A music fan in 2012 might find it hard to believe, but 10 years ago, St. Augustine was not an option for national touring bands. Today, diverse original concerts play nightly at Café Eleven, Nobby’s, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Present Moment Café, not to mention the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall north of town. All of that makes it easy to take the Oldest City’s embarrassment of musical riches for granted.
But that shouldn’t stymie the excitement of a new venue, The Standard, opening its doors on Nov. 2. The Standard will be located in the same Anastasia Boulevard location that formerly housed nightclub-oriented businesses like Christopher’s, Auggie Doggs and Two Hundred Lounge. But the difference between those now-defunct operations and The Standard, says co-owner and marketing/booking manager Dan Larson, comes from The Standard’s “event canvas” approach.
“We’re not going to get stuck in any particular format,” Larson said. “But we are taking advantage of the building’s potential since it’s one of the biggest spaces in St. Augustine. I’m aiming to make it legendary — an epic venue like The Fillmore.”
The sentiment might seem wildly ambitious, even foolish — until one considers Larson’s background. The 25-year-old started in live entertainment young, working at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne while he attended Brevard Community College. In 2008, he was hired as the first marketing and promotions manager at the remodeled St. Augustine Amphitheatre, which Larson and his co-workers transformed from a stale seasonal tourist attraction into an award-winning regular stop for major national acts and a bedrock of the local community.
After several years at the amphitheatre, though, Larson says he wanted to go in a “new direction” with his life. After booking a few shows at Café Eleven and graduating from Flagler College earlier this spring, he quit his job and decided to strike out on his own, immediately eyeballing the 200 Anastasia Blvd. location. “
“It’s close to downtown and on a main road,” Larson said. “Yes, there are challenges with parking, and I was very conscious of the adverse effects previous operations had had on the surrounding neighborhood. But there are so many opportunities there, too.”
Larson floated partnership offers with other North Florida booking agents, including Café Eleven founder Ryan Dettra, JaxLive head honcho Tim Hall and DIY promoter Nick Haneman. When those deals fell apart, Larson said he was dismayed to inform the property owners that he didn’t have the resources to open a music venue on his own. But the owners, who Larson said have chosen to remain anonymous, offered to back him. “They basically said, ‘What if we hire you to do it?’ ” Larson said laughing. “So we partnered up, they brought me in as a co-owner of the business, and now we have the resources to make The Standard happen.”
The first order of business has been redesigning the interior of the building: acoustically treating the ceiling, bringing in a professional PA and lighting system and changing the layout to accommodate two different spaces. Larson said he hopes to have a small room with a bar that’s open regularly and a larger room for special events, although he declined to reveal capacity estimates pending ongoing inspections. “We’re designing it be a real show environment, though,” he said. “The two rooms will allow us control the intimacy of the venue.”
And area music fans will enjoy an impressively intimate performance at The Standard’s Nov. 2 kickoff show with Gainesville indie-folk sensation Hundred Waters. The band has enjoyed a recent spike in popularity, including rave reviews from taste-making media outlets like pitchfork.com, Spin and The New York Times, ensuring that 2013 will be a breakout year.
As of press time, the only other confirmed show at The Standard comes on Dec. 7, when Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, another North Florida band that’s enjoyed substantial mainstream success, will perform. “Our bookings [in 2012] will get off to a slow start,” Larson said. “But I’ll be hustling next year working with every agent I can to maintain a full calendar.”
Most of all, Larson said he’s “very conscious of the adverse effects of previous operations in the building,” which include multiple arrests, violent altercations and even gunshots documented in past police reports. “I’m not expecting people to welcome me with open arms,” he said. “But I’m going to do my damnedest to mitigate those issues and be proactive about managing parking and security while ensuring we don’t have sound bleed into the neighborhood.
“Plus, I want to make sure I’m programming the building to cater to the community, not work against them. Basically all the things that a professional facility manager should do.”