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Saturday, March 02, 2024

A guide to Gainesville’s greatest music venues

From a family restaurant to a recording studio, here are the top places to enjoy live local music

<p>Baby J&#x27;s bar on Oct. 5, 2023.</p>

Baby J's bar on Oct. 5, 2023.

Gainesville is home to a bustling music scene with various venues catered to different interests. This guide lists seven of the major music names in Gainesville and an event for every night of the week.

Sunday: Live music at High Dive

Named one of the “100 Greatest American Music Venues” by the Consequence of Sound blog, Gainesville’s longest running music venue High Dive has a “long and storied history” in the music scene. 

It was first established in the ’80s as “The Spectrum” and would change ownership and names twice more until “High Dive” was born in 2011. The name “High Dive” encapsulates the essence of the live music and event venue space; it is a high-end dive bar. Since the venue was first created, influential bands in the music industry such as Dave Matthews Band, Green Day and Paramore have graced its stage. 

High Dive is a member of the National Independent Venue Association, a group of over 500 independently owned music venues across the country. The group was created during COVID-19 to support local venues and prevent them from closing.

High Dive has an incredibly high volume of shows, ranging from dance parties and Burlesque to comedy and theater shows. The majority of what it offers is live music. It books both local and national acts.

The blue lit stage is surrounded by permanent seating around the edges of the venue. The walls of the inside showroom are lined with 150-year-old heart pine, giving it a rustic and approachable feel.

The red-accented Outdoor Beer Garden, decorated with string lights and hanging plants, is the perfect spot for those interested in hanging out or taking a quick break during a show. The flat screen TVs allow customers to watch the entire stage outdoors, when weather allows it. 

High Dive hosts various food trucks in their front entrance. Every six weeks, it hosts the Original Gainesville Food Truck Rally with over 10 local trucks on site.

Monday: Open Mic night at The Bull

In the heart of downtown Gainesville, The Bull acts as community space for local creatives to express themselves through various forms of artistic endeavors. The bar, venue, gallery and community hub is characterized by its multifarious quality.

Walls are decorated with artwork from the local artist of the month,one-of-a-kind figurines and Wild West inspired decor. The bar counter acts as a community scrapbook of memorabilia and money from around the world — gifted to them from customers and friends.

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The Bull hosts several local music festivals and shows along with community events including storytelling and poetry and fiction reading nights. Many of the local artists who play in The Bull’s performance corner are showcasing their musical talents for the first time.

Natalie Goodman, a 33-year-old UF PhD student, would frequent The Bull to get creatively inspired and ultimately became a bartender. While many of the people the space attracts are typically older, Goodman is among the few students who visit The Bull to do school work at.

“Since it opened, [The Bull] was very community oriented and [focused on] building community spaces,” Goodman said.

The Bull’s Open Mic night is hosted weekly on Monday nights by Gainesville based-musician Kyle Keller. Their long-standing event has become a fan favorite among creatives and their impassioned audience.

Other long standing traditions The Bull has are Jazzology on Tuesday nights and Salsa nights on the streets on Thursdays. It also hosts local bands on the weekends and occasionally festivals.

The Bull is working on expanding the genres of music it offers.

Tuesday: Jazz Tuesdays at Baby J’s Bar

Newer to the Gainesville music scene, Baby J’s Bar was established in 2021 as a self-proclaimed audiophile cocktail bar. The sister bar to Cry Baby’s takes inspiration from Japanese Jazz kissas, which are cafes that specialize in jazz music.

Like a kissa, Baby J’s ambiance has low lighting and nostalgic retro furnishing. The gold accented decor, along with its antique furniture, contribute to the bar’s sophisticated feel.

While many know and love Baby J’s for its espresso martini on tap and its constantly changing custom cocktail menu curated by the staff, customers cannot help being drawn to its funky jazz shows.

Every Tuesday night is Standard Jazz nights played by local bands. It also hosts karaoke nights every other Wednesday and DJ Dance Parties on Thursdays. Between its regular schedule, it has various other jazz shows.

When a local band or DJ is not performing, the melody of a vinyl record touches and comforts customers. Its vast record collection on display acts as both picturesque and functional for satisfying background music.

Wednesday: Trivia nights at Lightnin’ Salvage Enterprises

Satchel’s Pizza was established in 2003 and started off as just a family restaurant. As the pizza joint became more popular and busy, Satchel’s faced a potential problem: a higher demand than supply. Lightnin’ Salvage was created as a solution to the people who would vacate the parking lot while waiting for tables.

Every corner of Satchel’s is touched by eccentric tiles, splashes of color and vintage toy collections, both indoors and outdoors. Every piece and tile are created by hand by the owner l, Satchel Raye. The family restaurant gives children of all ages, as well as the inner child of adults, the space to explore in a non-conventional setting. It is the only place a customer can eat in a van, under a plane or in a greenhouse.

Danny Lore, the 50-year-old manager of Lightnin’ Salvage, has been a part of the Satchel’s family for over 17 years. Lore books local bands with the intention of catering towards the customer and admires the creative space it gives artists and audience members alike.

“This is an artist's place,” Lore said. “This is an ever growing art project.”

The music Lightnin’ Salvage offers is acoustic at a weary volume in order to maintain conversational level for people eating dinner. The local bands play genres such as bluegrass, country alternative as well as folk and Americana. Many of them have been playing there for over 20 years since its establishment. New musicians are welcomed with open arms and treated like family.

Lightnin’ Salvage has live music every Tuesday to Saturday from 6-9 p.m. It hosts trivia nights every other Wednesday, among other events.

Thursday: Farmers market and live music at Heartwood Soundstage

Heartwood Soundstage, located at the site of the historic Mirror Image Studios, has revolutionized the Gainesville music scene. In 2014, David Melosh, Bob McPeak and Hoch Shitama shared a vision for a listening room and live recording studio in Gainesville. By 2017, it achieved that goal. Its primary focus is creating quality music.

The team at Heartwood converted the old studio space into a state-of-the-art venue equipped for live video and audio production and streaming. The space was built to showcase local and regional talent and provide them with an acoustically great place to record music. Heartwood also features an outdoor space which acts as a festival setting for community gatherings.

Heartwood is notable for its extensive possibilities for music lovers with different preferences and levels of commitment. While musicians are performing in the indoor venue, audience members are not allowed to speak or film in order to let the music wash over them and give the artist the space to boundlessly express themselves. The outdoor venue, on the other hand, fosters a sense of community and encourages audience participation.

David Melosh, a 43-year-old co-owner and recording engineer for Heartwood Soundstage, values the duality to Heartwood’s model and what it does for the community.

“Music unites people, which really is the coolest thing is to see super different people sitting in the audience having like this shared experience,” Melosh said.

Since its opening in 2017, it has curated about 25 festivals and over 800 shows. It also hosts a free farmers market from 4-7 p.m. Thursdays with over 40 local vendors and live music. Afterwards, it typically has shows from touring national bands.

Because of the wide range of its live music offerings, it attracts many students who work at festivals and other events. It encourages people to volunteer at Heartwood in order to get exposed to the music scene and all the wonders it has to offer.

Heartwood Soundstage is transforming its mission to creating connections with the best artists worldwide with the help of its new talent buyer hire. 

Friday: Free Fridays Concert Series at Bo Diddley Plaza

The Bo Diddley Community Plaza, located in Historic Downtown Gainesville, is home to many concerts, festivals, yoga classes, film screenings and more. Renamed in 2008 in honor of local treasure and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bo Diddley, the plaza holds to its legendary namesake. 

Brown bricks and a park area surround the faux grass picnic area of the plaza. The open area provides a comfortable and inclusive communal space. Many people picnic on or around the plaza, while others choose to dine at the restaurant and cafe on site.

The Live & Local Concert Series is a free concert series open to all ages at Bo Diddley PlazaFriday nights. Curated by MusicGNV, the performances feature some of Gainesville’s emerging artists. This program is sponsored in part by the City of Gainesville - Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs (PRCA) and the State of Florida Division of Arts and Culture.

Saturday: Line dancing at Vivid Music Hall

The “heartbeat” of Gainesville’s music scene, Vivid Music Hall is one of the only nightclub venues in town. Formerly known as Knockin’ Boots Saloon, Vivid Music Hall is also the largest private venue in downtown Gainesville, perfect for a private party.

Many know and love Vivid Music Hall’s country spirit, which can be attributed to Knockin’ Boots’s legacy. The entire venue is centered around the hardwood dance floor, which invites and attracts everyone to center stage. In addition to the two bars on the main floor, the large upstairs area has a bar of its own as well as a smaller, private VIP upstairs area with a lounge and private bathrooms.

Vivid Music Hall hosts various live shows ranging from electronic shows to country line dancing. Many favor the venue’s themed nights where everyone is encouraged to dress up according to theme. Weekly, they host Western Wednesdays, Ladies Night Thursdays and Line Dancing Fridays and Saturdays. When in season, it throws game day watch parties. Its music shows feature artists both local and national.

People in cowboy boots in every shade and size find a group cohesion in their synchronized movements. Many of the attendees of line dancing nights frequent it multiple days of the week and consider Vivid Music Hall a second home.

For more information about live music events and local artists, the Instagram account @gnvlivemusic is the go-to guide for everything live music in Gainesville.

Contact Molly Seghi at mseghi@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”


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