TILL DEATH DO US PART

Less than a year ago, if one were to wander along Bay Street from Liberty to Main, and went to the right on Ocean toward Adams Street, one would’ve likely heard (within that six-block radius) live music pouring out of no less than four midsized venues. That was a time when, on any given night in Downtown Jacksonville, one might’ve heard a hardcore band blasting through some three-chord mayhem inside Burro Bar’s narrow space as DJs spun ’90s hip-hop in 1904’s backyard area, while a suspender-clad folk-revivalist tore his heart out (figuratively) from Underbelly’s well-apportioned stage. For a time, the eclectic cacophony seemed to be signaling momentum for the city’s Urban Core. It wouldn’t last, however.

In September, it was announced that the popular music and dance venue Club TSI would close its doors after 11 years, citing competition from other live music venues. Then, in October, Underbelly — another Bay Street staple — was sold; a new business has yet to reopen on that site. Then in April, just two months after throwing a five-year anniversary party headlined by Seattle surf-rock quartet La Luz, it was announced that Burro Bar would also meet its omega — and do so in style.

Speculation regarding the reasons for Burro’s closing ran the gamut, from greedy landlords to a lack of economic viability in the Urban Core. The truth is much less interesting, according to Burro Bar co-owner, Ian Ranne.

“I think it kind of just ran its course,” the longtime local live music promoter says.

Five years ago, after a few years of successfully attracting small crowds of hip-hop fans and punk/hardcore aficionados to Springfield’s Shantytown Pub, Ranne, along with four partners, opened Burro Bar on the corner of Adams and Ocean streets. “We saw it as an opportunity to do something cool in a unique space,” Ranne says of the venue’s humble beginnings.

To celebrate five years of treating Jacksonville’s urbanites to music and revelry (and four years of indoor smoking), Ranne and Co. have put together a formidable lineup, nearly two dozen acts appearing over two nights. The event on Friday, July 1 — dubbed “Burro Bar’s Closing Ceremonies: The Wake” — will showcase local indie heroes Tuffy, Orlando garage rock faves Golden Pelicans, and a much-anticipated reunion of Jacksonville DIY quartet Opiate Eyes. The next night’s dénouement — designated “The Funeral of Burro Bar” — is to be punctuated with heavy stoner and thrash metal from the likes of Savannah, Georgia’s Black Tusk and North Florida’s Rhythm of Fear, respectively.

Ranne sat down with Folio Weekly Magazine to reminisce about the genesis of Burro Bar, the future of live music in the city’s Urban Core, and laying Burro Bar to rest this weekend.

Folio Weekly Magazine: Talk about the Funeral of Burro Bar. Will you go gentle into that good night?
Ian Ranne: We are throwing a huge, funeral-themed party. We’ve got over 20 bands — everybody from hip-hop to heavy metal to punk. All the performers have some kind of history or relationship with us. Some of the performances are reunions. Everybody has had an impact on the place. It’s such a mixed bill. It’ll be pretty crazy.

How did you come to open the space in Downtown Jacksonville?
Well, a couple of us were working out of a kind of co-op space next door. We had [bike messenger bags entrepreneurs] Chris [Williams] and Jack Twachtman doing Burro Bags and I had a record store and we were doing a couple of other things when we found out London Bridge Pub was closing. I used to work there [at London Bridge Pub] so I already knew the space like the back of my hand. So I got with Matt [Hume] and Marianne [Purcell], who I knew from working in bars. There were five of us total. We decided to use the Burro Bags brand and just extend that into a bar and live music space.

Were the five of you consciously trying to fill a void in the Urban Core?
Somewhat. I was already booking hip-hop and punk at Shantytown and our capacity there is only about 50 or so. We would have shows where 250 people would show up and we had situations with the fire marshal. So I knew there was a demand and I knew we needed a bigger place.

What events or shows are most memorable for you?
It’s kind of just been one five-year blur. [Laughs.] I’m a big hip-hop guy, so it was cool to have Masta Killa from the Wu-Tang Clan on St. Patrick’s Day.

Was Burro Bar successful right out of the gate?
We had, probably, our best success right off the bat. We were really the only place when we opened up. Underbelly wasn’t there, 1904 wasn’t open yet. We were pioneers over there. We came out swinging. Eventually it got … not stale, but kind of normalized.

There were rumors that a falling out with your landlords led to the closing. Not true?
No. That was a misconception. Petra [the property owners] were always really cool with us. They were working really hard to get those buildings filled. The five of us [owners] were kind of moving in separate directions. [Petra] offered us another year and we had a decision to make. It just didn’t make sense for us. I think for the scene to grow over there, and even for The Elbow to reach its potential, there needs to be some new life in that space.

Do you see why people would think that Burro Bar’s closing, along with several others over the last few months, points to a slowdown for Downtown Jacksonville?
I can see that. It’s kind of the end of an era. But, at the same time, 1904 [Music Hall] is killing it right now. A lot of that energy that we had early I think has been transferred there. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Leases come and go. You can only be the hot new place for so long. That energy just transfers to the next place.

 

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