owned or funded by larger corporations. The week, which began July 11 and ended July 17, highlighted Gainesville’s music scene — a once booming, then barren, and now recovering collection of community staples.

Pat Lavery, High Dive’s facility and events manager, said the weekly schedule reflects the venue’s strength: a variety of shows night in and night out.

“We do this every week,” he wrote in an email to The Alligator. “It’s what we love and what we’re good at.”

Independent Venue Week commemorates the survival of local stages like High Dive and Heartwood Soundstage through elongated COVID closures. Though the week is in its fifth year, the past two years punctuate major lobbying efforts from the National Independent Venue Association — a collection of show promoters, venue personnel and festival employees — for relief funding amid the mass shutdowns.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) as the Save Our Stages Act and passed by Congress in December 2020, allocates over $16 billion in grants to recovering venues. NIVA members like High Dive are only open today because of the aid, which helped cover bills and operational costs that climbed with the absence of revenue amid the closures, Lavery said.

High Dive and Heartwood benefitted from the grant; each received around $161,000 in funding, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration .

“The funding that was secured collectively by NIVA through nonstop lobbying was the only way we survived the situation” Lavery said.

High Dive closed completely at the onset COVID closures in March 2020 for seven months, Lavery said. Heartwood also closed and slowly reopened with outdoor shows.

Dave Melosh, Heartwood’s owner and general manager, said the venue barely made it through.

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“We lost a good amount of money but managed to hang on,” he wrote in an email to The Alligator.

The relief grant revives venues where artists like Austin Brockner, a 30-year-old blues rock musician, cut their teeth.

Brockner played a series of house shows, markets and smaller venues around Gainesville before booking High Dive. The venue, which featured local upstarts like Flipturn and national touring artists like Mistki and Mayday Parade, is among Gainesville’s most iconic stages, he said.

“If you’re going to try to make it, this is the place you play,” Brockner said. “You go there once you’ve proved you’ve got a sound.”

These venues also cultivate community. Lavery said High Dive raises around $40,000 annually for national and local charities with events like the Original Gainesville Food Truck Rally, which recruits regional food trucks to fundraise for local organizations.

The GGRC showcase tacks onto High Dive’s history of local engagement. Coral Smith, the co-director of GGRC, said her experience in the Gainesville music scene, High Dive’s notoriety and a combined interest in encouraging young musicians led to a longstanding partnership.

“There’s been a deep relationship from the beginning with them,” Smith said.

Saturday’s GGRC showcase was only the first show High Dive hosted that day, followed by an indie rock show featuring St. Petersburg’s Speakeasy and Gainesville’s Madwoman. Heartwood continued its ongoing partnership with the GNV Farmers Market, hosting the event and an after-market concert with new-age jazz group Electric Kif Thursday.

The bills at local venues now brim with artists, but pandemic wounds still sting. Shortages and cancellations persist, Lavery said, and the added issues of inflation and rising gas prices hinder venues from offering traditional costs and bands from touring altogether.

Despite the obstacles, local venues persevere. Melosh said Heartwood is profitable for the first time in two years, and Lavery said High Dive hasn’t let the roadblocks prevent regular operations.

“We are still here and we are doing great things right here down the street,” he wrote

That’s what Independent Venue Week is about, Lavery said — celebrating the small victories and the everyday musical miracles settled right in Gainesville’s backyard.

Contact Heather at hbushman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @hmb_1013.

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Heather Bushman

Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.


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