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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

‘A river of musical talent’: Matheson exhibit explores Gainesville’s ‘70s music scene

The exhibit features first-hand photographs and stories of well-known musical artists

<p>The Great Southern Music Hall exhibit draws in visitors at Matheson History Museum Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.</p>

The Great Southern Music Hall exhibit draws in visitors at Matheson History Museum Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

Nearly 50 years since the 1970s, the Matheson History Museum is showcasing Gainesville’s rich musical history from that decade  — bringing with it a nostalgic outlook on the music and culture of an iconic concert hall. 

“Return to Forever: Gainesville’s Great Southern Music Hall,” spotlights the legendary downtown Gainesville concert venue of the same name that hosted artists like Tina Turner, Jimmy Buffet and Ray Charles. 

The exhibit opened to the public Sept. 14 and will remain open for at least a year, said Matheson executive director Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney. 

The museum will celebrate the exhibit’s debut Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. with an opening reception. 

Focusing on the years 1974 to 1978, the exhibit was written by journalist Bill DeYoung and features photographer John Moran’s concert photography archives. 

Moran and historian Rick Kilby curated the exhibit. It was sponsored by Jeffrey Meldon, the original co-owner of the Great Southern Music Hall. 

“Return to Forever” focuses not only on the concerts that took place at the downtown music hall or on UF campus but also the rich history of the venue, which is located inside the previously titled Florida Theater at 233 W. University Ave. 

The collection highlights several well-known artists with Gainesville roots, such as Tom Petty, Bo Diddley and Minnie Riperton, also displaying items like one of Diddley’s guitars. 

Moran, 67, started off his successful photography career working at the Great Southern Music Hall. He shot over two dozen concerts — some on UF campus — many of which starred artists like Bo Diddley, James Taylor and The Doobie Brothers, he said. 

A notable difference between modern concerts and concerts during the ‘70s was that many shows in the past were hosted outdoors and boasted thousands of attendees, Moran said.

“It was a big Woodstock, free-for-all love affair,” he said. “It was just a beautiful experience, and there was tremendous communal joy on campus around these concerts.”

Moran also believes the exhibit is important because older generations hold a tremendous sense of nostalgia and appreciation for their formative years, he said. 

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“Gainesville in the 1970s was a magical place and a magical time,” Moran said. “A river of musical talent flowed through our town.”

The exhibit is broken down into a visual narrative timeline featuring first-hand accounts and descriptions of the photos, beginning in the year 1974 and ending in 1978. 

DeYoung, 63, wrote this timeline while also creating captions for each of Moran’s photographs. He said he believes people will be drawn to the exhibit because of the time’s nostalgia, as well as to experience the rich historical events they may have never personally lived through. 

“It really is a nice back portrait of an era long gone,” DeYoung said. “I think that’s very significant in a lot of ways.”

Kilby, 57, said the exhibit is extremely immersive because of the many elements associated with it, including informative text and first-hand accounts. Moran’s photographs and the playlist chosen for the exhibit, which features music from artists who previously played at the Southern Music Hall, are also showcased. 

“If you look at the artists represented in the exhibit, it’s such an eclectic array of legendary jazz figures, bluegrass artists and country artists,” he said.

Kilby said he believes it’s important for Gainesville residents to experience the exhibit because it recalls a wonderful time in the past and can offer an enriching, educational experience. It can also serve as a medium where longtime residents can reflect on the past, he said. 

“People who were alive to experience it…they’re going to feel an emotional impact,” Kilby said. “They’re going to reconnect with this amazing period of the past.” 

Contact Luna Boales at or follow her on Twitter at @LunaBoales.

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Luna Boales

Luna Boales is a third-year journalism major and avenue staff reporter. When she's not reporting, you'll find her writing poetry, meditating or reading. 

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