LIVE! is Large in Jacksonville

Freebird Live Final Show January 20th

It’s the end of an era at the corner of First Street and First Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach. Freebird Live is closing its doors Wednesday, January 20th. The Freebird Live space will become ‘Surfer the Bar‘ and be managed by the same group that operated Salt Life Food Shack, which has two locations on the First Coast.

Since opening its doors 16 years ago, Freebird Live established itself as an anchor for live music at the beach. Big names in every virtually genre graced the stage including Blues Traveler, Buddy Miles, Ryan Bingham, Richie Havens, Mofro, George Clinton & the Parliament Funkadelic, Reverend Horton Heat, They Might Be Giants, Southern Culture on the Skids, Fishbone, Zakk Wylde & Black Label Society, Leon Russell, Galactic, Johnny Winters, Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident, Papadosio, Galactic, Gwar and The Pretty Reckless.

Originally named the Freebird Café, Judy and Melody Van Zant opened the venue September 8, 1999 at 200 N. First Street. The Charlie Daniels Band played the inaugural concert to a packed house decked out with Lynyrd Skynyrd memorabilia as a tribute to the family legacy. North of the club was formerly Ronnie’s Place, an outdoor patio serving southern family recipes and frozen drinks that was converted to the bus bay. The club was later renamed Freebird Live as the commitment to presenting live music became the club’s primary focus.

As the maestro of live music in Jacksonville, Tim Hall helped grow venues like Freebird as a premiere destination by bringing in national acts and giving new artists the exposure needed to jumpstart a career. Now, Hall will serve as a change agent for Mavericks Live and the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall as they prepare for a new chapter in the city’s changing live music culture. “The closing of Freebird is definitely going to affect Jacksonville Beach. They were very lucky to have a place that was just a bicycle ride away to see some of these bigger acts. It’s going to hurt the value of the entertainment district down there, too. It wasn’t for everybody all of the time, but it was for somebody most of the time,” Hall says. “It’s definitely disappointing for people that live in Jacksonville Beach, but that being said, I know a lot of my friends that are music fans and live in the downtown area are ecstatic because that means more shows away from the beach. The smaller shows will still go to Jack Rabbits like it has in the past, and the bigger stuff will go to Mavericks.”

Just a few short miles down A1A, Ryan Murphy says the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall will experience a change with the closing of Freebird Live. “We will definitely feel an impact considering the proximity of the Concert Hall to Jacksonville Beach. We are only 10-15 minutes from that area so I am certain that we will start catching a new chunk of people that maybe don’t head down towards Ponte Vedra, or have a certain perception of what it is like there,” says Murphy, director of the St. John’s County Cultural Events Division.Between Rain Dogs, Burro Bar, Jack Rabbits, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Mavericks, Florida Theatre, The St. Augustine Amphitheatre, we’ve got a lot of really great options here for amazing artists.”    

Plans are also underway to add balcony space to the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, which will increase their capacity to 1,100. “We are planning on really flushing out the upstairs area which already has a ton of unused space. Currently, we cannot occupy any of the upstairs due to fire codes, etc.,” Murphy says. “The renovations will include a balcony for the upstairs along with opera style box seats, an additional bar/concession area and standing room area. We will also be able to create more office space and green rooms upstairs for the artists.” While the timeline for completion is up in the air right now, Murphy hopes that the demand for the venue will help expedite the approval process and help make it a reality sooner than later. “For us, the changes with the concert hall would be a game changer. We currently are doing a ton of great programming up there between concerts and rental events and we are happy to do more and more.” he says. “We could bring in a great deal of artists that we currently are just a little too small for.” Murphy says he doesn’t anticipate a need to modify the programming because he already works with Hall to bring in quality shows and he embraces the opportunity to continue working in tandem to welcome artists with open doors. “I have tremendous respect for Tim Hall as a promoter and what he has done with music in Northeast Florida and getting to work with him even more is fantastic,” says Murphy. “People are certainly going to miss Freebird as it has been fundamental in drawing great rock shows and audiences to Jacksonville Beach for years.” 

The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall is already absorbing some of the artists that previously would have booked Freebird. Hall recently booked Gary Clark Jr. to play Feb 21 at the concert hall because he wasn’t sure whether Freebird would still be open – and he was right.

A final show at Freebird Live is scheduled on Jan 20 with a farewell show featuring Galactic and some special guests. “They played there probably more than any national act so we decided that was perfect. I’m sure if JJ [Grey of Mofro] is in town I’m sure he’ll probably come and sit in with those guys, and we’ll have a bunch of people from the past come in and jam. It’ll be sold out, I’m sure,” says Hall. “I’m going to do a couple of big shows between now and the final show, but this is the last show for sure unless something happens. Technically, anything can happen.” In Jacksonville and St. Augustine, something is happening all the time. The beat marches on.

 

About Liza Mitchell

october, 2021

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