In a city as small as St. Augustine, competition for scarce resources is inevitable. Case in point: the number of venues where Oldest City music fans can see a nationally touring band. Depending on your criteria, that digit has hovered between zero and five for the last 15 years. But rather than battle over bookings and prime weekend show slots, Nick Haneman of Commoditie Booking and Ryan Murphy of the St. Johns County Cultural Events Division have come together to give St. Augustine that rarest of birds: something entirely new to do.
Of course, everyone is familiar with a Backyard BBQ, which is how Haneman, who books most of his punk and garage rock shows at ultimate dive bar Shanghai Nobby’s, and Murphy, who just finalized the big-ticket downtown details for St. Augustine’s 450th birthday celebration, are billing June 6 at the Amphitheatre’s back lot. Beer tents and barbecue grills for the adults, Super Soakers and dunking booths for the kids, slip’n slides and lawn pools for all, surf and skate videos from local filmmaker Drew Miller, keyed-up tunes from Portland’s Guantanamo Baywatch, Orlando’s The Delusionaires, Oldest City-via-San Diego hip-hoppers Mental Patients, South Florida’s Sandratz, and rising local heroes Nutritional Beast … it’s enough to pique anyone’s interest. Which is exactly the point.
“This came together as an outside-the-box idea that would be more fringe and fun,” says Murphy, general manager of the Amphitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. “Working on shows [at those two venues] can limit us from doing smaller, more intimate stuff that appeals to a specific crowd. Nick has done an amazing job in bringing great punk, garage, and surf bands to the area, so there’s something really natural about doing a show like this in an empty lot backstage and giving it a cool beach vibe. It will also be kind of Mad Max-looking back there, so maybe that will help.”
Haneman says he’s pumped to finally take a promotional step up, something he’s been working toward since his first show in 2011 — internationally acclaimed garage rocker Ty Segall at tiny, now-defunct Anastasia Boulevard club Ring of Fire — and strategizing for months. “After Ryan and I worked together on the La Luz show at Colonial Quarter in February, we stayed interested in working on more shows at other spots,” Haneman says. “It’s really beautiful to bring my shows to another level for more than just 50 people to enjoy. The whole idea is presenting different types of acts in a block party setting — without the emphasis on ‘party’ to make it family-friendly. Everyone is encouraged to bring swimwear.”
Which fits right in with the aesthetic of headliners Guantanamo Baywatch, who’ve done more to update the slippery, reverb-drenched Dick Dale of surf rock than any other contemporary. The band’s new album, Darling … It’s Too Late, continues its tradition of smashing up classic pop instrumentation with a rowdy basement band attitude. But a more professional recording process this go-round lends a subtly spit-polished soul and R&B feel to the work — and GBW frontman Jason Powell says that jibes nicely with the Backyard BBQ’s fresh format.
“I’m so glad it’s over, because the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering of the album took a whole year,” he says. “But having a bunch of new songs to play on the road is exciting. We also have another guitar player for this tour, so we’re going to be a four-piece, which should be super-fun. So many of our songs can be changed on the spot, which comes from playing so many different types of venues — house parties, bars, car shows, surf rock conventions — for such a wide age range of people, from 16 to 45. With a second guitar player who’s also good at singing and can do all the vocal harmonies, we’ll probably be able to change even more stuff up on the fly.”
Powell also raves about Guantanamo Baywatch’s love of Florida, because of what he calls our fair state’s “awesome tropical hillbilly vibe” and the intimate connections afforded by booking shows with DIY promoters like Haneman. That attitude is perfect for the fun-
loving inaugural Backyard BBQ — but as Murphy says, this is “more than just a show”: $2 from every ticket ($8 in advance, $10 at the door) goes directly to Matanzas Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the waterway that meanders a mere mile from the Amphitheatre stage.
Last year, Northeast Florida environmental hero Neil Armingeon described the Matanzas, whose 186-square-mile watershed is revered for its mostly pristine nature, as “the last, best river in Florida.” Here’s hoping the Backyard BBQ is the first, best event to honor it alongside St. Augustine’s evolving live music community.