The enduring legacy of Dad Rock is that it will always be at an arena near you.
It’s something we’ve been waiting to say for over a year: Live music is making a comeback.
After countless cancellations and virtual concerts, we’re seeing some of the industry’s biggest names announce long-awaited tour dates (Phoebe Bridgers, Tyler, The Creator, Clairo and Lorde, just to name a few). It’s an entertainment renaissance right now, a rebirth of a celebrated ritual that’s long lay dormant, and it’s being spearheaded by some of the most exciting acts in music.
But Jacksonville seems to be left out of the fanfare.
It’s not that the city is completely devoid of live music, quite the opposite actually. Weezer, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day took the TIAA Bank Field stage July 31 as part of their “Hella Mega” tour; bands like 311 and AJR are scheduled for Daily’s Place in the coming months, and Def Leppard is set to headline TIAA with Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts next year. This doesn’t even account for the host of notable shows at smaller venues like Jack Rabbits (Cold War Kids Mayday Parade) and 1904 Music Hall (Colony House, TV GIRL.)
There are shows in practically every corner of the city, from stadiums to the side of the street. Quantity isn’t the problem, quality — the type of show — is.
The acts stopping at bigger places play to audiences that are a little older or a little more country, and while it’s a smart move to sell tickets, it doesn’t push the entertainment landscape forward. Every time another Rolling Stones or Doobie Brothers take the stage, it’s like a nail in the cultural coffin — sealing Jacksonville’s fate as a city stuck in second gear. We’re avoiding shows that skew more modern, and it raises an important question: What kind of city are we trying to be?
The answer starts with the kind of city we once were. When VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena was still the Jacksonville Coliseum, it hosted some of the biggest names of the day. The Monkees made stops in 1967 and 1969, Led Zeppelin graced the stage in 1969 and 1973 and The Beach Boys played seven shows at the venue between 1965 and 1988. Everyone from AC/DC to ZZ Top visited the Coliseum a time or two, representing the whole spectrum of popular music in the era. Even in the later years of the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, bands like The Cure, No Doubt and Nine Inch Nails made the bill. Other venues like the Civic Auditorium (now the Times Union Center) hosted Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Van Halen and more at the heights of their popularity. There was no question about it: Jacksonville was, at least at one time, cool.
If the bookings of years past (and present) are any indication, Jacksonville has a certain affinity for dad rock: bands like KISS (six shows at the Coliseum) or Deep Purple (four shows at the Coliseum) or the like. Dad rock is settled somewhere between hair metal and early grunge, sometimes stretching as far forward as 2000s groups like Creed or 3 Doors Down and as far back as ’60s acts like The Yardbirds or The Kinks. Pinning it down to a certain era is impossible, but if a group sounds like they’d be right at home at a Jumbo Shrimp game and elicits sentiments of “this is real music,” chances are they’re a dead ringer for dad rock.
While dad rock was representative of modern music back in the day, booking these acts of the past feels like an attempt to play the nostalgia game. With every concert from Alice Cooper (Daily’s Place October 10) or similar artists, Jacksonville seems to be asking, “Hey, remember when we were hip?” Shows like these yearn for the glory days, leaning more toward wistful reminiscence than any kind of momentum for the music scene. There’s nothing wrong with a trip down memory lane, especially when the favorites of yesteryear still hold up, but these shows threaten to keep the scene stagnant.
Jacksonville isn’t a particularly old city by population standards. Our average age, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, is 35.9 years old, younger than the national average of 38.1 years old. Of our 911,528 residents (as of 2019), 15% were ages 20-29, slightly higher than the national tally for that age group of just under 13%. We don’t skew older (if anything, we skew a little younger), but the marquee shows in the music scene cater to an older audience. Daily’s Place is a beacon of hope, booking modern acts like Trippie Redd and $uicideboy$ for the upcoming Fall concert season, but mainstays like Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart remain in the rotation around Jacksonville.
But maybe older isn’t all bad. Dad rock, dated as it is, has cemented itself in the cultural consciousness. The pseudo-genre has produced a batch of instantly recognizable songs that transcends age barriers. Generational gaps be damned, “Don’t Stop Believin’” will make any room erupt, and if you don’t know at least the chorus to “Come Sail Away,” where have you been for the past 40 years?
Thus, it makes sense why the bigger venues are gravitating toward dad rock, even to this day. Dad rock is fun, a nonstop party of power chords and pounding drums. There’s a reason why Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle” are game day staples: dad rock is perfect for a stadium setting, and it’s guaranteed to get the crowd on its feet. It caters to the everyman, high energy and instantly ear-catching. Dad rock is perfectly inoffensive background music during the big game, and it makes for an engaging show when it takes center stage.
The power of dad rock is its ability to bring people together, and maybe that’s what Jacksonville’s been going for all along. Last month’s “Hella Mega” drew a hodge-podge of concertgoers out to TIAA: teens and their parents who begrudgingly took them, OG fans looking to make it a family affair, 30-somethings who just came for the drinks. But the stadium was electric nonetheless, fans screaming every word to the old favorites. Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Green Day and their contemporaries aren’t necessarily the biggest innovators in music, but they’re certainly among the most fun acts to watch live. And for Jacksonville, fun feels like enough.
Rock on, River City.