“Dreamville” Remembers the Legend of Tom Petty
After music legend Tom Petty’s passing, fans around the world, especially those hailing from his hometown of Gainesville, are mourning the loss of a locally grown icon.
With memories of Petty scattered throughout the town and references to local landmarks in his lyrics, Petty’s influence has been felt long after he dropped out of Gainesville High School and left for California.
Downtown’s Lillian’s Music Store, put on the map after being named in Petty’s nostalgic ode to the town, “Dreamville,” kept its original name after being converted into a bar.
Petty’s former SW 13th Street home has since become the site of an apartment complex since he lived the
re in early 1972. The property was purchased and dubbed Wildflower Apartments after Petty’s second studio album.
Ethan Brennan, 21, who has worked at Wildflower as a leasing professional for three years, was playing a Petty song when his manager mentioned he was sitting on the former site of one of Petty’s homes.
Brennan started listening to Petty his freshman year of college when he was told that his dorm, Beaty Towers, was the rumored inspiration for one of his songs.
“I was here at work and was reading about the Vegas shooting when I heard about his passing,” said Brennan. “It was just kind of compounding on the overall sadness of the day.”
Brennan, who had tried to attend Petty’s last Florida tour, is saddened he’ll never be able to see him live.
For locals who grew up during Petty’s time in Gainesville, many fondly remember his pre-stardom days.
Shannon Melton recalls attending jam sessions held at Petty’s old barn, dubbed the Mudcrutch Farm, when she was 16 years old. The farm was named after his band at the time.
“I had friends that were in a band and they’d go over and jam with Tom Petty, so I was one of the groupies,” she joked. “I used to call them mini Woodstock festivals. There’d be cars lined all up and down 13th Street.”
Keith Harben, 66, who grew up in the same neighborhood and befriended Petty at age six, mourns the loss of his best friend who was like a brother to him.
“We did everything together,” said Harben, like playing football, going record shopping and being in boy scouts together. “He was part of my life and I was part of his.”
Harben remembers when Petty got his first guitar for $25 and taught himself how to play it.
Shortly after buying that guitar, Petty played the first song he ever wrote to Harben.
“It was incredible that he had it in him to do that,” he said. “I was the only one in the audience and the only one who ever heard that song.”
Harben remembers deciding to form a band one Saturday with Petty.
“I didn’t play any instruments and he asked me if I wanted to try and sing, and I went up to the microphone, so I was the first lead singer,” said Harben.
But that only lasted for half a song before Petty suggested a band manager role may be a better fit.
“We have a lot of very talented musicians in Gainesville, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have the right situation to move on and do what he did for forty years,” he said. “And that’s amazing by anyone’s standard.”
“From the day he started, he was totally focused. Nothing was easy for him,” he said. “He did it all on his own.”
To honor Petty’s legacy, Harben has started a petition to rename NE City Park “Tom Petty Park.“ The two spent countless hours playing childhood games at that park, which in his later years, served as a peaceful place Petty often returned to when visiting Gainesville.