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Arts and Entertainment Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016 6 years ago

If you build it, they will come

Independent Jones is building a grassroots movement to pave the way for a dedicated music venue.
by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to Sarasota’s arts community. We’re often referred to as the cultural capital of southwest Florida. After all, we’ve got everything: an opera, a ballet, James Beard Award-nominated chefs, a world-class museum and too many art galleries to count. The list goes on. There’s only one problem: Where’s the music venue?

Sure, there are plenty of places to catch a live band, but for the most part, the music is the secondary focus at the establishment. For fans and musicians in search of a dedicated live music venue, the answer usually lies in another city, like Tampa or St. Petersburg.

It’s been a chief complaint of Sarasota’s younger crowd, and music-lovers in general, for years, and it’s a problem Bradenton residents Morgan Bettes and Wade Hamilton think they can solve.

Green Bastard performs at Independent Jones' first concert, Barn Burner. Photo by Eddie Midler.

“It’s definitely something that’s missing,” says Hamilton, a Bradenton native and former creative director at Realize Bradenton. “If you look at any vibrant downtown core, you’ll see at least one music venue. It’s just part of the complete picture.”

After three years of working at Realize Bradenton alongside Bettes, the organization’s former executive and creative associate, Hamilton says the two gained valuable experience in organizing concerts and other community events. Together, they booked about 1,000 musical acts, and under their leadership, Bradenton’s annual Pickin’ Picnic concert grew from a grassroots 500-person event to one that most recently drew more than 3,000 guests, as well as sponsors and vendors. Now, Bettes and Hamilton are bringing that experience to Independent Jones, a project they founded to establish a dedicated live music venue.

Muphin Chuckrs perform at Independent Jones' first concert, Barn Burner. Photo by Eddie Midler.

The first step toward making the vision a reality, says Bettes, is to bolster a vibrant, supportive music scene by partnering with area organizations to host concerts.

Hail Dale performs at Independent Jones' first concert, Barn Burner. Photo by Eddie Midler.

“You can’t go from having nothing to just opening a venue,” she says. “So we’re hosting monthly concerts and events to draw attention to the project and to jumpstart the music scene.”

Hamilton describes their vision for the venue as something similar to nearby music clubs, like the State Theater or the Local 662 in St. Petersburg. He says Independent Jones will have a capacity of about 300 people and will be housed in a renovated building within walking distance to downtown Bradenton. It will feature all the amenities associated with a legitimate venue: a proper backstage and loading area, professional sound and video systems and a three-month rotating schedule of local bands, as well as regional and national touring acts. Hamilton says the venue would operate Wednesday through Sunday, with weekdays being free nights and weekends offering ticket prices of anywhere from $5 to $20 tickets, depending on the band.

In addition to hosting monthly events, the project is currently in the process of securing investors and finalizing a location, and Hamilton estimates an opening date of October or November of this year.

Ben Bakker, an area musician, commercial real estate agent and one of Independent Jones’ first investors, says he sees the project as a great opportunity for growth.

“It’s part of the successful evolution of any city that’s looking for growth,” he says. “There are so many talented bands in Sarasota and Bradenton that are just looking for an opportunity, and this is just another piece of the puzzle.”

Independent Jones' first concert, Barn Burner. Photo by Eddie Midler.

Independent Jones’ first concert, Barn Burner, held in November, drew more than 400 attendees, and this Friday, it launches its new partnership with the Manatee Performing Arts Center, which will consist of four concerts in January, February, April and May.

Bettes says she hopes to see continued support for the venture and to provide Sarasota and Bradenton with something that’s long overdue — an artistic outlet for live, original music.

“It’s important to give the community something they can connect with,” she says. “And everybody can connect with music. It’s a simple goal, really. And we think it’s attainable.”

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