Long Live The JAM
One of Gainesville’s most eclectic music venues will be closing its doors at the end of the Fall 2014 semester.
Beyond this weekend, The JAM will no longer be host to so many of Gainesville’s diverse performances and purposeful gatherings. The effect that this will have on the Gainesville community is impossible to predict, but there is no doubt that without The JAM, there will be a gaping hole in the local music scene. The JAM was much more than just a place to hang out, have a craft beer and listen to local tunes. For many Gainesville residents, it was home.
A combination of issues that have remained unsolved led to the demise of the beloved venue.
The month-to-month lease created an unstable operation, and often, the venue didn’t break even. The costs of production and maintenance outweighed the profit made by the artists, despite shows from popular acts like The Heavy Pets and The Main Squeeze. This constant need to play catch-up on financial matters led to the personal fatigue of the three owners.
According to Blake Briand, co-owner and founding member of The JAM, these “issues affect each other in a vicious circle.” The lack of a long-term lease makes it impossible for the owners to invest, access loans or create any kind of security for the business.
“In essence, we fought a tough battle under circumstances that no business should have to fight for over two years, and at one point we just didn’t have anything left — no money, no energy, no time left to give,” Briand said. “We all have day jobs. We spend our paycheck to keep The JAM open, and then also spend hours working at The JAM. What we needed and still need is a stable long-term home that we own or have a long-term lease on. Without that, it’s a losing battle. It’s getting in the boxing ring with one arm tied behind your back. If you’re lucky you’ll get a few licks in before your pummeled. I think we got quite a few good licks in. But without that lease, we can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
Innovation Square LLC owns the strip and is currently arranging for the area to be rebuilt by UF Development Corp. A $30 million deal to tear down the structure and replace it with what is rumored to be apartment condominiums is in the works, but nothing has been settled. It has not been decided what The JAM will become, but it’s important to remember what it was and how it came to be.
Before the location was christened The JAM, it was a jewelry store and Colombian café called Puerto Tagwa that was owned by Veronica Arenas. While riding out the rest of her six-month lease, the space started to double as a haven for musicians to comfortably collaborate and get their creativity flowing.
When Arenas, her brother Eduardo and Briand decided to expand and open the doors to other local musicians, they pooled their funds in September 2012, and The JAM was born. The mission was to foster a space that would “allow musicians to have a consistent destination to express their word and creativity.”
A few months later, The JAM gained momentum and developed a solid following. These were the regulars of the World Wednesday drum circles, the friends that never missed an Organic Visions Presents show and the ones who came out not just for the kombucha-sake cocktails and the fire pit, but because they felt a deep sense of belonging within the walls of The JAM. These people, who always expected a warm welcome and a familiar face, became known as the Jamily.
“Initially we weren’t sure if we wanted to embrace it because we were worried that it would feel exclusionary,” Briand said. “We wanted everyone to feel welcome and didn’t want to create a separate elite, but in the end it didn’t spin that way but rather became a moniker for anyone who had experienced The Jam and understood what it was about. It represents the special inclusiveness we’ve always had and spins off the word family because so many people felt that way.”
The JAM wasn’t just another venue, and it will not be easy to replace. The owners are currently looking for a new location to call home but have yet to find something that measures up. The major requirement for the new venue would be a spacious outdoor area that could accommodate events like the massive weekly drum circle and the numerous vendors at all-day music festivals like Forever Summer and Over Easy Fest.
“For over a year we’ve searched. There are a lot of qualities that our new home needs, we don’t want to give up an outside area — its important to us, and that’s hard to find” Briand says. “Even if we let that go we still need to find a place that works for our vision and very few places have made the mark. And we tried hard to get those places, but it didn’t happen.”
The JAM was originally set to close on Nov. 12, but because of a high demand for final shows, they have extended their closing date to Dec. 5. The venue will remain open to the public until the last scheduled show, but afterwards, it will only be available for private bookings. The final show will feature local favorites Morning Fatty, Flat Land, The Savants of Soul and Duppies. There will be free beer, free love and a whole lot of reminiscing.
“Although the decision to close was genuine, hearts and minds can change in six weeks. We can’t confirm a date yet — lots of details are still floating — but we’re working very hard on a solution that allows us to reopen,” said Briand. “It looks like we may not be out of this fight just yet, keep your fingers crossed.”
Those who spent time at The JAM will never forget sitting fireside, surrounded by historic brick walls, listening to powerfully ambitious local talent. They will never forget kicking back with visiting artists in the green room, sipping on a carefully chosen craft brew. They will never forget passing by their favorite piece of art by MarcPaperScissor or playing Jenga with a group of strangers who quickly became friends.
The JAM embodied local creative culture, and hope for finding a new venue to take its place still exists.
Until then, the spirit of The JAM will live on in the hearts of those who lived and loved it.
Featured photo courtesy of: Facebook