If you ask Le-Alem Getachew, the Hippodrome Theatre is more than just a pretty sight in the heart of downtown Gainesville.
The 26-year-old marketing associate founded the Hippodrome Basement Sessions in August to show people what lies within the well-known Gainesville establishment. Held in the basement of the Hippodrome, the event merges live music with local art vendors.
“People don't think of the Hippodrome as a space that is alive,” Getachew said. “They look at this building and think it’s an old historic building. They don't realize there’s a lot of art that happens in this establishment.”
Getachew hosted her fourth basement session Thursday, attracting about 40 attendees from the UF and Gainesville communities. In honor of Black History Month, the event focused on highlighting local Black artists and small businesses. Thursday’s lineup boasted four live performers — Krystin Blaire, JulyART, Azazus and Local Hot Boy. Each performed a 45-minute set.
Getachew, who had always dreamt of throwing music events prior to creating the basement sessions, said she has been pleasantly surprised by the turnout of the events so far. The second session in October had around 130 attendees, she said.
“I wanted to uplift the community and local artists,” Getachew said. “Places like The Bull or How Bazar and other local places are great about uplifting the community, but I wanted to increase that and add more spaces.”
Two attendees were mother-and-daughter-duo Jeanette England, 81, and Jen Adams, 57. The pair heard about the event after receiving an email from the Hippodrome and decided to check it out.
”I think the place is so interesting down here in the basement,” said England.
The two were excited to be around Gainesville’s youth and observe all the different styles and trends, said Adams, who works as a social worker for the patient family resources department at UF Health Shands Hospital.
They were very impressed by the first performer of the night, Krystin Blaire, who performed covers of songs by Billie Holiday, Jasmine Sullivan, Beyonce and Anita Baker, as well as an original poem.
The third performer of the night was local rapper Azazus. With 21,900 followers on Instagram, the 30-year-old music artist first started garnering media attention after his song, OnlyFans, received traction on TikTok in 2020. Since then, he’s continued to make a name for himself both inside and outside the Gainesville community.
Part of what makes him unique is his focus on “nerdcore,” which is a genre of music inspired by anime, video games and other subjects viewed as reserved for geeks.
Throughout his set, Azazus threw out Pokemon fruit gummies to the attendees when they answered different bits of trivia about his songs and interests. Azazus even chucked one attendee a Pokemon card after correctly guessing his favorite Pokemon — Eevee.
“So far tonight, each artist is bringing a different aspect of art and music,” Azazus said after his set.
While he’s very appreciative of the Hippodrome and other local venues that have hosted him in the past, Azazus feels Gainesville lacks bigger events focused on urban music.
“Gainesville is predominantly an alternative rock-and-roll city,” Azazus said. “Then you have urban music like this where it’s kind of done in a basement.” He would love to see more full festivals dedicated to urban music, he said.
Besides the live performers, Thursday’s event hosted eight different vendors, including Jasmine Nicole Helms, who owns “Caked Up,” a small cake decorating business.
Helms, 28, moved to Gainesville in 2020 when she started at the UF Levin College of Law. This law student by day, cake decorator by night, officially started “Caked Up” in June.
Helms sold her cupcakes at the event: The night’s flavors were chocolate, lemon and carrot cake. Besides getting new customers, she was most excited about meeting other Black creators, she said.
“If we see each other at markets again we’ll help each other out,” Helms said.“There are a lot of really great Black artists here that are doing really awesome things.”
While attendance didn’t compare to previous basement sessions, Getachew said she was happy with the night overall.
“The performers blew me away,” Getachew said. “I cannot wait to see more from all these artists — including the vendors.”
The Hippodrome’s next Basement Session will take place on March 30 from 7-11 p.m.
Contact Clare Meyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.