Give’m Hell – Hellzapoppin’

by Kristen Birden, performer

Mark Twain once said, “You go to Heaven for the climate and Hell for the company.” He must have been talking about Jacksonville. It’s with great pride that this peculiar group of oddities calls this spectacular city their home base. Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. There haven’t always been packed venues, welcoming arms, and a supportive community standing behind Hellzapoppin.

A vision, some street smarts, and a whole lot of determination gave way to the birth of Hellzapoppin. While Bryce the Govna Graves sat back to admire his life’s greatest work, some influential and very persuasive Texans were busy finding a way to expel all traces of this creation from their great state. It was this moment in time that a sword swallower, human blockhead, half boy, and their famous sidekick Mr. Buggles were in the pursuit of a new place to set up the sideshow.

With the massive and steadfast support of the artistic, open-armed community, Hellzapoppin was cultivated from performing on the stages of small, locally owned nightclubs to 19 consecutive sold out shows in an astonishingly short five years. With bigger stages, a larger and ever-growing fan base, Jacksonville has become the preferred residence for Graves to lay his top hat. In fact, you will find the beautiful and scantily clad Chelsea NoPants, and the debonair Short E Dangerously around these parts, as well.

Certainly it’s not just the climate and amazing venues that have harvested such love for this beach town. The community, the diverse collection of talented intellectuals, artists, fans, and the true sense of belonging deserve credit, as well. Jacksonville has inspired Hellzapoppin’s integration into the community. As local residents are among some of our biggest fans, we are theirs. Hellzapoppin is responsible for bringing together various local artists and performers every Thursday night for Thursday Freak Show. These meetings take place in various spots around Jacksonville for art and performance discussions. It’s a support group of sorts, a refuge, a meeting of very talented minds. This tradition carries on, even when its creator is out entertaining the rest of the world.

It is without question that our biggest promoters reside in our home state. As if fans are pulling off their own stunt, our event invites on social media are shared to thousands of friends within minutes of posting. It has been a great pleasure and humbling honor, to watch our fans become the very fiber of Hellzapoppin’s growing success. It’s extremely important to Hellzapoppin to return this loyalty. We do so by showcasing fellow local artists in every way we can. For those who don’t know us, we are merely a very entertaining act on stage. But for those who do know us, we are a movement, a crusade, and an effort to pass along your story. So even when we aren’t home, it is Jacksonville that is in our hearts and traveling alongside us. While our fans watch our social media, and see our photos from our travels, they are far from being left out of the experience. At the end of our show, it might be your artwork, or photos, or performances, or even just your stories being told to all of our other fans around the world. It’s you, Jacksonville, that keeps us motivated, inspired, and feeling missed.

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