1904 Music Hall Breathes Fire into Downtown Nightlife

If you’re from Jacksonville, there’s a good chance you have gone to a show at 1904 Music Hall. And when you were buying tickets, you most likely didin’t know it was going be at one of the oldest buildings in downtown Jacksonville.

The building was originally built in 1904, one of the first structures to be established after Jacksonville’s Great Fire of 1901. It was mainly a place for commercial businesses, a furniture manufacturing company, a retail store and office space, then a tobacco shop for about 20 years. It wasn’t until 2011 that Jason Hunnicutt and two partners would purchase the building.

Still working day jobs, Hunnicutt recalls he and his friends, who were all musicians, wanting to create another space where they and musicians from other cities could perform.

“It was one of those kinds of, like, you know, three friends open a bar kind of story,” Hunnicutt said. “If it makes money that’s great, but we were just getting it to have fun.”

They found 1904 by luck with the previous owner stating that they could do whatever they wanted to the space as long as they paid rent. They immediately got to work and unlocked the energy that was in there before, exposing the 120-year-old original brick walls and wood-paneled ceiling.

After six months of renovations and DIY projects, 1904 Music Hall opened in March 2012.

“We lost money the first two years, so, of course, we still had to keep our day jobs,” Hunnicutt said. “But the cool thing was we kind of made a little niche in the music scene, bringing in some bands that weren’t really coming to Jacksonville.”

While this business venture started out as a side gig for Hunnicutt and his two partners, the main focus was creating an entertainment venue and bringing people from around the city to see a show Downtown. After working hard for three years to make a name for themselves in the music scene, 1904 Music Hall started bringing in enough revenue that Hunnicutt was able to quit his day job and work at the room more often.

“We kind of really wanted to be a blank canvas for any artist to come in, whether it was a hip-hop artist, a rock band, metal, jazz, polka,” Hunnicutt said. “The vibe is very inviting and can be applied to, like, you know, a ton of different varieties of shows and events.”

But making the 1904 Music Hall profitable wasn’t where the story of three guys opening up a bar would end. In 2020, Hunnicutt and his team decided to expand on their business ventures and opened up Spliff’s Gastropub and, more recently, acquired Ocean Street Tacos and Underbelly.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, live musical performances came to a sudden halt affecting not only the music industry but venues like 1904 Music Hall which thrived off ticket sales and customers spending money at the bar. Hunnicutt recalls almost having to sell the venue. Luckily, they had Spliff’s to lean on and bring money in when 1904 couldn’t.

“It sucked real bad,” Hunnicutt said. “We struggled like every business and particularly [like] everybody in this industry,” Hunnicutt said. “Since we had that business [Spliff’s] to kind of pivot on, we were able to keep a lot of the employees and transfer them over,”

Once the CDC guidelines became a little more lenient and the quarantine was lifted, 1904 still had to look toward more creative ventures like hosting painting classes with local artists and throwback movie nights to keep the business afloat since bands still weren’t touring.

Despite that bump in the road, 1904 Music Hall is still a strong force in Downtown’s music scene and continuously provides unique shows, as well as ongoing monthly and yearly events. More than just an entertainment venue, 1904 has become a place for people to make memories at weddings, charity fundraisers, birthday parties and even corporate events.

While this venue has seen its fair share of unfortunate fires, the greatest fire of all still burns bright within the shows and crowds that 1904 Music Hall brings Downtown.

 

Vision Video at 1904 Music Hall

It is 9:45 on a Saturday night, and I am making my way to the 1904 Music Hall Downtown. Every fourth Saturday of the month, 1904 Music Hall puts on a Goth Night, and tonight, Aug. 28, the goth-pop band Vision Video is scheduled to play.

As soon as I walk in, I am transported to an underground punk concert one would imagine seeing in the late ’80s. The usual purposefully-graffitied walls covered with black sheets, and people dressed in all black with thick platform shoes.

Right at 10:30, the lights dim on the stage and a crowd starts to gather as people make their way from the bar to the dancefloor. Before the band is even on stage, the crowd cheers in anticipation.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Athens, Georgia band, but instantly from seeing the band’s commitment to the theme, which included wearing fishnet stockings and bold black eyeliner, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

The lead singer Dusty Gannon, also known as “Goth Dad” on Tiktok, is the source of inspiration for the band’s past album and for their newest album set for release in October. Gannon was a soldier in Afghanistan as well as a paramedic and firefighter during the pandemic. He draws inspiration from his own personal experiences of dealing with mortality but also through the experiences of the band’s fans who are referred to as “Baby Bats.”

The music and energy were captivating. I couldn’t take my eyes off the band as they performed songs similar to classics from The Cure or Joy Division. The crowd was just as nostalgic, throwing up devil-horn signs and middle fingers every time Gannon dedicated a song to someone who has done the LGBTQ+ community wrong. (Highlighting that punk is not just a music genre but a powerful movement, a way for people to get their point across in bold ways.)

Before ending the show, Vision Video played one more song for the energetic crowd, noting that this has been the best show and audience they have played for so far.

About Ambar Ramirez

Flipping through magazines for as long as she can remember, Ambar Ramirez has always known she wanted to be a journalist. Fast forward, Ambar is now a multimedia journalist and creative for Folio Weekly. As a recent graduate from the University of North Florida, she has written stories for the university’s newspaper as well as for personal blogs. Though mainly a writer, Ambar also designs and dabbles in photography. If not working on the latest story or design project, she is usually cozied up in bed with a good book or at a thrift store buying more clothes she doesn’t need.
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