making the music scene better

by kellie abrahamson
The local music scene wouldn’t be what it is today without the hard work of a lot of people, but we owe a lot to Tim Hall. Hall and his wife Anne came to Jacksonville from San Diego in the late 90s and began booking concerts at a club called Fat Kat. At the time, our scene was stagnant and the new blood proved to be just what Jacksonville needed. Big acts were being booked and things were looking up until the city closed down Fat Kat and Hall was forced to cancel around 19 shows. Out thousands of dollars in deposits and without a stage to bring in more acts, the Halls had only one option.
“I was kind of like, well I need to have my own place so that if something ever happens and the entire world implodes, I can still control my own destiny,” he said.
So in 1999 Jack Rabbits was born. The San Marco venue stood out from the competition in that this club didn’t have dance nights or cover bands performing during the week to keep a steady flow of patrons drinking at the bar.
“Our focus was its going to be all original live music,” Hall explained. “[We said] if we don’t have a show, we’re not going to be open. We’re not going to be a bar; we’re going to be a music venue.”
Though venues like this are common place now, at the time people scoffed at the idea. “When we started Jack Rabbits people said, ‘No way, you’re not going to get people to go to see bands and get them to pay a cover.’ That was really how the attitude was towards it.”
In the end, the gamble paid off. This year Jack Rabbits celebrated its tenth anniversary, no small feat for a scene that has seen clubs come and go within months of opening. Part of the reason for its longevity is Hall’s numerous other ventures. In addition to owning and booking Jack Rabbits, he’s the concert promoter for Freebird Live and occasionally brings musicians to other venues like Plush or the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Hall also manages local singer/songwriter Shawn Fisher, who recently signed with Universal, and produces the second stage at one of the area’s largest annual music events, Planet Fest.
“If I did just Jack Rabbits, if all I did was book this venue, I would have to have another job,” Hall says. “There’s many times where my outside shows float this place and vice versa… It kind of all pools together and balances out.”
Bringing big name acts to the River City is a feat, but Hall’s impact on our music scene goes far beyond that. Jack Rabbits has seen its fair share of national acts, but local musicians looking for a place to play have also found a home on Hall’s stage. Nearly every concert that happens at one of his venues has a local band opening, giving aspiring rock stars exposure and experience.
“If you’re a local band and you suck and you don’t have a tape or anything, we’ll still book you on a Monday night just to see if you can develop, because everybody sucked in the beginning,” Hall says. “They need places to play and to develop and that’s what I see Jack Rabbits as. Obviously we do bigger acts that are established, but I want local bands to realize that if you want to play on a stage with a decent PA, email me and you can play Jack Rabbits. It’s not an untouchable thing.”
Recently, Hall and Planet Radio came up with a way to give local acts even more exposure. In May the two began C.I.A. (“Certified Independent Artists”), a radio show that consists of nothing but unsigned Florida bands. The show is on every Sunday at 9 pm and past installments have included music from Tough Junkie, Whole Wheat Bread, Marion Crane, Shangrala and many others who would not otherwise get airplay on an FM station without the backing of a major label.
“I’m glad Planet Radio decided to do something like that because it helps,” says Hall. “It’s almost like a community service because they’re not making any more money by having us on the air on Sunday nights. But they’re willing to do it and I’m willing to go in there and program it… I don’t get paid for that. I do that because I want to help bands.”
For the past 20 years, Tim Hall has helped bands, first in his hometown of San Diego, and for the past 11 years here in Jacksonville. Hall says that his hours are long and the jobs can be stressful, but it’s worth it.
“I do it because I think it’s important,” Hall said. “I’ve been doing this 20 years. Most people that do a 20 year career make a lot more money [than I’m making] if they do one thing for 20 years… I do it because I love doing it and I’m happy at the end of the day with what I do. There’s all kinds of stuff in the way, but ultimately, if I can go watch a show tonight with Shawn Fisher and… hear him do ‘Radio’ again… [it] completely [sends] chills up my spine and [I] just go ‘That’s why I do this, because it makes me happy.'”