Live Music Venues in Gainesville
By Greg Hamilton
Gainesville has a loud and proud romance with live music.
Rock n Roll Hall of Famers Tom Petty, Stephen Stills and Don Felder (of the Eagles) called the place home at various times. Sister Hazel, ska-punkers Less than Jake, even the soulful Minnie Riperton did, too.
With the University of Florida and Santa Fe College piping generations of 20-somethings into the night scene, the city’s bars and clubs have always embraced local and touring bands.
Punk rockers especially are at home here. Each fall since 2002, on the weekend when the titanic Florida-Georgia football game in Jacksonville drains the city of Gator fans, thousands of punk fans pour in and take over hotels, stages and sofas.
Yes, Gainesville is a college town and much of the music is at high-decibel and intensity, but it’s not just students packing the clubs. The night scene offers plenty for adults of all ages.
You can regularly find first-rate performances at the city’s major venues, especially the Curtis Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and at the newly refurbished downtown bandshell at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, named after the bluesy soul man with the iconic cigar box guitar who later in life -- and in death -- called nearby Archer his home.
But the city’s soul beats in the bars in and around town, where you can enjoy an acoustic set with a couple of friends after work in one spot, and rock your world around the corner at any of a number of dimly lit cozy settings that have borne witness to countless singers and strummers.
Bonus: While you may be looking for live music, on any given night you can stroll in and find touring comedians, a bawdy burlesque troupe or aerial acts. Just sayin’.
Picking the best music venue is a lot like choosing your favorite child -- each has its own personality and tug on you. But it’s hard to argue with High Dive as the center of the city’s music universe.
210 SW Second Ave.
Start with the amenities: High Dive makes best use of what it has. Outside is a covered patio with a busy bar; inside is a spacious hall and dance floor presided over by a stage big enough to handle larger bands and their gear.
Between the two, High Dive can handle 450 people, but some acts and fans have put that limit to the test.
The parking lot regularly hosts food truck rallies, feeding the starving masses of students and drawing even more folks downtown. All for a good cause, because the rallies support local aid efforts.
Comedians and special events-- the Rocky Horror Picture Show was a blast -- also keep things from getting stale.
But High Dive thrives on live music, and shows range from local rock bands and punks acts to swamp blues and even -- wha? -- a country rapper.
Cover charges vary depending on the show, $20 when the Wailers are on stage, $5 for lesser-known acts. The cover is only for getting inside; the beer garden is free and you’ll have no trouble hearing the tunes.
Speaking of music, the High Dive has a long history of showcasing acts before they grew up and hit the big time.
Starting with its previous incarnations as Common Grounds and Covered Dish, the club has hosted the best that Gainesville has to offer.
Head to the back hallway and check out the wall of fame. The Dave Matthews Band, Zac Brown, the Avett Brothers, the Black Keys, Yo La Tengo, and The Derek Trucks Band have concert posters there. So do Green Day, Less than Jake and Sister Hazel -- and Johnny Cash’s Legendary Tennessee Three.
The years roll by but High Dive keeps riding the wave by keeping the acts fresh and plentiful.
15 N. Main St.
If High Dive is king, The Atlantic is like the big guy’s kid brother.
Smaller, with a dance floor that fills up quickly and no patio for overflow, The Atlantic hits its 200-person capacity quickly. Still, that’s 200 people jamming in a room that barely contains the raucousness.
The Atlantic has karaoke on Wednesdays, and the city’s most popular DJ -- Nickfresh -- comes in from Jacksonville and on Thursdays and Fridays and takes ownership of the club.
Local bands, touring acts stopping in on their way to the bigger cities south of Gainesville, and special events like theme nights celebrating the ‘80s, Motown and Goth all keep the doors moving.
817 W University Ave.
First the good: The Jam has blossomed from humble beginnings -- a chill place with potluck dinners and a campfire out back just perfect for the drum circle it drew most nights -- into a legit concert venue.
With a larger-than-most-bars bandstand inside and a backyard stage that most recently held a Pink Floyd laser/projection show, the Jam is home to a loyal and fun-loving extended family.
But the clock is ticking.
The Jam is falling to Gainesville’s insatiable demand for housing. The block of buildings it’s in is slated to be demolished for apartments.
The hope is that the owners find a new place to land and keep the vibe going.
Making the Downtown loop
120 SW First Ave.
The place has that great dive bar feel without the ugliness -- dark wood, exposed brick wall and pipes, well-weathered rails and tables. Loosey’s attracts a chill crowd that includes rockers, hipsters, college professionals and visitors drawn in by the music and the aroma of its hefty burgers and truffle fries.
Local bands rock the stage Thursday and Friday nights, while karaoke takes over on Saturdays.
18 SW First Ave.
So, a long-lost friend or your sister is in town and you want to go out and show off your burg, but you would also like to continue your conversation without going deaf. Head over to The Bull.
Small and intimate, with blonde wood benches and tables, The Bull features mainly beer and wine and a delicious chill. Grad students set up laptops on the bar and tables while others relax to a jazz quartet, a folk singer, or another acoustic perform. Or maybe an open mic night. Poetry readings have been known to break out.
Market Street Pub & Cabaret
112 SW First Ave.
Somewhere between Loosey’s and The Bull -- literally and figuratively -- is the Market Street Pub. The place is reinventing itself and is doing so with a wink and giggle.
Burlesque is back, and flourishing at the Pub. Saturday night can be live music but sometimes a cabaret show, a variety act, the aforementioned burlesque troupe takes over the stage deeper inside the club, where patrons sit at tables on various tiers. The club has been hosting aerial acts in recent months.
Wednesday and Friday are the big nights for live music, featuring local bands Thursday is karaoke and Tuesday is for poker players (at tables upstairs) or a comedy act in back. There’s a cover but only if you sit at the stage area.
Market Street has become a bigger draw for the 30-plus crowd, with a variety of entertainment and impressive selection of local beers at its full bar.
Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar
112 S. Main St.
On Facebook - Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar
Music and laughter crash into each other here, with the performers and audience equally guilty.
A great place for bachelorette parties and similar gatherings, Rockeys (rock + piano keys, get it?) has the pianos facing each other above a hall that holds 290. Once the evening gets going -- Tuesday through Saturdays -- the players feed off the crowd. No two nights are the same, and you’re just likely to be dancing with partner to a sappy ballad one minute and howling with laughter the next.
Lillian’s Music Store
112 SE First St.
Think Cheers with live music, a righteous old-school wooden bar, friendly regulars and staff -- and awesome free popcorn.
232 SE First St.
Charming place to sip on a margarita, enjoy a meal from Boca Fiesta (or shoot a game at the next-door Palomino pool hall), and savor some relaxing music under the stars on a balmy Florida night.
Lightnin’ Salvage at Satchel’s
1800 NE 23rd St.
Go for the famous pizza -- stay for the crazy decor, funky gift shop and local bands on a quasi-outdoor stage.
208 W University Ave.
Classic Irish pub- - good drinks, good people, beautifully aged wooden bar, pub grub -- and a crooner with a guitar to get the joint ready to renew the rebellion. ‘Nuff said.
211 W University Ave.
A legendary Gainesville night spot has re-emerged from a long hiatus at a new location with eclectic regional acts most weekends.
Drifting away from downtown
3700 W University Ave.
Like some California Roll with your rock? Ballyhoo is equal parts popular eatery -- sushi, tuna rolls, seafood and a full menu -- and music venue. Local classic-rock style bands jam at its covered patio.
2441 NW 43rd St.
Large dance floor, and tables upstairs overlooking dance floor where classic rock fans boogie to classic rock bands Thursday through Saturday.
Out of town but worth the drive
The Great Outdoors
65 N. Main St.
After a day at one of the area’s many freshwater springs or spent paddling the Santa Fe River, hungry hordes of students and older souls for decades have found their way to The Great Outdoors.
This is a restaurant, offering memorable meals, with two full bars, a patio and live music Wednesday through Sunday. The classic rock and easy listening acts entertain and enhance the experience.