Our Blog: University & Main

Observations about interesting people, places and events around downtown Gainesville. (Scroll down for previous blog posts.)

Brady Wease performs as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet. (Hippodrome photo by Michael A. Eaddy)

June 10, 2019: Hipp Cancels Performance, Replaces Actor After Mishap

Brady Wease, the talented actor-musician who played Jerry Lee Lewis in the Hippodrome Theatre’s summer musical, Million Dollar Quartet, was injured on his way home from the theater on Saturday night and will be replaced in the production beginning Tuesday night.

Wease suffered minor injuries when he was struck by a vehicle while returning to his apartment a few blocks from the downtown theater.

“Please join us in wishing our very own, immensely talented Brady Wease a speedy recovery as he heals from his accident,” said a post on the Hippodrome’s Facebook page.

In a press release on Monday, the Hippodrome announced that: “While [Wease] is expected to make a full recovery, he is unable reprise his role as Jerry Lee Lewis at this time.”

Brian Michael Henry

The Hippodrome took the unusual step of canceling Sunday’s sold-out matinee performance. However, the production will continue as scheduled on Tuesday night at 7 with Brian Michael Henry performing as Jerry Lee Lewis.

“We are grateful to have Brian Michael Henry able to fly down to Gainesville and jump into the role at such short notice,” said Stephanie Lynge, the Hipp’s artistic director.

Henry has performed as Jerry Lee Lewis in three previous productions of Million Dollar Quartet, most recently in Indianapolis.

“Brian has played Jerry Lee in several productions of Million Dollar Quartet … so it was just luck that we were able to grab him while he wasn’t in a production,” Lynge added.

Most recently, Henry was seen as Father in Ragtime at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, N.J.

Wease, 25, appeared in only 12 Hippodrome performances of Million Dollar Quartet before his injury. The production, originally scheduled for a four-week run, has been extended until at least July 21.

Wease, a North Carolina native, wowed Gainesville audiences not only with his piano-playing skills and acting ability, but also with his physicality. In one scene, his character leaped high off the piano.

“We are sending good thoughts to Brady and wish him a speedy recovery,” the Hippodrome Facebook post said. “We hope to see him back on stage, making audiences smile, very soon!”

June 4, 2019: NEA Awards Dance Alive, Choreographer $10,000 Grant

Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), has approved more than $80 million in grants as part of the Arts Endowment’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2019.

Choreography by Brian Carey Chung

Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $10,000 to Gainesville’s own Dance Alive National Ballet to support artist fees for the creation of two dance works by choreographer Brian Carey Chung. Art Works is the Arts Endowment’s principal grant-making program.

The agency received 1,592 Art Works applications for this round of grant-making and will award 977 grants in this category.

“These awards, reaching every corner of the United States, are a testament to the artistic richness and diversity in our country,” Carter said. “Organizations such as Dance Alive National Ballet are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create and be inspired.”

Chung, recently named Resident Choreographer for Dance Alive National Ballet, created a work for the company that premiered in February.

Kim Tuttle, DANB artistic director, noted that the company had been looking for an additional choreographer who would stimulate and excite both audiences and dancers. After working with him through February and following much conversation, the invitation was extended and accepted.

As a choreographer, Chung’s work is conceptual, drawing inspiration from history, literature, music, nature, philosophy, poetry, pop culture, psychology, religion, the sciences, sports, technology, the visual arts and yoga. He is particularly interested in where the formal in classical ballet intersects and participates with the informal in gesture and movement. Methodologies utilized to create vocabulary for each piece embrace elements of chance, spontaneity and individuality, which allows unique associations and resonances to arise and influence scripted choreographic phrases.

Chung will work with students in a workshop setting during June and return in August to begin work with the professional company. One of his new works will be presented in a February performance, “Loveland,” while the other, “Athletes of the Gods,” will premiere in March.

Brian Carey Chung

Chung is a Jamaican-born, naturalized American dancer, choreographer, poet and registered nurse. His 16-year dance career (1991-2006) spanned the country’s most celebrated contemporary ballet companies, touring internationally with Lines Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Armitage Gone! Dance and Ballet Hispanic of New York.

After retiring from the stage, Chung was rehearsal director and assistant choreographer to Karole Armitage; both for her company and for her 2008 re-creation of the musical, Hair, for the Public Theatre in New York City. In 2009, Chung formed Collective Body Dance Lab in New York City. The lab, a project-based, creative think tank, brought together independent artists, designers, musicians, singers, composers and dancers in the production and performance of new dances.

Chung has taught on the faculties of Lines Ballet in San Francisco, and Peridance Capezio Center, Broadway Dance Center and the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City. He has guest lectured and taught masterclasses for Lines, Complexions and Armitage, and at universities throughout the U.S. From 2011-13, he was Assistant Professor of Ballet at Northern Illinois University.

Chung holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from UF, a Master of Fine Art in Creative Writing: Poetry from New York University, and a Master of Science in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University. In addition to being Resident Choreographer for Dance Alive National Ballet, Chung works as a nurse on the Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cardiac Surveillance Unit (D1) at Stanford Health Care, Stanford University.

May 23, 2019: Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar Goes Out With Flourish

In terms of entertainment, downtown Gainesville’s loss is Celebration Pointe’s gain when it comes to Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar.

The downtown nightclub closed last weekend after nine years at 112 S. Main St., according to owner Brad Heron. But the good news is that Heron’s dueling piano show will resume later this summer as part of The Keys, an island-themed seafood restaurant and bar opening in Celebration Pointe off Archer Road and I-75.

“We had a terrific run downtown with Rockeys, but we feel this is the best move for our piano show,” Heron, 37, told gainesvilledowntown.com. “We had a great send-off last weekend with record crowds.”

Rockeys opened in 2010 and was known for its Thursday-Saturday night dueling piano shows that featured Heron and other talented pianists from throughout Florida and the U.S. The club also featured Wednesday comedy nights that drew local and regional talent as well as such well-known celebrities as Carlos Mencia and Pauly Shore.

Heron said that he had always wanted to add a kitchen to Rockeys for serving food but couldn’t obtain the proper permits.

Heron will be one of three co-owners of The Keys along with Diego Ibanez and Tony Espetia. Ibanez is co-owner of Emiliano’s Café, which opened in 1984 at 7 SE 1st Ave. in downtown Gainesville. Espetia, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker M.M. Parrish Realtors, is former owner of Rum Runners and Fat Tuesday in Gainesville.

The Keys, which has a double-meaning associated with both the Florida Keys and piano keys, is projected to open as early as mid-August.

In the meantime, Heron, a resident of the Duckpond neighborhood, will continue with the Rockeys Road Show starting this weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

“Thank you to everyone who was a part of Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar!” Heron wrote on his Facebook page last week. “It became far more than a bar or business. It grew into a family and network of people who care about each other. ... The memories and friendships will live on!” 

April 29, 2019: Hipp, Collier Companies Launch 10-Year Pledge Drive

The Hippodrome Theatre has announced the launch of The Collier Challenge. Nathan S. Collier, of the Collier Companies, and his wife, Ani Collier, a former professional ballet dancer from Bulgaria, have generously offered a 10-year dollar-for-dollar challenge grant to help secure the future of Gainesville’s 46-year-old professional theater and its many associated educational and community programs.

“The Hippodrome Theatre is a cultural jewel for Gainesville, an incredible asset,” Nathan Collier said. “Ensuring its long-term viability is important for our artistic future.”

The Collier Challenge is a true matching-gift program. The Colliers will match every new 10-year pledge, up to $100,000 per year, for the full 10 years. Donations will go toward such costs as actor salaries, script royalties and educational programming. The Colliers’ gift will go into an unrestricted endowment fund that will help stabilize the theater’s operations into the future.

In recent years, federal funding for arts grants has decreased dramatically while the Florida state legislature’s funding decisions have been erratic. Theater companies such as the Hippodrome, along with all the educational and cultural programs attached to them, now live or die on home-grown support.

“This is a community that truly values the arts and their impact on the quality of life in our region,” said Stephanie Lynge, the Hippodrome’s new artistic director. “We have a long history of people stepping up when it counts, like Nathan and Ani are doing now. We know Gainesville will follow their lead and couldn’t be more grateful and excited.”

Interested donors can make their pledge online, through a form found HERE or by emailing a request to development@thehipp.org.

Dec. 26, 2018: Tom Miller to Read Every Trump Lie in 38-Hour Spectacle

Gainesville-based performance artist Tom Miller will be reading every fake claim President Donald Trump has made since becoming president — 3,924 at current count — in a 38-hour marathon event while consuming only McDonald’s products.

The marathon reading will take place Friday and Saturday at the new home of Hardback Cafe, 920 NW 2nd St., in downtown Gainesville.

President Donald Trump

The event begins Friday at 6 a.m. and continues all day and into the following day until the mission is completed. The reading is expected to conclude on Saturday around 8 p.m. During this time, Miller will take only two 20-minute breaks per day to practice Transcendental Meditation. Three bathroom breaks of three minutes each per day are also included in the artist’s performance.

“The real problem,” Miller said in a press release, “is that by the time I finish the event, the Donald may have said a bunch more fibs. Theoretically, I could be stuck in a loop forever, like someone caught in the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney. I expect to be psychologically and physically challenged — possibly damaged. I’m doing this for the continuation of the species.”

Why would Miller undertake such a masochistic feat?

“Because,” he said, “none of the other presidents has any kind of an accomplished record of fibbing like this — nothing on the level of Mr. Trump. Nobody is better at this than him. Performance artists enjoy taking work to the extremes, and Mr. Trump provides that extreme. This is the right president for the right performance artist. It’s going to hurt real bad. And that’s what we like. That’s pain, that’s art!”

Miller added: “This is not a partisan work of art. All I’m doing is repeating stuff President Trump has actually said, so nobody should be angry. This could actually be a great event to bring people together in commonality to embrace how fake everything is.”

Miller will be reading from the Toronto Star’s Fact Check Project, an ongoing survey of Trump’s false claims. (http://projects.thestar.com/donald-trump-fact-check/)

Canadian Minister, The Reverend Angeldust, will be on hand to bless the event on behalf of the Tabernacle of Hedonism, a Gainesville-based Church of Absurdity.

Miller’s last political event, immortalized in the Huffington Post, was staring into the gaping mouth of then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz for two solid hours without breaking eye contact. Miller has only recently recovered from that 2016 ordeal, but said the effort was worth the reward.

“When you face your darkest fears, you become a better American,” Miller said. “Participation in the political process is vitally important, even for blue-collar performance artists.”

In the event of a natural disaster, Miller will toss out several new rolls of paper towels before the event.

The public is invited to observe and support — and perhaps even mock — Miller throughout his performance.

Sept. 26, 2018: Matheson Museum Restoring Stained-Glass Windows

Hope Meucci and the stained glass at the old Melting Pot Restaurant.

The Matheson History Museum is raising $2,500 to save a unique piece of Gainesville history.

Once upon a time, area residents visited the Melting Pot Restaurant on East University Avenue to celebrate milestones. Others got engaged there. It was a place where memories were made and tucked away to be treasured.

Today, the former Melting Pot building houses the Matheson Library & Archives. The beautiful stained-glass windows, which were commissioned by restaurant owner Hope Meucci and designed by Tallahassee artist Bob Jones, were featured prominently in the restaurant.

The stained glass features fondue pots, champagne, seafood, cheeses, chocolate, fruit, bread, etc. The windows were installed in 1982 when the restaurant opened and removed to storage when the building was renovated in 2016.

The museum is now taking the stained glass from the three original front windows and framing them with heart pine wood.

Mike and Mary McIntyre, Gainesville stained-glass artists, are in the process of restoring the glass and designing the frames. The heart pine will be supplied by the Goodwin Company, which also supplied the heart pine flooring in the Library & Archives. The completed framed stained glass will hang in a place of honor in the Library & Archives Reading Room.

With the dramatic slash to state funding, though, the Matheson History Museum cannot complete the restorations without the help of the community.

Those interested in being a part of this important project can visit www.mathesonmuseum.org/stainedglasscampaign to find out how to donate.

Aug. 13, 2018: Hippodrome Introduces Jazz Series

The Hippodrome Theatre is partnering with the UF School of Music to bring the Hippodrome Jazz Series to the Hipp’s Lower Level starting Monday, Sept. 10. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the music starts at 7:30.

The Hippodrome Jazz Series presents a range of jazz musicians who will play select Mondays and Thursdays throughout September, October and November.

“We are so excited about this collaboration to showcase some of Gainesville’s rising jazz stars and local jazz legends,” said Scott Wilson, UF associate professor of jazz. “The Hippodrome Jazz Series will feature Brazilian jazz, Cuban jazz, Rhythm and Blues, New Orleans jazz, Gypsy Jazz, Hard Bop and Bebop.”

The entrance to the Hippodrome Theatre Lower Level is on the east side of the theater, 25 SE 2nd Place.

Tickets are $5 and available in advance online at thehipp.org, at the Hipp Box Office or at the door. For further info, call 352.375.4477.

Monday, Sept. 10 — Elio Piedra Quartet
Thursday, Sept. 13 — Welson Tremura and Jacare Instrumental
Thursday, Sept. 20 — UF Jazz Faculty with Scott Wilson and Clyde Connor
Monday, Sept. 24 — Ramblin’ Mutts ryhthm and blues band

Thursday, Oct. 4 — Pamelli Marafon and Tabajara Belo
Monday, Oct. 8  —  Jon Jackson Quartet
Thursday, Oct. 11 — Aaron Colverson Quartet
Thursday, Oct. 18 — Bill Fote Quartet
Monday, Oct. 22 — Erik Abernathy Quartet
Thursday, Oct. 25 — UF Jazz Faculty with Scott Wilson and Clyde Connor

Thursday, Nov. 1  —  Geoff Perry Quartet
Monday, Nov. 5 —  Gosia & Ali Quartet
Thursday, Nov. 8 — Paul Johnson and Brian Stevens Quartet
Thursday,  Nov. 15 — Howard Wapner Quartet
Monday, Nov. 19 — Greg Snider Group

June 5, 2018: Hippodrome Hosts 24 Hour Play Project

The Hippodrome Theatre, celebrating 45 years as North Central Florida’s only professional theater, presents the 24 Hour Play Project showcase, a series of eight plays created in just 24 hours, on Sunday, June 10, at 6 p.m. in the Hipp Cinema.

The project engages artists from across Gainesville’s thriving theatrical community, including the UF School of Theatre + Dance, Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, Actors’ Warehouse, Gainesville Community Playhouse, Santa Fe College Theatre Department and the Hippodrome.

The project features Gainesville playwrights Esteban Alvarez III, Michael Presley Bobbitt, Deborah Dickey, Jane Edwards, Sloane Henry, Gregg Jones, Chuck Lipsig and Charlie Mitchell.

The playwrights will be given a series of prompts and a theme 24 hours before showtime. (The prompts include a high five, a cactus and mention of the Tony Awards.) Playwrights will work through the night, and Sunday morning will meet their directors and actors, who will see the script for the first time and begin to prepare for performances taking place Sunday evening starting at 6 p.m.

The local directors who will bring the playwrights’ words to life are Lola Bond, Steven H. Butler, Gabrielle Byam, Susan Christophy, Matt Lindsay, Sara Morsey, Mikell Pinkney and David Young.

“The goal of this project is to unite all of the theatrical groups of Gainesville for 24 hours of creative fun and exploration,” said Hippodrome Artistic Associate Stephanie Lynge, who is spearheading the project. “The public is invited to experience this burst of theatrical creativity with us at the showcase on Sunday at 6 p.m.”

This project is the third in a series of events created by the Hippodrome’s Company of Actors. Previous projects included the “Motherline Project” spearheaded by Lauren Nordvig and “The Brothers’ Size” spearheaded by Ryan George.

After the showcase, everyone is invited to stay in the Hipp Cinema for the free live stream of the 72nd Tony Awards from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (The Hipp’s bar will be open.)

Seating is limited. To purchase $10 tickets for the 24 Hour Play Project showcase, call the Hipp Box Office at 352.375.4477 or visit thehipp.org.

May 11, 2018: Mai Kai Kava Bar Opens for Business

Inside Mai Kai Kava Bar on Thursday night. (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

The flavor of Polynesia has finally arrived in downtown Gainesville with the opening of Mai Kai Kava Bar at 17 W. University Ave., next door to Gainesville House of Beer.

The kava bar opened Wednesday at noon and soon served its very first shell containing the non-alcoholic beverage derived from the crushed roots and stems of the South Pacific kava plant.

“We’re the first traditional kava bar in Gainesville,” said Heather Casey, who owns the bar along with her partner, Erin Hart.

Mai Kai is open daily from noon until midnight and will eventually stay open later on weekends.

The establishment serves two types of kava — lawena and waka — as well as an assortment of coffees, teas and other beverages in the $3-$6 price range. The $10 Mai Kai “double” is served in a shell, the way kava has been enjoyed by Pacific islanders for hundreds of years.

Mai Kai co-owners Heather Casey, left, and Erin Hart. (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

“Whenever we serve it in a shell, we say ‘Bula!'” Casey said. “That’s Polynesian for ‘to health and happiness.'”

Casey and Hart want people to know that Mai Kai is a welcoming place. Even the front door has a saying from Buddha that reads: “Each morning we are born again. What we do today matters most.”

The kava bar in some ways resembles a tiki hut with artwork and other decorations that give the place a Polynesian feel. Handmade benches line a wall opposite the L-shaped bar, which the owners had custom-made.

There are boxes of games that customers are invited to play and free wifi. Also, employee Candace Kopelakis provides free card readings.

“We wanted to create a laid-back, positive vibe where you can hang out with your friends,” Casey said. “It’s island-y, quaint and very Zen.”

Casey and Hart are new to Gainesville. They were long-time residents of West Palm Beach but currently live in Summerfield in Marion County. They plan to move to Gainesville soon.

“The reason we chose Gainesville is I felt it would be a good kava community,” Casey said. “We figure it would give college students and other residents an alternative to the bar scene.”

One of the health benefits of kava is that it helps reduce stress. Traditional Polynesian kava is believed to cause euphoria without impeding cognitive ability.

“Kava is from the pepper family,” Casey said. “It’s a fruit ground up into powder form that is supposed to reduce anxiety and insomnia. There are so many benefits. It’s very medicinal.”

Casey admitted that kava is “outside the norm” and can be an acquired taste for some people. She didn’t experience her first kava bar until five years ago but soon fell in love with it.

“It was an alternative to alcohol and hanging out with my friends without a hangover,” she said.

Although Mai Kai Kava Bar is opening during summer break for college students, Casey is not worried about drawing customers.

“The kava community is like a small world, so word gets around,” she said. “I feel it’s going to bring something new and positive to downtown Gainesville.”

May 3, 2018: Early Breakfast Arrives Downtown with The Grand Café

Owner Michael Fiorillo inside The Grand Café.

Early risers can finally get breakfast at a downtown eatery starting at 6 a.m. and enjoy a full lunch with beverage for well under $10 — all thanks to the opening of The Grand Café, 13 W. University Ave.

The 20-seat restaurant, offering counter service and table service as well as takeout and free delivery, occupies the former Stubbies & Steins pub that closed in 2014.

Owner Michael Fiorillo, a native of Long Island, N.Y., said The Grand Café will emphasize good food and good service at reasonable prices.

“I’m not trying to make people pay an arm and a leg,” he said with an unmistakable Long Island accent. “We’re gonna keep the place clean and make sure the customers are all happy.”

The Grand Café $3.75 breakfast special.

The breakfast menu includes a variety of egg sandwiches starting at $2 and a breakfast platter of two eggs with home fries or grits and toast for $4.50. Three-egg omelets start at $4.25 while pancakes, French toast and waffles start at $4.50. The Grand Café also offers an assortment of bagels, muffins and danishes, along with fresh-brewed coffee.

Sandwiches on the lunch menu start at $4.25 for egg salad and $4.50 for grilled cheese or a classic burger served with choice of cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad or chips and a pickle.

Specialty sandwiches include the Monte Cristo ($6.25), Reuben ($6.50), Grilled Chicken Classic ($6.25) and other sandwiches with such names as the Proud Floridian Hero, the Smokey Turkey Hero, the Coach, the Gator and the Gainesville (ham, turkey and Swiss on rye).

The Grand Café’s Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich.

There’s also a full lineup of specialty burgers, hot sandwiches, homemade salads, hot soups and beverages, including milkshakes, smoothies and sodas. The drink menu also includes a vanilla or chocolate egg cream. An egg cream consists of milk, carbonated water and flavored syrup. (Fun fact: The Brooklyn-born concoction contains neither eggs nor cream!)

Fiorillo, 52, already operates two Grand Cafés on Long Island, including one in his hometown of Babylon. He chose downtown Gainesville because his parents have owned a home in Ocala since 2001 and he became interested in expanding the family business to Florida.

“I don’t see anything else like this here,” he said.

Fiorillo will travel back and forth between Florida and New York but will leave the managing of The Grand Café to his 80-year-old father, Joseph. Fiorillo’s younger sister, Victoria, will also help run the Gainesville location along with cousin Tommy Luna and Vicki’s boyfriend, Justin Darling.

The Grand Café opened with little fanfare on April 27, but customers have been finding their way inside the restaurant.

“We’re doing really well without advertising yet,” Fiorillo said. “We’re getting all types of people — college kids, suits and ties, the courthouse folks. … Everybody’s been nice and friendly.”

The Grand Café is open weekdays 6 a.m.-3 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m.-3 p.m. The eatery is closed on Sunday.

In decorating the place, Fiorillo has redone the cobblestone floor from Stubbies & Steins and kept some of the coats of arms that adorned the front of the beer pub’s bar. Although Fiorillo grew up in New York a Yankees and Rangers fan, Orange and Blue are dominant colors in The Grand Café.

“I want to make it a Gators’ place,” he said. “I want to see the Gators do well. I’m a big fan of all sports.”

April 28, 2018: Downtown Thai Restaurant Plans June Opening

Downtown Gainesville will get its first Thai restaurant this summer when If It Is Kitchen & Cafe opens at 104 S. Main St., a corner location that has been vacant since the closing of Five Bar almost three years ago.

“My restaurant will be authentic Thai, both of traditional and fusion sushi, full bar and cafe,” Khetpapol “Up” Limphoka, a 2017 UF graduate and co-founder of If It Is, told gainesvilledowntown.com.

Limphoka said If It Is Kitchen & Cafe will be open seven days a week, offering an extensive lunch and dinner menu from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. The cafe inside the restaurant will serve alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages until midnight.

“From our Thai kitchen, we are proudly introducing one of the Thai traditional noodles that has never been brought to the U.S. called DooDee Noodle,” Limphoka said. “It is the rich taste and relatively dry traditional Thai noodle (Tom Yum taste).”

“From the sushi bar, we are proudly serving real and traditional Omakase sushi that customers will experience with their own personal chef and are served one-by-one nigiri throughout the dining time — as well as the fusion special rolls that we combine Thai and Japanese together.”

From the full bar and cafe, If It Is Kitchen & Cafe will serve alcoholic beverages that pair well with Thai and Japanese foods. There will also be specialized non-alcoholic beverages, such as a daily brewed, loose-leaf premium milk tea supplied by Tampa-based TeBella Tea Company to blend with the restaurant’s own signature milk tea.

“We will also use fresh milk rather than the milk powder to pull out the fresh taste of the tea,” Limphoka said.

The co-founders, Limphoka and his sister Punnada (Val), are Thailand natives — and biology majors. Up graduated last year from UF; his sister from Portland State (Ore.) University.

They signed a lease on the building on March 29 and have been working daily, along with Val’s boyfriend, to get the building ready for a soft opening sometime in May. They plan to hire a full-time staff of at least 20 employees.

Limphoka acknowledged that downtown Gainesville already has one upscale sushi restaurant in Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company, 201 SE 2nd Ave. However, he said If It Is Kitchen & Cafe intends to introduce “the real way” of consuming the traditional sushi with Omakase dining as well as the best-quality food that can be found.

“In addition, our Gainesville community needs real Authentic Thai food that you will feel like you are having food in Thailand while dining with us,” he said. “All ingredients are made from scratch to ensure the freshest and tastiest foods.”

And why did Limphoka, 23, and his sister, 26, choose the unusual name for the restaurant and bar?

He explained: “If It Is Kitchen & Cafe, it is the place in town that people need to go.”

Stay turned to gainesvilledowntown.com and our Facebook page for further updates on If It Is Kitchen & Cafe and other businesses opening soon.

April 26, 2018: Hippodrome Announces 2018-19 Mainstage Lineup

The Hippodrome Theatre’s 2018-19 season begins with an unflinching depiction of a suburban girls soccer team and also includes a stage adaptation of a Swedish thriller/chiller, a holiday comedy treat, a Tony Award-winning play from Lucas Hnath (The Christians), a heartwarming comedy about a Polish-American family in Buffalo and a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about religious tolerance.

Here is the lineup for the Hipp’s 46th season, which was announced Thursday:

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
Aug. 31-Sept. 23 (previews Aug. 29-30)
The Hipp, in collaboration with the UF School of Theatre + Dance, brings the ferociously funny play about a girls’ youth soccer team to the mainstage to start the season. A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Lucille Lortel and Drama League awards for Best Play, as well as for the Outer Critics’ Circle John Gassner Award for Outstanding New American Play, and winner of the 2015 Relentless Award for Playwriting, The Wolves was named one of the year’s best plays by The New York Times.

Let the Right One In by Jack Thorne
Oct. 12-Nov. 14 (previews Oct. 10-11)
Based on Swedish novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In follows Oskar, a lonely boy living with his mother on the edge of town. Oskar is bullied at school and longing for friendship. Eli, the young girl who moves in next door, never goes to school and rarely leaves home. The two youngsters, sensing in each other kindred spirits, become devoted friends. But when a spate of sinister killings rocks the neighborhood, a shocking truth tests their young friendship — and love — beyond all imaginable limits.

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)
By John K. Alvarez, Michael Carlton, James FitzGerald
Nov. 23-Dec. 22 (no previews)
Instead of performing Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic for the umpteenth time, three actors decide to perform every Christmas story ever told — plus Christmas traditions from around the world, seasonal icons from ancient times to topical pop culture, and every carol ever sung. If you loved A Tuna Christmas or the Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged), you will be laughing in the aisles for Every Christmas Story Ever Told!

A Christmas Carol
Adapted by Janet Allard and Michael Bigelow Dixon
Nov. 24-Dec. 22 (no preview)
The Charles Dickens classic tale about Ebenezer Scrooge returns to the Hipp’s mainstage for the 41st consecutive season. The production carries the timeless messages of redemption, charity and goodwill in a heartfelt and engaging adaptation.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Jan. 11-Feb. 3 (previews Jan. 9-10)
Fresh from its Tony-winning Broadway run, the comic sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s famed 1879 drama comes to the Hippodrome. In the final scene of Ibsen’s groundbreaking masterwork, Nora Helmer makes the shocking decision to leave her family and begin a life on her own. In A Doll’s House, Part 2, many years have passed since Nora slammed the door on everything in her life. Now, there’s a knock on that same door. Nora has returned. But why? And what will it mean for those she left behind?

Miracle on South Division Street by Tom Dudzick
March 1-24 (previews Feb. 27-28)
Hippodrome audiences fell in love with Dudzick’s hilarious and heart-warming plays Over the Tavern and King o’ the Moon. Miracle on South Division Street is the story of the Nowak family from the East Side of Buffalo, N.Y., where Clara, the family matriarch, happily runs her soup kitchen and tends to the family heirloom — a 20-foot-tall shrine to the Blessed Mother adjoining the house. When a deathbed confession causes the family legend to unravel, the Nowaks’ faith is shaken to its very core.

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
April 19-May 12 (previews April 17-18)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Obie Award — and nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play — Disgraced is one of the most widely produced and talked-about plays in recent years. High-powered New York lawyer Amir has climbed the corporate ladder while distancing himself from his Muslim roots. When he and his wife host a dinner party, what starts as a friendly conversation escalates, shattering their views on race, religion and each other.

“The season is created to explore a wide diversity of characters as they journey through the vicissitudes of life,” said Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the Hippodrome’s artistic director. “The Hipp’s 46th season will thrust you to the edge of your seat as you witness the ups and downs of human exploration.”

Meanwhile, the Hippodrome has yet to announce its summer musical for 2019. Some of the shows under consideration are Million Dollar Quartet, Grey Gardens, Rock of Ages and Next to Normal.

Season subscriptions go on sale to the general public on May 1. For pricing and other information, contact the Hippodrome box office at 352.375.4477 or visit thehipp.org.

April 3, 2018: Hipp Offers Theatre and Self-Discovery Adult Course

The Hippodrome Theatre and the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding present a groundbreaking new six-week adult course at the Hippodrome titled “Theatre and Self-Discovery,” starting Monday, April 9, at 6:15 p.m.

The focus of “Theatre and Self-Discovery” is in what lies below the surface — how self-esteem impacts people and people’s needs list. In theatre, actors ask of their character: What drives this person’s behavior?

This course bridges the mediums between non-violent communication work and theatre in a non-threatening way, a way to step away from your own self in creating a character that is not you. One of the goals of this collaboration between the River Phoenix Center for Peace-building and the Hippodrome Theatre is peace-building within oneself.

Through this six-week intensive adult theatre class, participants will explore the nuance of relating human behavior to the craft of a theatre artist. First, participants will go below the surface of these characters with writing. The initial classes will be facilitated by Heart Phoenix of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding and Gabrielle Byam of the Hippodrome Theatre and the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding.

Then participants will bring the writing to the stage with real theatre artists Matthew Lindsay and Cameron Pfahler of the Hippodrome Theatre, and the course will utilize these introspective discoveries with a focus on character development and scene construction. Each individual will create and write a monologue that reflects the experiences accumulated throughout the course; the class will culminate with a showcase of student monologues.

Heart Phoenix has been facilitating workshops for non-violent communication for 15 years. Gabrielle Byam has worked at the Hippodrome Theatre for 20 years and has been facilitating workshops for non-violent communication for eight years. Matthew Lindsay is a theatre director, and a teacher at the Hipp for 10 years. Cameron has worked at the Hipp for several years, has a degree in psychology and has had work featured at a local playwrights’ festival.

The sessions continue each Monday through May 14, from 6:15-7:30 p.m. Class size is limited. Sign up here

March 20, 2018: Hipp Extends Ripcord, Sets The Bikinis as Summer Musical

The Hippodrome Theatre has decided that it’s not a good time to pull the Ripcord just yet.

The play by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire was scheduled to end a four-week run this Sunday, but due to popular demand, the laugh-out-loud yet heartfelt comedy about two at-odds roommates in a retirement home has been extended another week, until April 1 (Easter Sunday).

Not only are there seven additional performances of Ripcord next week, the Hippodrome is adding a Wednesday matinee show this week at 2 p.m.

Reserve your tickets by calling the Hipp box office at 352.375.4477 or by visiting thehipp.org.

Ripcord stars Sara Morsey as Abby, a cantankerous resident in an assisted living facility who despises her new roommate, Marilyn (Nell Page). The two women decide that the only way to settle their differences is a seemingly friendly wager that spirals out of control.

Morsey and Page, with more than 60 years of Hippodrome acting experience between them, display tremendous chemistry on the mainstage. Morsey’s Abby is the epitome of a woman who’s seen it all but who still has tenderness under a thick skin. Page’s Marilyn is as perky as she is diabolical, employing her daughter (Laura Shatkus) and son-in-law (Niall McGinty) to try and scare the beejesus out of Abby.

Meanwhile, Logan Wolfe shines as Scotty, a good-natured orderly who acts as a mediator in the Abby-Marilyn feud. Bryan Mercer gives a hilarious performance as a skydiving instructor and, later, a poignant performance as Abby’s estranged son.

The Hippodrome has also announced that its summer musical this year is The Bikinis, created and written by Ray Roderick and James Hindman. Hipp artistic director Lauren Warhol Caldwell will direct.

The Bikinis centers around four women who reunite after 20 years to relive the memories of their youth through a musical songbook everyone knows and loves — “Itsy Bitsy … Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Where the Boys Are,” “Chapel of Love,” “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Midnight Blue” and more than 20 other hits.

With hair as big as their voices, these empowered yet inseparable friends bring their sass, charm and talent to save the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort from big-buck investors on the famed Jersey Shore boardwalk.

Based on a true story, The Bikinis is the ultimate story of the underdog determined to take on the greedy, out-of-town, condo-building developers who would tear down their homes.

The Bikinis opens June 1 after discounted previews on May 30 and 31. The show is scheduled through June 24, but if it follows in the footsteps of recent Hipp summer musicals — Forever Plaid, The Toxic Avenger, The Marvelous Wonderettes and Honky Tonk Angels — the Jersey Girls will be singing their hearts out well into July.

Feb. 23, 2018: City of Gainesville Announces 2018 Free Fridays Lineup

The 2018 Free Fridays Concert Series begins May 4 with a tribute to fallen music legends, including Gainesville’s Tom Petty, and concludes six months later, on Oct. 19, with the UF World Music Ensembles.

The music series, held each Friday night for 25 consecutive weeks, takes place from 8-10 p.m. at Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville.

Here’s the rundown of concerts for 2018:

May 4: Sing Me Back Home: In Memoriam to the Music of Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard and Gregg Allman. By Mike Boulware and Friends.

May 11: The Nancy Luca Band with Anna Marie (classic rock)

May 18: A Tribute to the Music of Jackson Brown by Mike Marino and Friends.

May 25: The Gainesville Big Band (big band and jazz standards)

June is African American Music Appreciation Month

June 1: Little Jake & the Soul Searchers (R&B, soul)

June 8: 21 Blue with Longineu Parsons and Ted Shumate (blues)

June 15: The Shakedown (blues, rock)

June 22: Fast Lane (funk/soul/R&B)

June 29: Savants of Soul (soul, rock, indie)

July 6: All American Song Fest: Showtime Shenanigans (All American show tunes) by John Lowe and Will Winter

July 13: Wax Wings (jazz, folk)

July 20: Pine (folk)

July 27: A Tribute to the Music of Santana and Janis Joplin by Crooked Counsel

Aug. 3: Bridget Kelly (blues)

Aug. 10: The Duppies (ska, reggae)

Aug. 17: Heavy Petty/Hedges (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Tribute and originals)

Aug. 24: A Tribute to the Music of Buffalo Springfield by Mark Miale, Tony McMahon and Friends

Aug 31: The Progressive Rock Experience (A Tribute to ’70s Progressive Rock Bands with covers of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Deep Purple, Genesis, Kansas, Styx and Elton John)

Sept. 7: The Shambles (classic rock)

Sept 14: The Impostors (Beatles tribute)

Sept. 21: Michael Claytor & His Friends (folk, pop)

Sept. 28: Gilberto de Paz and Tropix (Latin fusion) in partnership with the Gainesville Latino Film Festival

Oct. 5: Both Sides Now: A Tribute to the Music of Joni Mitchell by Cathy DeWitt and Friends

Oct. 12: A Tribute to the Music of the Woodstock Era Highlighting the Work of Jimi Hendrix by The Relics and Michael Derry and Friends

Oct. 19: UF World Music Ensembles: Jacaré Brazil, Agbedidi Africa, Sunshine Steelers and & Pazeni Sauti African Choir

(All shows may be subject to change)

The Free Fridays Concert Series is presented by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department.

Oct. 12, 2017: Two Events to Honor Tom Petty at Downtown Venues

When Tom Petty died on Oct. 2 in Los Angeles after suffering cardiac arrest, it took awhile for his friends and fans to process the sad news. After all, no one had expected the rock and roll legend to leave us at the age of 66, only a week after finishing his latest tour with his band, the Heartbreakers.

The mural honoring Tom Petty on the 34th Street Wall.

Gainesville, where Petty was born on Oct. 20, 1950, and where he played his first gigs as a teenager, quickly responded to Petty’s death by painting a memorial mural on the 34th Street Wall. A few days later, 88,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin sang Petty’s iconic “I Won’t Back Down” between the third and fourth quarters of the LSU-Florida game, raising goosebumps across the nation on CBS.

Next week, the tributes to Petty continue when two venues off South Main Street in Gainesville host events to celebrate the singer/songwriter’s life and music.

On Friday. Oct. 20 — on what would have been Petty’s 67th birthday — the Heartwood Soundstage will have a Free Tom Petty Tribute featuring Heavy Petty, a Gainesville-based Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band fronted by Jason Hedges.

A day later, on Saturday, Oct. 21, the First Magnitude Brewing Co. will sponsor Tom Petty: A Celebration starting at noon and ending at 6 p.m. The afternoon event, at 1220 SE Veitch St., will feature local musicians taking turns performing Petty’s songs.

The Friday night event at Heartwood Soundstage, 619 S. Main St., starts at 6 p.m. (Doors open at 5.) There will also be special musical guests, food truck and a bounce house for the kids. (After all, it is a birthday party.)

Tickets are free but limited. You can reserve tickets by going to eventbrite.com.

More details about both events will appear later this week at gainesvilledowntown.com.

Oct. 9, 2017: White Buffalo Bar Opening Soon on South Main Street

A new craft cocktail and craft beer bar is getting ready to open at 111 S. Main St., in a storefront previously occupied by The Rock Church of Gainesville and, before that, Happy Hour Billiards.

White Buffalo is expected to have a soft opening this weekend and its grand opening a week or two later, according to owner Erik Zika, a partner in Gainesville-based Three Points Hospitality, which owns Original American Kitchen (O.A.K.). However, Zika said that White Buffalo is a solo project of his.

“I’m featuring the small-batch distilleries that are popping up everywhere,” Zika told gainesvilledowntown.com. “It will be a west-coast influence on cocktails. They use things like hop-infused oils in their cocktails.”

The 3,300-square-foot building will feature a large square bar with a walk-in cooler in the center of the bar that will hold enough kegs to supply 14 taps of craft beer. There will also be a small bar-food menu.

Zika describes the bar’s atmosphere as “antique,” but he added that it will not be a so-called country bar despite its name.

The name White Buffalo pays homage to an animal that  is considered sacred or spiritually significant in several Native American religions. Such buffalo are often visited for prayer and other religious rituals.

“If you look it up in the dictionary, it’s one of the rarest animals out there,” Zika said, adding that the term “white buffalo” is also urban slang for “the one that got away” or “first love.” It was coined in the movie Hot Tub Time Machine.

A large stenciled white buffalo was recently painted on the building’s facade, directly across Main Street from Rockey’s Dueling Piano Bar.

Oct. 3: Civic Media Center to Celebrate Life of Stetson Kennedy 

Long before white supremacy became a daily topic of conversation, Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, exposing its secrets to authorities and the outside world on the popular children’s radio program “The Adventures of Superman.”

Stetson Kennedy

Kennedy, who attended the University of Florida during the Great Depression but never graduated, authored 10 books and led a life of activism right up until his death on Aug. 27, 2011.

The  folklorist, human rights organizer and environmentalist would have turned 101 years old on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, the Civic Media Center will host a celebration of Stetson Kennedy’s life highlighted by a Power-Point presentation by Sandra Parks, the woman he shared the last years of his busy life with and the director of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation (SKF). There will also be music, cake and a sale of Kennedy’s books.

“Living a Life of Purpose” covers 80 years of activism, from organizing against anti-Semitism as a 14-year-old to marching with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in their fight for higher wages at 94 years old. In between those years, Kennedy infiltrated the KKK and engaged in other organizing and journalistic endeavors in support of the Black freedom movement.

As a journalist, he wrote innumerable articles, was awarded many speaking engagements and cultivated friendships with Woody Guthrie, Studs Terkel and Jean Paul Sartre, among many others.

The CMC has a special relationship with Kennedy as he donated over 2,000 books from his personal library to the CMC’s collection, where they are available to be checked out with a donation-based membership.

This celebration of Stetson’s life and work will feature a birthday cake and other refreshments.

Musical entertainment for the evening will be provided by singer/songwriter Cathy DeWitt, Kennedy’s longtime friend, co-founder of the UF/Shands Arts in Medicine program, and winner of SKF’s Fellow Man and Mother Earth award. (DeWitt’s own birthday happens to fall on Oct. 4.)

The event begins at 7 p.m. and is free, but donations are accepted.

Oct. 1, 2017: Festival Poster to Feature Gainesville Folk Artist

The poster for the 36th annual Downtown Festival Art, featuring paintings by Alyne Harris.

Longtime Gainesville folk artist Alyne Harris, whose colorful paintings of flowers, animals and religious themes have earned national recognition, has been selected as the poster artist for the 36th annual Gainesville Downtown Festival & Art Show next month.

Harris, 75, was at a loss for words when she first heard the news.

“It’s such a nice honor,” she said on the front porch of her home in the Porters Community, less than a mile from where the festival will take place Nov. 11-12.

Alyne Harris poses next to some of her paintings earlier this year during the 5th Avenue Arts Festival. (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

This year’s festival poster will feature two animal-themed images by Harris. One is a red dog with pointed ears whose nose appears to be snooping around. There is an even redder bird that has landed on its back.

The other painting by Harris is a wide-eyed black cat who has “trapped” three mice in its belly. Over the cat’s shoulder, three mice “ghosts” appear to be floating through the sky.

“The cat painting is one of Alyne’s particular imaginary — but so sincere — tales,” said Anne E. Gilroy, curator of the Thomas Center Galleries and owner of the artwork. “The cat ate cheese to lure the mouse [the square is the inside of the cat] and then the cat ate the mice. The three mice in the sky are the mice angels (or maybe souls) going to heaven.”

Sunny Andrei, second-year coordinator of the Downtown Festival & Art Show for the City of Gainesville, said it was difficult to narrow down the artist’s work.

“We looked at a lot of Alyne’s paintings and decided these two pieces captured the artistic features as well as the fun of the art show,” Andrei said.

Andrei added that it was Gilroy’s idea to recommend Harris as the poster artist.

“I’ve done a lot of shows in the past couple of years that feature the work of artists from Gainesville who are no longer with us: Lennie Kesl, Jesse Aaron, Eddy Mumma,” Gilroy said. “It just struck me that honoring Alyne, who is in the national canon of self-taught artists, while she is still a living and working artist, would be a great idea.”

Gilroy credits Harris with having “an intuitive, unschooled and vigorous style” of painting.

“She likes to tell a tale with her work — animals, landscapes, imaginary subject all have something going on that she likes to talk about and that was important to her as she painted.”

Harris’ Americana-style work has often been described as “primitive” or even “naive” for its rough and simple look that resembles children’s drawings.

“I met her years ago— her work literally stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it,” Gilroy said.

“Like many self-taught artists, her work is uneven in many ways. But the power of her imagery and the tale she is telling make the successful pieces quite powerful and wonderful. People respond to her work.”

Being the Downtown Festival & Art Show poster artist does not carry a cash award, but Harris will receive free booth space this year and will be provided a batch of festival T-shirts with her painted images on them. She said she has already received requests from relatives for the T-shirts.

Also, Harris will sign a number of posters that will be sold to attendees of the festival.

For further info on this year’s art show, visit the Downtown Festival & Art Show website.

Sept. 17, 2017: Dance Alive’s Sneak Preview to Christen Cade Museum

Anyone who wants a first look inside the brand new Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention on South Main Street can do so next month when Dance Alive National Ballet hosts its annual Meet the Dancers night on Oct. 6.

Guests will be treated to a preview of the company’s 2017-18 season — its 52nd overall — and will have the opportunity to meet and mingle with the company’s international dancers from Brazil, Cuba, Ukraine, Turkey and Russia.

There will be wine and champagne, hors d’oeuvres by Sweetwater Catering Co., music provided by Pristine Stringz, and beautiful decor and atmosphere created by Unforgettable Events. Also, Ben Campen will auction off various trips, a unique “Mayor for a Day” experience and more.

The program includes an excerpt from Apollo danced by Sergii Sydorskyii, Bailero danced by Carla Amancio and Andre Valladon and Spirits of the Forest performed by Gretel Batista and Fhilipe TeixeiraAni Collier has created a new work for this performance for Jessie Dominguez and new principal Aaron Gomez, while Yulia Pivotskaya and Roberto Vega will dance a selection from Carmen.

Poet Lola Haskins, choreographer Judy Skinner and Ashley Brooke Lunn will present a section from Waiting that will be performed Oct. 26.  Looking forward to the Dancing with the Stars Gala, Julia Ponomareva and Alexsey Kuznetsov will dance Tango de Roxanne and then Sergii Sydorskyii will present his newest work, Shadows, featuring Andre Valladon, Barbara Varady, Aaron Gomez, Buse Babadag, Beatrix Povoas and Rachel Ridley.

The program closes with selections from the audience favorite L’amour! 

There will also be a special presentation to Nathan and Ani Collier for their generous contributions to Dance Alive National Ballet.

The event begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $75 each. Seating is limited. To purchase tickets, go to eventbrite.com. You can also call Dance Alive during regular business hours at 352.371.2986.

Dance Alive begins its new season on Oct. 26 with Aspire at the UF Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The season also includes Nutcracker on Dec. 15-17 and L’Amour on Feb. 14.

For further info, visit the Dance Alive National Ballet website.

Sept. 3, 2017: The Comings and Goings of Downtown Gainesville

The past month has been an eventful one in downtown Gainesville with a few businesses closing for good and several opening or changing hands. Heck, even the controversial Old Joe statue in front of the County Administration Building came down over the summer after 100 years, signaling that change for everything is inevitable.

This post is intended to bring you up to speed on everything that we at gainesvilledowntown.com are aware of. First, the closings. …

Our blog post is called University & Main, and two restaurants on that exact corner have recently shuttered their doors. Sweet Mel’s closed last Thursday at 1 W. University Ave. after six years of serving some of the tastiest burgers in town, including something called the Peanut Butter Jelly Time burger. Directly across the street, at 2 W. University Ave., Harvest Thyme Cafe closed over the summer so that owners could focus on their Magnolia Parke location on Northwest 39th Avenue.

Another closure worth noting this summer is Whiskey House, 60 SW 2nd St. Owners closed the bar in May for renovations, including a proposed kitchen, but the storefront beneath the Southwest Parking Garage is now vacant and seeking new tenants.

One block north, at 12 SW 2nd St., the late-night comfort food eatery Gator Baked lasted less than a year before going out of business. The good news is that the location was quickly swiped up by Cookiegazm, specializing in oven-fresh, made-to-order cookies. The student-run “micro-bakery” had operated out of the Omi’s Tavern kitchen since early 2016.

Meanwhile, Cyclops Cinema, 10 E. University, has changed its business model this summer to a full-fledged movie-screening house. As of Aug. 1, owner Jason McNeal no longer rents DVDs despite having an amazing inventory of 8,000 titles. However, Cyclops Cinema now screens as many as three independent or classic — and often quirky — movies a day and is well worth community support.

There are other businesses opening in downtown Gainesville. We’ve already told you about Madrina’s, at 9 W. University Ave. The cocktail bar specializes in rum-based drinks, including four types of frozen daiquiris, and has a distinct Cuba vibe. (In case you missed, read our article: Madrina’s Brings Charm of Old Havana to Town.)

Meanwhile, the restaurant/bar space at 104 S. Main St., formerly home to Five Bar, is expected to finally reopen later this fall after 20 months of renovations. According to one of its owners, the restaurant will have an Irish pub vibe but will not be called Spring Brothers, as originally envisioned. However, it will still have family ties to similar pubs in Miami Beach, Boynton Beach and Geneva, Switzerland.

The Florida Theater as it looked in its early days, circa 1939. (Photo courtesy of Alachua County Library District Heritage Collection)

Perhaps the biggest news for downtown Gainesville is the recent change of ownership of the Florida Theater, 235 W. University Ave. Once Gainesville’s premier concert venue — best known as the Great Southern Music Hall in the 1970s and ’80s — the historic movie house opened in 1928 and was most recently known simply as the Venue.

Two weeks ago, Gainesville entrepreneur Bill Bryson closed on the theater for an undisclosed price. Bryson (not to be confused with the best-selling author of “A Walk in the Woods” fame) is the brainchild behind the Cypress Sessions television show, Grow Radio and The Conch Storytelling Project as well as co-owner of Crane Ramen and the aforementioned Madrina’s.

Bryson, who owns a 150-acre cattle ranch in Waldo, moved to the area from North Carolina in the early 1990s. He opened the Covered Dish, which is now the concert venue called High Dive. Several years later, he co-founded Satellite magazine that kept up with the local entertainment scene.

Bryson’s goal is to return the Florida Theater to its past glory. Such music legends as Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Buffett and Blood, Sweat & Tears graced its stage when it was known as the Great Southern Music Hall and seated more than 1,000. The venue also included the Backstage Bar for dance bands and The Wine Cellar for acoustic music.

Bryson said not to expect any major renovations to take place immediately on the theater, which is in disrepair and has no permanent seating. But you can bet that if Bryson has his way, the Florida Theater marquee will be glowing again soon and the venue will echo with great music.

Do you have any news or events related to downtown Gainesville that you would like us to post? Please send us an email with all the details to gainesvilledowntown@yahoo.com.

Aug. 23, 2017: 1984 “One City, One Story” Reading Initiative Begins

The Hippodrome will bring together the Gainesville community this month with the help of George Orwell.

In partnership with the UF School of Theatre + Dance, the Hippodrome Theatre will bring Orwell’s classic novel, “1984,” to life on its mainstage in a Southeast regional premier. As a part of this theatrical adaption, the Hippodrome is spearheading a community-wide reading initiative titled One City, One Story.

The project kicks off Thursday night at 6:30 with Drinks + Dystopia, a Hippodrome book club, in the theater’s basement at 25 SE 2nd Place. The One City, One Story initiative seeks to explore Orwell’s notions of freedom as slavery, ignorance as strength and war as peace — themes that are as relevant today as when the novel was originally published in 1949, said Stephanie Lynge, Hippodrome artistic associate.

Through a variety of engaging events, including the book-club discussion on Thursday and several community readings, the Hippodrome hopes to open up a city-wide dialogue that dives into the novel’s critique of politics and society.

“This project is important because it brings our community together,” Lynge said. “And anything that can bring our diverse community together is important.”

Throughout August, the Hippodrome encourages Gainesville community members to read “1984,” which is available at a variety of local bookstores and at the Alachua County Library. The Alachua County Library District will facilitate the Hippodrome’s Drinks + Dystopia book club event, which offers an opportunity for local book lovers to celebrate “1984” over wine and appetizers. A full cash bar will be open during the event.

“The Alachua County Library District is delighted to be a part of the One City, One Story community-wide reading and conversation about ‘1984,’ a novel that considers the consequences of leadership that is unfeeling and cruel,” said Fiona Lama, library specialist.

The UF School of Theatre + Dance is also proud to be a part of this community initiative, said director Jerry Dickey.

“Audiences will be able to enrich their experience of seeing this powerful and timely work on the stage,” he said. “It’s an honor for the School of Theatre + Dance to partner with the Hipp on this project.”

Here is a complete list of events related to One City, One Story:

Thursday: Drinks + Dystopia: A Hipp Book Club, 6:30-9 p.m., Hippodrome Basement. Come drink wine, meet your fellow book lovers and explore the classic novel “1984” in the Hippodrome Basement during this engaging event. In partnership with the Alachua County Library District. Appetizers provided. Full cash bar.

Friday: Auditions for Readings of 1984, 4-6 p.m., Hippodrome Rehearsal Room. Join the Hippodrome team to participate in readings of “1984” throughout the community during September. Looking for seniors and high school students. Participants will read an excerpt from a novel of their choice, which they should bring to the auditions on the Hippodrome’s third floor. Signs will direct participants to the rehearsal room.

Aug. 30: Community Reading: Stars on the Steps, 5:30 p.m., Hippodrome Front Steps. Join your fellow citizens on the steps of the Hippodrome to read dramatic excerpts from the novel “1984.” (Harvey Ward, Keith Watson, Rob Rush and more!)

Sept. 12: Orwell’s Future, Our Present, 9 p.m., Hippodrome Mainstage. Attend a fascinating lecture with Alex Woloch, Professor and Chair of the Department of English at Stanford University and an Orwellian scholar. Talk will follow the 7 p.m. performance of 1984 to discuss Orwell’s framework as a writer and his relevance in this contemporary political movement.

Sept. 15: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, 4-5 p.m., Alachua County Library Headquarters, 401 E. University Ave. Attend a theatrical reading and discussion of the themes present in 1984 — through the context of multi-generational perspectives. In collaboration with the Alachua County Library District.

Be on the lookout for more events to come, including a panel of UF journalism professors discussing “fake news,” talkbacks with cast and crew of the 1984 mainstage production, an artistic event series featuringthe Hipp’s Teen Ensemble and more.

To view the complete list of upcoming events, patrons can visit thehipp.org or find the Hippodrome on Facebook.

“We’re excited to be opening up a discussion using something that feels relevant and fresh,” Lynge said.

Aug. 18, 2017: Hippodrome Embarks on “Stand with the Hipp” Campaign

The Hippodrome Theatre

As the Hippodrome Theatre prepares for its 45th season, Gainesville’s only professional theater company is calling for community members to “Stand with the Hipp” to assure its long-term success.

This year, the Florida state legislature further slashed its allocation for cultural grants. Facing over $100,000 in state grant cuts, the Hippodrome is fundraising to bridge the gap and provide uninterrupted programming and services to the community.

For more than four decades, the Hippodrome has been steadfast in its commitment to inclusion, diversity and acceptance. Exploring shared humanity and tackling tough questions through the arts has been at the core of its mission — and it has never been more important than now.

As Gainesville and UF move up in the ranks, the Hippodrome Theatre is moving right with them. The theater has expanded its independent cinema offerings, opened up more acting classes for kids and adults, and established its first permanent company of professional Equity actors.

Recent shows such as Hamlet and the summer musical Forever Plaid have been hailed as among some of the Hippodrome’s best productions in years, and anticipation is growing for its co-production of George Orwell’s 1984 in conjunction with the UF School of Theatre + Dance. The production opens Sept. 1 following two nights of discounted previews.

“Our theatre is a home to many and a safe space for all,” said Hippodrome managing director Jessica Hurov. “Art is meant to create an open dialogue, start conversations and allow for genuine human connections. That’s why we need our community to stand with us now, as it’s always done.”

To “Stand with the Hipp,” community members can donate directly to the organization via its Facebook donation page.

June 4, 2017: Pokémon Illustrator to Provide Demo at Downtown Library

Mitsuhiro Arita

Mitsuhiro Arita, a freelance illustrator who has been providing artwork for the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) since its inception, will make an appearance on Thursday, June 8, at the Alachua County Headquarters Library, 111 E. University Ave. The event begins at 1 p.m. in Meeting Room B and is open to the public.

Arita will conduct a live demonstration of his artwork and will also discuss his work as a professional illustrator. Fans of Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Star Wars and art in general are sure to enjoy this program.

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, and currently living in Tokyo, Arita started his career as a professional illustrator in 1996, when he began work on the Pokémon TCG during its prototype stage. He has continued to work on it for the past 20-plus years. He also designed the first five energy symbols for the game. Anyone familiar with this popular card game has most likely admired Arita’s artwork.

An example of Arita’s Pokémon TCG work.

Arita’s coloring style has changed over the years. His earlier illustrations were often a mix of watercolor or pastel with distinct outlines, but he has developed a more fluid style that emphasizes the use of vibrant colors, as well as light and shadow to create dynamic and realistic looking images. Many of his images also use high and low angles, or tilt, to help achieve this.

While working on the Pokémon TCG, Arita did some work with the small Japanese publisher Shinkigensha on books mainly about mythology, history and fantasy subjects. He has done more than 100 card illustrations for the computer card and board game Culdcept. He also spent 10-plus years working on the world of Final Fantasy XI, named “Vana’diel,” created by Kenichi Iwao.

For further info on Arita, visit his website or follow him on Facebook.

May 7, 2017: Dance Alive Performer Accepted Into Juilliard School of Dance

Mia Caceres-Nielsen

Mia Caceres-Nielsen, who has performed with Gainesville’s Dance Alive National Ballet company the past several seasons, has been accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City.

Caceres-Nielsen, a senior dance major at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, is one of only 24 students to be accepted into the Juilliard School of Dance for the 2017-18 academic year.

“I think everyone that applies knows that it’s a very long shot to get in,” Mia, 17, told WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach.

Mia’s mother, Monica Sue Nielsen, added: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Only 12 girls and 12 boys get in each year to the [Juilliard] BFA dance program.”

Since 2011, Mia and her mother have commuted between South Florida and Gainesville for Mia to train with and perform with Dance Alive National Ballet under the direction of Kim Tuttle. Mia was elevated to professional status this past year.

“Mia is an extremely talented and intelligent young woman,” said Tuttle, DANB’s executive/artistic director and choreographer-in-residence.

“She had a beautiful solo in Judy Skinner’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ which we did on tour extensively. She was also showcased in ‘Firebird’ and did beautiful work in ‘Corroboree.’ She traveled with us on all of our ‘Nutcracker’ tours, dancing corps parts and Chinese ribbon girl.”

Mia Caceres-Nielsen

Mia is a senior in high school and taking college classes while also training with her performing arts high school and with Deborah Marquez at School of Ballet Arts in West Palm Beach. Now she is headed to New York City and Juilliard in the fall. Before attending Juilliard, Mia will attend Alonzo King Lines Summer Intensive on scholarship.

“She committed [to Juilliard] on a wing and a prayer,” Monica Sue Nielsen said. “I’m a single mom, so we are hoping for scholarships she has applied and will apply to. We also have a GoFundMe for just a portion of our unmet need.”

To help Caceres-Nielsen meet her financial goals, visit her GoFundMe site and consider making a contribution.

“I intend to do work study and am willing to take some student loans,” Mia said on her GoFundMe page. “But I am also trying to help by raising funds to cover a portion of my unmet need.  I would be forever grateful for any contribution to my campaign.”

The Juilliard Dance Division, entering its 66th season in 2017-18, is a groundbreaking conservatory dance program whose faculty and alumni have changed the face of dance around the world.

Notable alumni of Juilliard’s Dance Division include Robert Battle, Pina Bausch, Martha Clarke, Mercedes Ellington, Robert Garland, Charlotte Griffin, Kazuko Hirabayashi, Adam Hougland, Saeko Ichinohe, Loni Landon, Jessica Lang, Lar Lubovitch, Bruce Marks, Susan Marshall, Austin McCormick, Andrea Miller, Ohad Naharin, and Paul Taylor.

Tuttle, who took over the artistic reins of Dance Alive National Ballet three decades ago, said she has no doubt that Caceres-Nielsen will flourish at Juilliard.

“Mia is tall, elegant, athletic. She is musical and smart. She can learn anything from video, which is part of the reason she could sustain the grueling schedule she was on,” Tuttle said. “All the time, she kept her composure, was pleasant to everyone, kept her work ethic, didn’t miss rehearsals or performances due to illness or injury, and persisted in this crazy schedule until the season was over.”

Added Tuttle: “I will miss her. It’s her time to explore the world.”

Meanwhile, Dance Alive National Ballet will begin its 52nd season this fall, starting with “Aspire!” on Oct. 26. For further info, visit the DANB website.

(Watch a TV news story about Mia Caceres-Nielsen by going to the WPBF-Channel 25 website.)

April 10, 2017: Cypress Sessions Makes Broadcast Debut Thursday

Florida is notorious for many things — both savory and otherwise — but it is not often when music from the state commands attention.

Cypress Sessions is a unique television program devoted to showcasing the fine musical talent hailing from the Sunshine State. The variety of styles and songs and performers connected to the state is astonishing.

Gainesville’s Michael Claytor will appear on Cypress Sessions on April 20. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

After filming seven Florida artists performing concerts, Cypress Sessions will broadcast those episodes on WUFT-TV (Channel 5) beginning Thursday at 10 p.m. and continuing through May 25.

Concerts/episodes were taped last fall in the Squitieri Studio Theater at UF’s  Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on a set designed by Gainesville-based artists Evan Galbika and Senta Achee. The subjects were also filmed in favorite spots in Florida, revealing some of the nuances behind their personalities, their music and their connections to the state.

Cypress Sessions will partner with the new Heartwood Soundstage, 619 S. Main St., to host early screenings at 7 p.m, on the evenings of the air dates. It will be a unique opportunity to view the episodes before anyone else.

Cypress Sessions aims to showcase a broad spectrum of the state’s finest musical artists. The artists included in the first season represent a small sample of the variety of great music coming from Florida.

In its inaugural season, the show features the sacred steel of the Miami-based Lee Boys, the real blues of Ocala’s Willie Green, the bountiful storytelling songs of Gainesville’s Michael Claytor (and Friends), the melodious and ever-joyful Currys from Port St Joe, the ethereal while heavy-hitting Galactic Country of Venus and the Moon (raised in Alachua County), Pensacola’s Jim White weaving tales and tunes from the edges, and the Florida-flavored alt country of Big Shoals from Gainesville.

Here is the week-by-week broadcast schedule for Cypress Sessions:

April 13 — Jim White
April 20 — Michael Claytor and Friends
April 27 — Big Shoals
May 4 — The Currys
May 11 — Venus and the Moon
May 18 — Willie Green
May 25 — The Lee Boys

April 6, 2017: Happy Town Everything Store Throwing Three-Day Party

At first glance, the square block behind 516 SW 1st St. in the Porters Community resembles an abandoned lot next to several ramshackle  tin-roof buildings. In a corner of a weed-filled area sits an old trolley-style bus advertising Lillian’s Music Store.

This weekend, however, that once-derelict warehouse will become downtown Gainesville’s latest music venue when it hosts something called the Happy Town Everything Party. The three-day event, featuring more than 15 bands and several food trucks, begins today at 3 p.m. and at noon on both Saturday and Sunday.

Daily tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. VIP tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door (and the only way to access alcohol at the event).

Happy Tree Music is hosting the event and will use proceeds to raise money for the Alachua County Public Schools K-12 music and arts programs, cancer research and family support, as well as compassionate homeless outreach.

Today’s lineup includes the Shambles, 7-8:30 p.m.; Mama Trish vs. Godzilla, 9-10:30 p.m.; and Come Back Alice, 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m.

Ray Steel in front of Happy Tree Music. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Saturday’s lineup includes Barbara Paul Ambrecht, 2-3 p.m.; Carrie Schumann, 3:30-4:30 p.m.; Barry Sides, 5-6 p.m.; The Couch Messiahs, 7-8 p.m.; ShanyTown (featuring Van Zant nephews Robbie and Little Ronnie Morris of the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd music family), 8:30-10:30 p.m.; Morning Fatty, 10:30-11:30 p.m.; and Locochino, midnight-1 a.m.

Sunday’s lineup includes Alivia Hunter, Shanti Cake and the Gainesville Homeschool Chorus, 3-4 p.m.; Maca Reggae Samba, 4:30-5:30 p.m.; Secret Jam, 5:45-6:15 p.m.; Hail! Cassius Neptune, 6:30-7:30 p.m.; and Deep Roots (featuring Li Diddley and Bo Diddley Family Band), 8-9 p.m.

Ray Steel, owner of Happy Tree Music, said he has spent the past five months ridding the property of old restaurant equipment and old car parts left by previous owners. Steel’s goal is to open a business called the Happy Town Everything Store that will include everything from a small grocery store to study space with powerful internet and reliable printers for college students.

“We will slowly learn what people want and then provide it,” Steel said. “It’s been very challenging just to get to this point.”

Steel refers to the entire compound as Happy Town. Future plans call for a restaurant, but for now, one or more food trucks will be onsite on a regular basis.

Steel, a musician, will teach music at Happy Tree Music, which also produces drums.

“I took a chance on this place because it’s located near the new Cade Museum and Depot Park and across Main Street from Akira Wood and the new Heartwood Soundstage,” he said.

Blake Briand, a keyboardist for the band Locochino and former owner of The Jam nightspot, said that he is impressed by Steel’s determination.

“Coming from the Jam, I sympathize 100 percent with something that’s rough around the edges and trying to improve it with money, time and effort,” Briand said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re going to do here.”

In addition to the music and food trucks, the Happy Town Everything Party will feature games, prizes, a raffle, performances by the S-Connection trapeze team as well as dancing.

For further info, including tickets, visit the Happy Tree Music website.

March 7, 2017: Free Fridays Begins New Season on April 14

The City of Gainesville’s Free Fridays Concert Series starts anew on April 14 with a tribute to the music of James Taylor, featuring Mike Boulware and Friends and Family. The concerts, spanning every genre of music, will continue weekly (except May 5) through Oct. 20.

Each concert takes place from 8-10 p.m. at Bo Diddley Plaza.

Here is this year’s complete lineup:

April 14: James Taylor Tribute (Mike Boulware and Friends and Family)
April 21: Hot Club de Ville (Gypsy Jazz)
April 28: Flat Land (Rock, Funk, and Blues)

May 5: No concert
May 12: Fast Lane (Funk, Soul, and R&B)
May 19: A Tribute to the Music of the Grateful Dead (The Couch Messiahs, The Shambles and Uncle Mosie)
May 26: The Nancy Luca Band with Anna Marie Kirkpatrick (Classic Rock)

June 2: Little Jake Mitchell and The Soul Searchers (R&B, Soul)
June 9: Longineu Parsons and Ted Shumate (Blues)
June 16: Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu (Vudu Rawk, Ska)
June 23: A Tribute to the Music of Curtis Mayfield, with Travis Atria and Friends
June 30: De Lions of Jah (Reggae)

July 7: The All-American Song Fest: The High Nooners (A Musical Tribute to the American West with Michael Claytor and Friends)
July 14: The Delta Troubadours (Rock, Blues Rock, Garage Rock)
July 21: Wax Wings (Jazz, Folks)
July 28: Bridget Kelly Band (Blues)

Aug. 4: The Irie Ones (Reggae)
Aug. 11: The Savants of Soul (Soul, Blues, Jazz, Rock, Punk, Ska)
Aug. 18: Captive Eddies (Original Rock, Reggae, and Roots)
Aug. 25: The Shambles (Classic Rock)

Sept. 1: Heavy Petty/Hedges (Tom Petty Tribute and Original Rock)
Sept. 8: The Duppies (Ska, Reggae)
Sept. 15: The Impostors (Beatles Tribute)
Sept. 22: Wild Blue Yonder (Classic Rock)
Sept. 29: Gilberto de Paz and Tropix (Latin Fusion) In Partnership with the Latino Film Festival

Oct. 6: A Tribute to the Music of Eric Clapton and JJ Cale (Mark Miale, Tony McMahon and Friends)
Oct. 13: Gram Fest (Gram Parsons Tribute) Various Artists
Oct. 20: UF World Music Ensembles with Agbedidi Africa, Jacare Brazil, and More!

Feb. 27, 2017: Acrosstown Extends Tommy By Four Performances

Thanks to overwhelming demand, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre has extended its production of The Who’s Tommy through Sunday, March 12. The production runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

An exhilarating, high-energy, one-of-a-kind musical theatrical event, this five-time Tony-Award-winning musical has inspired, amazed and puzzled audiences for more than 40 years. The intoxicating score is timeless in its youthful appeal, and a cross-generational smash hit. This powerful tale of an abused deaf mute and blind pinball player who becomes an international messiah bursts onto the stage with songs such as “See Me, Touch Me,” “I’m Free” and “Pinball Wizard.”

Credits: Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend, book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, additional music and lyrics by John Entwhistle and Keith Moon with Kardana Productions; original projections created by Wendall K. Harrington; directed by Ted Lewis.

The Acrosstown Repertory Theater is located at 619 S. Main St., in the historic Baird Center. Purchase tickets using a credit card or PayPal. Tickets are $15 for the general public (discounted for seniors, students, veterans and active military) and may be purchased at the ART website (http://www.acrosstown.org/201 7-02-the-whos-tommy). A limited number of tickets are also available at the door 30 minutes before showtime.

The Who’s Tommy is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.MTIShows.com

Feb. 16, 2017: Eight Seconds Relaunches Country Nightclub

The “Cowboys” saloon sign has come down and the “:08” sign has gone back up at 201 W. University Ave., signalling the return of the once-popular country music and dance club in downtown Gainesville. The bar will have a grand reopening tonight and be open each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

Eight Seconds closed in the summer of 2015 only to be replaced by Cowboys Saloon, part of a chain of country-themed bars based in South Florida. The owners of Cowboys never succeeded in North Central Florida, according to Frank Lewis, who takes over as manager of the new :08 Seconds.

“I knew they weren’t going to make it because they didn’t know the demographics of this area,” Lewis said. “They went bankrupt pretty much the first six months.”

Lewis, 33, said a country bar can and will do well in this area with a good mix of drinks and entertainment at the right price.

“We’re not greedy. In fact, we want to be known as the cheapest bar in town,” he said.

By that, Lewis means offering domestic beer for $2 a bottle and imported beer for $3. Eight Seconds also will offer a full liquor bar.

In terms of entertainment, :08 Seconds will specialize in nightly line dancing but also will regularly offer live music. Next Thursday, Feb. 23, Nashville’s J.B. Crockett will appear in concert. Local artists, such as Clay Brooker, will be booked for future shows. There will also be fundraising events for local charities, Lewis said.

Eight Seconds had an unofficial opening last Sunday night when it hosted FEST Wrestling’s “Love is a Battlefield” event that drew several hundred people.

Lewis, a Hawthorne native, said :08 Seconds is sentimental to him. He’s attended two wedding and three memorial services in the spacious building, which has a capacity of 1,047. In fact, Lewis believes so much in the future of :08 Seconds that he had the bar’s original logo tattooed on his forearm.

“We’re gonna bring the life back downtown, I guarantee that,” Lewis said.

Feb. 14, 2017: Matheson Museum to Cut Ribbon on New Library

The staff and board of directors of the Matheson History Museum will welcome guests and supporters of the museum to enjoy an evening of champagne and hand-dipped chocolate strawberries on Thursday from 6-8 p.m. to celebrate the completed renovation of the new Matheson Library & Archives building, 418 E. University Ave. Tickets are $75 in advance or $80 at the door and can be purchased through the Matheson Museum website.

The building, which was purchased by the museum in 2014, began as the Gainesville Gospel Tabernacle Church in the 1930s. Most recently it was the Melting Pot Restaurant from 1982-2009, where many Gainesville couples had their first date or became engaged.

Melanie Barr, historic preservationist and member of the Alachua County Historical Commission, will give a brief history of the building. Hope Meucci, former owner of the Melting Pot restaurant, will share memories of that time. There will also be remarks from Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell and former Matheson Board member Dr. Mark Barrow.

Proceeds from ticket sales and a silent auction will raise money to furnish and equip the Library & Archives with furniture, archival supplies, computers and shelving.

In July 2015 the museum received a $300,000 special category grant from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. This generous grant, along with donations from private donors in the community, funded the preservation and restoration of the historic building, which has been renovated as a place for future visitors and researchers to enjoy.

The museum’s main building, at 513 E University Ave., will remain an exhibition space. The former library will become additional exhibition space once the books and archives are transferred to the new building.

Feb. 12, 2017: Hippodrome Wearing Forever Plaid as Summer Musical

Forever Plaid, a revue of the close-harmony “guy groups” (The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen, etc.) that reached the height of their popularity during the 1950s, will take over the mainstage at the Hippodrome Theatre this summer. Opening Night is June 2, following two nights of previews.

Forever Plaid is the heartwarming and charming story of four young men who are killed in an automobile accident and then, through a series of bizarre events, get one last opportunity to entertain — proving that their spirits still live on.

The show, which offers an entertaining musical mix of ’50s and ’60s rock n’ roll, and popular show and dance tunes blended with witty comedy, has delighted audiences nationwide since its off-Broadway debut in 1989. The songs they sing during the course of the musical include “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Moments to Remember,” “No, Not Much,” “Rags to Riches” and “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.”

The New York Times called Forever Plaid “Letter-perfect! Sweet, funny and thoroughly amusing.”

For ticket info, visit the Hippodrome website or call the box office at 352.375.4477.

The Hippodrome’s production of Becky’s New Car, starring Nichole Hamilton in the title role, opens Feb. 24. Hamlet opens on April 14, followed by Forever Plaid.

Through Feb. 14, the Hippodrome’s regular six-ticket Flex pass is on sale for $125, a savings of 40 percent off the regular ticket price.

Dec. 27, 2016: Classic Rock Tribute Rings in 2017

The City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department hosts Downtown Countdown, a free outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration concert, in downtown Gainesville on Saturday, Dec. 31, at Bo Diddley Plaza, 111 E. University Ave. Headlining the concert are The Couch Messiahs, who will play tribute to the music of numerous rock ‘n’ roll all-star bands, including The Allman Brothers, The Band, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young and The Rolling Stones.

The Couch Messiahs

Over the years, Mick Marino, a local musician who leads The Couch Messiahs, has organized tribute concerts for each of these bands for the city’s Free Friday Concert Series. According to David Ballard, coordinator for Free Fridays and the Downtown Countdown, “These tribute shows have been some of the most popular concerts at Free Fridays, each drawing some of the largest audiences each season. The musical quality of these shows has been extraordinary and it seemed a natural fit to highlight them all at our Downtown Countdown.”

The Couch Messiahs were formed in 2007 by Marino (lead vocals, lead guitar). Marino has played music with various Gainesville bands for more than 40 years. Since 1999, he has also been the organizer and promoter of the annual GramFest, which celebrates the music of country rock inventor Gram Parsons. Bill Kellogg (drums) was a member of The Berkley Five, who had a Florida regional single “You’re Gonna Cry” in 1965. He was also a member of the Gonzo Gator Band for many years. Kenny Shore (bass guitar and vocal harmonies) previously played with many local bands, including The Archer Road Band and Skatterbrainz, and has opened for the legendary B.B. King. Paul Goble (lead guitar) also plays with the R. Mutt Blues Band.

Wild Blue Yonder

Popular local band Wild Blue Yonder opens the tribute concert at 9 p.m. Wild Blue Yonder was formed in 2015 by Allan Lowe and Jeff Sims. Recent additions include Jim Millsaps (drums) and Frank Velosi (bass). Lowe, Sims and Millsaps are all formerly of the popular band Dixie Desperados. Formed in 1976 in Gainesville, Dixie Desperados toured the southeastern U.S. roadhouse circuit and as openers/co-headliners for The Allman Brothers, Axe, Molly Hatchet, The Charlie Daniels Band, Henry Paul Band, Johnny Winter, Three Dog Night, Grinderswitch, Louisiana Leroux, Doc Holliday, Winters Brothers, Johnny Van Zant Band, Pat Travers and more as they played their brand of southern country rock.

Combining classic rock ‘n’ roll hits from other artists, along with their own special blend of original songs, Wild Blue Yonder enjoys a multi-generational audience at their shows.

Downtown Countdown begins at 9 p.m., and continues until midnight, when there will be a countdown to the new year, along with the sounds of noisemakers, which are passed out to the audience earlier in the evening.

The 2016/17 Downtown Countdown is sponsored by classic rock radio station WIND-FM (92.5, 95.5, 107.9).
The Downtown Countdown is produced by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department and funded in part by a grant from Culture Builds Florida.

Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets for seating. Alcohol is prohibited in Bo Diddley Plaza except for Steamers, where beer can be purchased and consumed.

Nov. 19, 2016: Tom Miller To Provide Definitive Conclusion on Eagles

Tom Miller stares into the mouth of Ted Cruz during a previous brave performance. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
Tom Miller stares into the gaping mouth of Ted Cruz during a previous brave performance. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Tom Miller, the Wikipedia-listed Gainesville performance artist known for his daring stunts, will endure a six-hour marathon Sunday by listening intently to every studio album recorded by The Eagles. At the conclusion, he will decide for America once and for all whether or not The Eagles suck.

“Many people have a strong opinion one way or the other about the Eagles,” said Miller, “… and people need to just take a step back and let me decide for them. Only I can decide this for the American people.”

Miller cites the following reasons why he alone can make this decision for America:

1. “I’m a musician, and I know what it takes to write both wonderful and horrible songs. I’ve done both.”

2. “I’m a Gainesville resident, and one of the founding members of the Eagles [Don Felder] is also from Gainesville. This uniquely connects me to whether or not this music sucks.”

3. “Based on my research on Google, nobody has managed to officially sit and listen to all these songs in a row. I’ll be the first person in the history of Google to actually actively listen to and evaluate every single Eagles song on all of their official studio albums.”

4. “If I don’t make this decision for everyone in America, the fight will continue, and I will endure the struggle for a good peace. And I am not afraid to endure six hours of The Eagles. In fact, I’m eager to make the sacrifices necessary to subject myself to this band.”

Inspired by Donald Trump’s “I alone” message, and also the scene in the Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski where The Dude is thrown from a taxi cab because he couldn’t stand the Eagles, Miller hopes to finally bring to an end the Eagles gridlock that has plagued fans and foes alike.

What: Tom Miller Endures Six Solid Hours of Eagles Music (He will listen to every studio album by The Eagles and render a decision, song by song, tallying each number with either a “SUCK” or “DOES NOT SUCK” rating. At the conclusion, Miller will announce the results and the matter will be entirely settled forever, for America. Nobody will ever have to confront this issue again because the answer will be unequivocally decided to a certainty for everyone in the United States and parts of Canada.

When: Sunday, Nov. 20, at 4 p.m.

Where: Maude’s Cafe Patio, 101 SE 2nd Place (the Known Center of the Universe and adjacent to the Hippodrome Theatre). Rain or shine.

Cost: This event is free.

Other details: A professional medic will be on hand throughout the entire six hours in case Mr. Miller suffers any mental or physical issues during the course of this event. There will also be security on hand to protect Mr. Miller from any hostility from The Eagles, or any of their fans or foes until the official decision has been rendered. The Reverend Angeldust (courtesy of the Tabernacle of Hedonism) will conduct a short prayer service before the event.

“They [The Eagles] might suck, but then again, they might be a really terrific band,” said Miller. “We won’t know until I listen to all the songs on every Eagles studio album and decide once and for all for the great people of this country. There will finally be unity in the land, one way or another.”

(By the way, Sunday also just happens to be National Absurdity Day, but that is just a coincidence!)

Oct. 22, 2016: Hipp Welcomes Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards

Beginning this week, the Hippodrome Theatre welcomes the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards for a two-week residency as the culmination of a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Void of microphones, lights and sets, international performers from multiple countries are coming to Gainesville together for the first time. The world-traveling actors create a raw theatre experience that never happens the same way twice — and it’s free!

The Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski’s collaboration with the Hippodrome Theatre is the first of its kind. The troupe has never before partnered with a regional professional theater. The Workcenter will do six performances through the end of October and into early November.

Practicing Grotowski’s revolutionary method, the legendary theatre company breaks boundaries between actor and audience, creating an atmosphere that transforms those present into watchers and doers.

The method is unconventional and, unlike the standard concept of theatre where shows run for several weeks and then end, the company performs the same piece for years, systematically exploring the endless options for movement and presentation

Sept. 30, 2016: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre Presents BANNED?!

In celebration of Banned Books Week, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 433 S. Main St., will perform a staged reading of its original production BANNED?! a strange, silly and unexpectedly educational look at children’s books banned for the most ridiculous of reasons, on Saturday at 3 p.m. There is a $10 suggested donation.

The readings will include excerpts from “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” “The Rabbits’ Wedding,” Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Lorax.”

Is this show appropriate for children? Maybe yes, maybe no–that’s kind of the point of this show. There’s no cursing, nudity or truly adult situations, but there may be (gasp!) interracial bunny kisses!

Carolyne Salt, president of the Acrosstown and originator of BANNED?!, was quoted as saying “Free speech and free imaginations are vital to the arts. If there’s anything we can do to help support those, we will, and with reckless abandon.”

To guarantee seating, purchase tickets using a credit card or PayPal.

Also, this is the final weekend for the ART’s “glowing” production of These Shining Lives. There will be performances tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2. Admission is $15 (discounted for seniors, students, veterans and active military).

Aug. 29, 2016: The Doris Closes Its Doors for Good

A "For Sale" sign went up in front of the Doris last week. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
A “For Sale” sign went up in front of the Doris last week at 1315 S. Main St. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Almost five years after the original Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center opened to much fanfare on North Main Street, the second coming of the Doris has quietly closed its doors on South Main Street.

A “For Sale” sign went up in front of the Doris last week and, according to the Doris’ Facebook page, the Arts Association of Alachua County has decided to sell the property at 1315 S. Main St.

“There were constant cash-flow issues due to grants that were only reimbursable, more expense than could be anticipated, not to mention an act of nature, lightning hitting our tenant’s A/C,” the Facebook post said.

“We realized that for the past several years our community programs had still gone on, programs with the schools continued, and Artwalk Gainesville was thriving. Ultimately, we didn’t need a property for that.”

The building, formerly the Backstage Lounge and before that an ABC Liquor store, is up for sale. However, look for Artwalk to expand and for the Doris programs around the community — the Improv group, Much Ado About Doris and activities for children.

Since opening last fall, the Doris on South Main has hosted workshops, Artwalk events, dance classes, musical performances and other arts-related activities. However, the building also has been closed often for upgrading.

Doris Bardon was a community activist who died in 2006 at age 86. At the time of her death, she bequeathed her estate to establish a community cultural center to serve Alachua County.

The Arts Association of Alachua County created the center in 2011 with Bardon’s passions in mind. That first center opened in 2011 at 716 N. Main St. but shut its doors in 2013. The new Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center opened last year on South Main Street.

July 30, 2016: Depot Park Ready for Soft Opening

A sign on the eastern entryway to Depot Park. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
A sign above the eastern entrance to Depot Park. (Photographs by Gainesville Downtown)

After several years of patiently waiting for their largest downtown greenspace to be completed, Gainesville residents get a sneak preview of Depot Park on Monday during what is being termed a “soft opening.” The grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 20, from 9 a.m.-noon.

The locomotive that is also an activity area.
The locomotive that is also a play area.

The 32-acre park, situated off South Main Street at Depot Avenue, offers visitors an extensive “Adventure Play Area,” a .8-mile asphalt walking/jogging loop around wetlands, short nature trails, a picnic pavilion and a 24-foot-wide promenade on the water’s edge.

Then there is the historic 19th-century train depot itself, which will feature the Pop-A-Top convenience store and community event spaces. There will also be a restaurant on the premises.

The 37,000-square-foot playground area is a child’s delight, with a railroad theme that includes a customized, 50-foot-long locomotive that is ADA accessible and a sandbox where kids can feel around for embedded fossils. There’s also a splash pad that shoots water out of the ground, a small climbing wall and an interactive “Blue Grotto” where children can explore an underwater cave-systems environment.


The City of Gainesville is expected to schedule many events at the park throughout the year, including food-truck rallies and art-related festivities. The park will also become a popular spot for cyclists to embark on the many trails connected to the rest of the city and the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail.

The city spent several years and millions of dollars decontaminating the soil of tar before breaking ground on the park one year ago. The west side of the park will become the new home of the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, which is under construction.

The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency is spearheading the Depot Park project. Jonesville-based Oelrich Construction, which brought Bo Diddley Community Plaza back to life earlier this year, is completing the final phase of Depot Park.

July 24, 2016: Actors’ Warehouse to Kick Off Season with The Boys in the Band

The Actors’ Warehouse has announced its 2016-17 schedule of six performances that includes a production in which seven war veterans living in Gainesville get to tell their life stories and discuss what it was like to serve their country.

Titled Telling: Gainesville–A Soldier’s Narrative of War and written by Max Rayneard, the performances take place Nov 10-19. They include first-hand accounts of a soldier’s life in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and insights into the difficulties of returning home.

boybandBefore that performance, the Actors’ Warehouse season begins Oct. 14-30 with playwright Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, one of the first plays to deal honestly with gay urban life. The 1968 Off-Broadway drama was turned into a 1970 motion picture directed by William Friedkin.

Also on the Actors’ Warehouse schedule:

Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2017Ethel Waters: His Eye is On the Sparrow: The story of the 1920s blues, jazz and gospel singer and actress who married at age 13 and overcame the abusive relationship to enjoy a successful show-business career.

April 7-23, 2017Stick Fly: The affluent, African-American LeVay family is gathering at their Martha’s Vineyard home for the weekend, and brothers Kent and Flip have each brought their respective ladies home to meet the parents for the first time. As the two newcomers butt heads over issues of race and privilege, longstanding family tensions bubble under the surface and reach a boiling point when secrets are revealed.

May 26-June 4, 2017Passing Strange: A young black musician travels on a picaresque journey to rebel against his mother and his upbringing in a churchgoing, middle-class, late ’70s South Central L.A. neighborhood in order to find “the real.” Along with his passing from Amsterdam to Berlin and from lover to lover, the young musician moves through a number of musical styles.

July 7-23, 2017Me and Jezebel: It all starts when a mutual friend brings Bette Davis to Elizabeth Fuller’s house for dinner. Davis calls the next day to thank Elizabeth for the lovely dinner (although the chicken was a bit raw), and to ask if she could possibly impose and stay with her for a couple of days (no more than three) while a hotel strike runs its course in New York. Fuller, a lifelong fan, can hardly refuse. But trouble soon begins as Davis arrives with a station wagon full of belongings and moves right in.

For further info, visit the Actors’ Warehouse website.

July 19, 2016: Sister Hazel Williams Leaves Legacy of Kindness, Compassion

Sister Hazel Williams readily admitted that “I’m not a rock star.” Even so, she was the inspiration for the name of the Gainesville-based rock band.

Truth be told, she was the closest thing Gainesville had to a living saint. (Apologies to Tim Tebow.)

A painting by James Bates pays tribute to Sister Hazel Williams.
A recent painting by James Bates pays tribute to Sister Hazel Williams.

For more than four decades, Williams helped downtrodden souls of Alachua County and elsewhere turn their lives around with warmth, hope, inspiration and guidance.

“I preach love,” she told us in a 2014 interview. “It is the greatest power on this planet—and it works!”

Williams, a missionary and the founder of Gainesville’s Angel of Mercy Ministries, passed away last Friday night at age 91. Her death was felt throughout the community, especially the downtown area where she was a staunch advocate for the homeless and St. Francis House.

Williams was always working on some worthwhile project. One of her latest missions was creating the Rainbow Center for Children of the Incarcerated as well as for poor and underprivileged children. The center provided ministry and a place of counseling for youths.

She often operated charities out of her East Gainesville home, collecting toys, bicycles and food items to distribute to those in need.

“The happiest time of my life is when I’m helping somebody,” Williams said. “God told me to do this.”

Although she had no living family members, “The people in the street have been my relatives,” she said, adding that “There is something that makes me feel really kin to them.”

Williams had a full life. She grew up in Atlanta. Her father was good friends with the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he served as a pallbearer at his funeral service.

Sister Hazel Williams
Sister Hazel Williams

Sister Hazel had a nursing degree and a doctorate in humanities. She did medical missionary work on Native American reservations and in Haiti. She last visited the impoverished island nation after the devastating 2010 earthquake and helped with relief efforts.

For 45 years, Williams selflessly crusaded for the betterment of the Gainesville community. She was recognized for her work with a number of awards and honors that she accepted with great humility.

In late 2014, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones and outgoing UF president Bernie Machen presented Williams with the inaugural Citizen of Grace award. The ceremony took place at the Grace Marketplace homeless shelter and was attended by the people Sister Hazel reached out to most over the years.

Sister Hazel the band
Sister Hazel the band

Sister Hazel band members Ken Block, Drew Copeland, Ryan Newell, Jett Beres and Mark Trojanowski were saddened by the passing of their namesake. They paid respects to her on their Facebook page:

“Regardless of race, religion, income, age, orientation, education — or anything else that could be used to define or divide people — she would do whatever she could to get people who were down on their luck back on their feet, always making sure that they felt loved and valued. …

“In her 91 years on this Earth, [Sister Hazel] created powerful waves and the humanitarian ripples of her life will roll on forever. As a band and as ambassadors for Gainesville and for her good name, we will do our best to continue to impact our world in positive ways with kind messages, thoughtful music, and powerful community experiences that are filled with love, inclusion, service, and joy.”

Now, it is up to all of us to carry Sister Hazel’s torch of compassion and understanding in the community.

July 11, 2016: Novelist and Buchholz Alum Rajakumar Has Homecoming

Award-winning author Moha Rajakumar flew halfway around the world to speak at the Alachua Headquarters Library tonight.

Well, at least the first part of that sentence is correct. Rajakumar did indeed fly to Gainesville all the way from Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula. However, the 6 p.m. library event downtown is just one element of a visit to the city where Rajakumar grew up and attended high school.

Moha Rajakumar
Moha Rajakumar

On Saturday night, Rajakumar attended the 20th reunion of her Buchholz High Class of ’96. “I’m happy to have happy memories of high school. I’m so lucky!” she said.

That celebration was sandwiched around two Millhopper Branch Library appearances. On Saturday, she did a reading of her children’s picture book about the importance of gratitude. On Sunday, she spoke about book-marketing strategies to the Writers’ Alliance of Gainesville.

Tonight’s talk at the downtown library is to promote her latest book, The Migrant Report–The Sequel. It is a follow-up to her novel The Migrant Report–Book One. The first book was a mystery that took place in an unnamed country on the Arabian Peninsula.

The new e-book, which had the working title No Place for Women, centers around ex-pat women who go missing in that unnamed country and the four people who try to solve the mystery.

“The sequel to The Migrant Report is much darker than the original and involves two dead bodies,” she posted on Facebook.

The first book in The Migrant Report series by M
The first book in The Migrant Report series by Moha Rajakumar.

Rajakumar, 36, has written 10 books, including crime novels, romance, children’s literature, short stories, nonfiction works and academic titles. All the books are written under her full name, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar.

“I just write about whatever interests me,” she said.

Born in India, Rajakumar and her family immigrated to Texas but moved to Gainesville when she was 11. Her father was a researcher in the UF pharmacology department. She graduated from BHS and did her undergraduate studies in literature and psychology at Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Rajakumar earned her master’s degree in literature from North Carolina State and then returned to Gainesville for her doctorate studies. She also got married here in October 2006. The couple have two children.

Although she had a Ph.D in English, Rajakumar could not find a job in her field.

“No one was hiring Ph.Ds in the United States, so that’s why I went to work for Georgetown University at their Qatar campus,” she said.

And Rajakumar has lived in the small Arabian Peninsula nation for almost a decade. She now teaches for Texas A&M at Qatar while continuing to write.

“Imagine New York City in the desert,” she said of the bustling metropolis. “The temperature there is exactly the same as Gainesville.”

She has used Qatar as the basis for many of her books. For that reason, many of her books have been banned in Qatar, which she does not consider a bad thing because it makes readers curious and ready to read.

Her books will be available for purchase and signing tonight at 6 in Meeting Room A of the Alachua Headquarters Library, 401 E. University Ave. Then Rajakumar is off to Tampa, New York and Alexandria, Virginia, on a book tour for The Migrant Report–The Sequel.

For further info and to order her books, visit Moha Rajakumar’s website.

May 21, 2016: Book Launch a Preview of Third House Books

Brandon Telg, left, and Jaron Jones display copies of their self-published book. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
Brandon Telg, left, and Dr. Jaron Jones display copies of their self-published book. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Third House Books is at least a month away from officially opening at 113 N. Main St., next door to Downtown Wine and Cheese. On Thursday night, however, owner Kiren Valjee provided a preview of what his store will be all about when he hosted a book launch for two local writers.

Brandon Telg and Dr. Jaron Jones, authors of “Break Your Invisible Chains: Own the Power of Your Story,” spoke about their book and signed copies of the manual that provides people with tools and templates useful in writing their personal stories. (Carly Barnes also co-authored the book.)

“This book was created to help people remember their awesomeness,” said Jones, who earned a Ph.D. in leadership development from UF. “When you grow your story, you grow yourself.”

Jones, 29, and Telg, 26, are co-founders of Gainesville-based Self Narrate, a company that helps people understand the power of their story and the importance of telling it. Self Narrate meets monthly, often at the Bull on Southwest 1st Avenue, so that people can share their stories with others.

“It’s about people being in charge of how their story is told and how they can tell the story to themselves,” Jones said. “You want to make sure you’re owning it for yourself.”

DSCN3341The invisible chain refers to the obstacles people put in their way to avoid writing down their stories or completing other tasks. “Break Your Invisible Chains” is called an “active guided reflection journal” because readers are encouraged to fill out story prompts. For example, one prompt asked “What were some moments of great change in your life?”

“If someone finishes our book, writes their story and breaks the invisible chain, it will all be worth it,” said Telg, a Gainesville native with a masters degree in leadership from UF. “I wake up in the morning and I’m glad I can help someone tell their story.”

For further info or to order a copy of the book for $12.99, visit the Self Narrate website.

Meanwhile, Valjee continues to make progress on Third House Books, which occupies the former dining room of the old Wine and Cheese Gallery. He recently installed new flooring to the split-level space and is currently building the coffee bar on the upper level.

When finished in late June or July, First House Books will specialize in literature from small independent presses–fiction, nonfiction and poetry, according to Valjee.

For further info, visit the Third House Books website.

May 13, 2016: Hippodrome Announces 2016-17 Performances

A scene from the Broadway version of Hand to God. New York
A scene from the Broadway version of Hand to God. (Photo by The New York Times)

The Hippodrome Theatre announced the first seven performances of its 2016-17 season on Thursday, beginning with Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, which will be another collaboration between the Hippodrome and the UF School of Theatre + Dance.

The upcoming season is heavy on comedies but includes an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet next spring that will culminate a two-year collaboration between the Hipp and the international theatre company The Workcenter of Jerzy Growtowski.

Here is a rundown of the Hippodome productions planned for 2016-17:

Sept. 2-25, 2016
Stage Kiss (by Sarah Ruhl):
When estranged lovers He and She are thrown together as romantic leads in a long-forgotten 1930s melodrama, the line between off-stage and on-stage begins to blur. The play debuted in New York in 2014 and received a New York Times Critics Pick.

Oct. 14-Nov. 6
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (by Dale Gutzman): In 1962, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford starred in a drama/thriller that Gutzman has turned into a campy black comedy about the twisted sibling rivalry between a former child star who torments her sister in their decaying Hollywood mansion. The play debuted at Off The Wall Theatre in Milwaukee in 2011.

Nov. 25-Dec. 18
The Ultimate Christmas Show–Abridged (by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor ): Welcome to the annual Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant at St. Everybody’s Non-Denominational Universalist Church, where all faiths are welcome because we believe anything. But there’s a problem: none of the acts scheduled to perform arrive, so three church members are pressed into service to perform the entire Variety Show and Christmas Pageant by themselves to hilarious results.

christmas carolNov. 26-Dec. 22
A Christmas Carol (adapted by Janet Allard and Michael Bigelow Dixon): Scrooge, Marley and, of course, Tiny Tim share the timeless messages of redemption, charity and goodwill. It will be the Hipp’s 39th consecutive year presenting the holiday classic by Charles Dickens to local schoolchildren and the general public.

Jan. 13-Feb. 5, 2017
Hand to God (by Robert Askins): Nominated for five Tony Awards, the New Yorker magazine called this black comedy using foul-mouthed sock puppets “Sesame Street meets The Exorcist.”

Feb. 24-March 19, 2017
Becky’s New Car (by Steven Dietz): Fasten your seat belts for this laugh-out-loud comedy about escaping the middle-age doldrums. Enjoy the hilarity and U-turn plot twists as Becky leads us down the road less traveled.

April 14-May 7, 2017
Hamlet (by William Shakespeare): Rediscover the royal court of Denmark as it confronts its ghosts and plots its vengeance, in a reimagining of this timeless masterpiece.

The Hippodrome will announce its 2017 summer musical early next year. The production begins on June 2, 2017.

Also, in a historic collaboration to continue to expand its programming and push the boundaries of regional theater, the Hipp and the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards will partner in a program titled “Hidden Sayings” that will take place Oct. 24-Nov. 6. The program will include performances, lectures and various encounters with a variety of communities across Gainesville.

Meanwhile, the Hippodrome concludes its 2015-16 season with The Toxic Avenger, which begins June 3. To purchase tickets, contact the Hippodrome box office at 352.375.4477 or visit the Hippodrome website.

April 30, 2016: High Dive Makes Top 100 List of U.S. Music Venues

hd logoPretty much everyone in Gainesville already knows that High Dive is a terrific venue to watch concerts and for enjoying a good time. Now the secret is out nationally.

On Friday, High Dive was listed No. 74 on the “100 Greatest American Music Venues” by online music publication Consequence of Sound. The Fillmore in San Francisco earned the top ranking.

High Dive, at 210 SW 2nd Ave., typically books three or four acts a week–a strong mix of local acts and national acts that crosses the music spectrum. In May, for example, High Dive hosts Bob Marley’s old band, the Wailers, on the 24th. Gainesville’s ever-popular Savants of Soul is the opening act.

This is what Consequence of Sound’s Dan Pfleegor wrote about High Dive:

High Dive's vintage poster wall.
High Dive’s vintage poster wall.

“High Dive exists at SW 2nd Avenue as Gainesville Rock City’s demilitarized zone. Like the Dothraki holy site Vaes Dothrak, you’re welcome as long as you aren’t an asshole. And it’s been that way for many years. The spot has welcomed several owners and name changes since the early 1990s, but it’s perhaps best known as the flagship location of Nigel Hamm’s legendary venue Common Grounds — which officially closed in 2011 after a meteoric 15-year run.

“During Common Grounds’ run, the likes of Hot Water Music, Less Than Jake, Morningbell, Holopaw, Isaac Brock, and Conor Oberst could be spotted hanging out, whether they were scheduled to perform or were just enjoying a cold Mexican beer as the Florida humidity burrowed past the outdoor porch and into the midsize rectangular structure.

“As such, Common Grounds lived up to its name, improving on the whimsical, albeit slanted, design of the Covered Dish before it by transforming the weekend venue into a daily town hall that mingled national acts with emerging indie artists and side projects, comedians, college kids, The Fest punks, and plenty of sun-baked locals. Years later, High Dive continues this tradition, ensuring that Gainesville remains Florida’s most alternative city and a cool place to see live music.”

Congratulations to Mat Poe, Pat Lavery and everyone else at High Dive for achieving rock-star status!

To read the entire Top 100 list, visit the Consequence of Sound website.

April 17, 2016: UF Students Produce Newest Downtown Mural

Cookiegazm, Sun Center mural 018The scaffolding came down Friday on the newest mural to grace downtown Gainesville. Designed by UF art major Rafael Moura, the aquatic-themed mural at the Sun Center was a collaboration with students of UF’s School of Arts and Art History and the 352walls/Gainesville Urban Art Initiative.

The mural was painted in an alcove to the right of the entrance to Alter Ego Fitness, facing the Sun Center East parking lot, at 101 SE 2nd Place.

Moura, a senior, earned the opportunity to paint the mural after his design won a contest judged by a three-member selection panel comprised of two UF faculty members and Raquel Vallejo, coordinator for the 352walls mural project.

Runners from Alter Ego Fitness blur past the new mural
Runners from Alter Ego Fitness blur past Rafael Moura’s winning mural design.

For the past week, Moura served as project manager for the mural, but his entire Site Specific Painting class worked as artist assistants to complete the project.

Vallejo said that participation by students adds even more diversity to a mural project that already includes the work of more than a dozen international artists throughout downtown Gainesville.

“This is a never-before-been-done project where instead of painting a campus wall, the winning student was given a wall downtown among the other 352walls murals,” she said.

For the contest, students of UF Associate Professor Julia Morrisroe were encouraged to visit the proposed mural site at Sun Center and consider the ways a mural could change or impact the public’s use of the space.

In preparation for the project, students studied a variety of muralists, including those who participated in the 352walls project, as well as Shephard Farley, SWOON, Maya Hayuk and Sol LeWitt.

This initiative is the first of its kind, taking art students outside the UF campus and positioning them alongside world-renowned urban muralists as well as regional and local artists.

For the latest information, visit the Gainesville Urban Art website.

April 2, 2016: Cyclops Cinema Screening Room Opens

Jason McNeal and sons Joe and Jack check out the seating inside Cyclops Cinemas screening room.
Jason McNeal and sons Joe and Jack check out the seating inside Cyclops Cinema’s new screening room.

Jason McNeal, owner of Cyclops Cinema (formerly Video Rodeo), had a “rough” opening of his 20-seat movie theater at 10 E. University Ave. this weekend with a screening of the recently released sci-fi thriller Synchronicity.

Right up until showtime, McNeal and his family were tidying up the theater, vacuuming each of the 20 blue-cushioned theatre chairs, all with armrests. The four rows of seating are situated on wooden risers that face a large digital-projection screen.

McNeal has black curtains that will separate the intimate theater from his movie-rental space at the front of the business and also act as a sound buffer.

Joe McNeal vacuums the Cyclops Cinema Screening Room, featuring a large digital projection screen.
Joe McNeal, 10, vacuums the Cyclops Cinema Screening Room, featuring a large digital-projection screen.

The Cyclops Cinema will screen movies eight times a week: Tuesdays through Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 7 and 10 p.m. and Sundays at 5 and 8 p.m. The weekly schedule is subject to change. (Follow Cyclops Cinema on Facebook for the most current information.)

Admission to Synchronicity is $6. And don’t worry about being gouged by theater-chain concession prices. Cyclops Cinema offers soft drinks, bottled water, fresh popcorn and a selection of candy all for only $1 apiece.

Synchronicity is typical of the independent sci-fi films that McNeal wants to introduce to Gainesville. Released last summer, the movie stars Chad McNight as a physicist who travels back and forth in time to prevent a seductive woman (Brianne Davis) and a ruthless tycoon (Michael Ironside) from stealing his invention. The movie is rate R.

For more about Cyclops Cinema, check out our feature article from January: Cyclops Cinema Has an Eye for Film.

March 11, 2016: Irish Pub to Open in Former Five-Bar Space

springA downtown building that has seen many hospitality businesses come and go in recent years will soon have a new tenant.

Spring Brothers Irish Pub, with locations in Miami Beach and Geneva, Switzerland, plans to open later this year at 104 S. Main St., in the location previously occupied by Five-Bar. Jordan Fennell, an agent for Campus Realty, said a lease has been signed. Julie Spring, communications director for Spring Brothers, confirmed the news.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity to expand to North Florida,” Spring wrote in an email to gainesvilledowntown.com. “We will remodel the place and put our way of working into it, a European way in which we will of course adapt our prices to the city.”

Spring Brothers Irish Pub in Geneva
The original Spring Brothers Irish Pub in Geneva.

Brothers Christian and Frederic Spring opened their first Irish pub in Geneva in 2000 and, according to its website, gained a reputation as the most authentic Irish pub and restaurant in the Swiss city. It is described as a place “where families, friends and neighbors gather to enjoy good food, the perfect pint of Guinness and listen to live music.”

The Spring family had the same goal in mind last month when they opened their Miami Beach restaurant at 1248 Washington Ave. The pub features a full bar specializing in a wide variety of beers but also boasts a full lunch and dinner menu that includes burgers and chicken fingers as well as traditional Irish favorites such as Shepherd’s Pie, Fish N’ Chips, Irish Stew and Corned Beef & Cabbage.

104 S. Main St.
104 S. Main St.

Julie Spring said there is a good reason why her family is opening a third location in this area.

“Why Gainesville? Well the answer is simple,” she said. “I’m a student at UF and my dad fell in love with the city, wished he had a place especially in downtown since the red bricks are the basics of the Irish pubs. When I found out that the former Five-Bar was being leased, we took the opportunity to open new doors ahead of us.”

Five-Bar closed in July after 18 months of operation. The restaurant served only a dinner menu and Sunday brunch. Spring Brothers will be open all day and late into the night. Prior to Five-Bar, the corner spot had been occupied briefly by Lasso’s Steakhouse and by SmokeHouse.

Although no date has been set for opening Spring Brothers Irish Pub on South Main Street, Julie Spring added: “We’re hoping to open before July.”

Downtown Gainesville has been home to Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub for more than 21 years. Durty Nelly’s, at 208 W. University Ave., does not serve food on a regular basis but will offer a Corned Beef & Cabbage dinner all day on St. Patrick’s Day next Thursday. Festivities will also include live music from Scuttered the Bruce and an Irish dance competition.

March 2, 2016: Free Fridays’ 25-Concert Lineup Set for 2016

friday1“Tapestry Rewoven: A Carol King Tribute,” featuring several local singers and musicians led by Cathy DeWitt, will be the kickoff event of the Free Fridays Concert Series on May 6 at the newly renovated Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

The concert begins six consecutive months of Friday night concerts at the downtown venue, which reopened last week after a year of extensive improvements. All family-friendly shows begin at 8 p.m. and conclude by 10 p.m.

The “Tapestry” concert celebrates the 45th anniversary of the release of Carole King’s megahit album that included such hits as “You’ve Got a Friend,” “A Natural Woman” and “So Far Away.” DeWitt, Mike Boulware and their talented families and friends re-created the “Tapestry” sounds earlier this year at a sold-out concert at the Historic Thomas Center.

On May 13, the Free Fridays Concert Series features the Couch Messiahs & Wild Blue Yonder channeling The Creedence Clearwater Revival. On May 20, Marty Liquori and the Hot Club de Ville present an evening of gypsy jazz. On May 27, the Memorial Day weekend begins with a concert by Other Voices and Friends with a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The musical offerings for the free concerts cross every genre, from blues and jazz to reggae and rock and roll. Almost all of the acts showcase local talent and diversity. June is African American Music Appreciation Month with performances by Little Jake & the Soul Searchers,  Wester Joseph’s Stereo Vudu, Fast Lane and De Lions of Jah.

The Free Fridays lineup also includes tributes to the Beatles (Sept. 16), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Sept. 30), Eric Clapton (Oct. 7) and Gram Parsons (Oct. 14). The 2016 Free Fridays Concert Series concludes on Oct. 21 with a performance by the UF World Music Ensembles.

The renovations at Bo Diddley Community Plaza include a better sound system and acoustics as well as improved lighting on stage. Also, for the first time, performers have access to a fully equipped green room.

For the complete list of Free Fridays concerts, visit the City of Gainesville’s Free Fridays webpage.

Feb. 18, 2016: The Gainesville Iguana Turns 30!

The Gainesville Iguana, which calls itself the city’s “progressive events calendar and newsletter,” recently reached the 30-year mark. It’s a milestone worthy of a “Gainesville Iguana Day,” but there has been no such proclamation by the mayor. Yet.

While some publications might produce a special anniversary edition or throw a party to mark the occasion, the Iguana quietly chugs along on its mission to inform and perhaps enlighten.

Publisher Joe Courter holds up the latest issue of the Gainesville Iguana.
Publisher Joe Courter holds up the latest issue of the Gainesville Iguana.

Volume 30, Issue 1/2 rolled off the presses in January and publisher Joe Courter, who’s been with the Iguana from the very beginning, couldn’t wait to distribute the 4,500 copies around town. We caught up with him at the Union Street Farmers Market, where on most Wednesdays he hands out his black-and-white newspaper next to the Civic Media Center table.

That current 24-page issue has a photograph of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the cover (again) with a headline reading: “The rise of the decent people.” You have to turn to Page 3 and Courter’s regular column to read about the 30-year milestone.

“Why do we do it?” Courter asks his readers. “It is a belief and commitment that an informed citizenry is a necessity for making the community and world a better place. …”

No argument there. The Iguana represents the little guy. The paper stands up for women’s rights, labor rights, gay rights, prisoners’ rights, civil rights—all human rights. There are also articles about animal rights, the environment and, of course, politics.

That’s the way it’s been for three decades now, since Courter and his wife, Jenny Brown, came up with the idea for the Iguana in the midst of the 1986 resistance to the Central American policies of the Reagan Administration.

“That was a radical period,” Courter recalled. “We were doing a lot of organizing of the anti-war movement against Nicaragua during the Iran/Contra scandal. We had compiled a mailing list of 500 to 600 people and felt it was time to put out a monthly newsletter.”

In October 1986, the Gainesville Iguana was born. At first, each copy was four legal-sized, multi-folded sheets. Then, as Courter puts it, “We discovered newsprint and realized we could print 2,000 copies for the cost of 500 photocopies. That sounded like a deal.”

The newspaper’s name comes from the Central American reptile but also plays off the reptilian theme started by the Independent Florida Alligator—the other independent voice in town.

Courter said his paper prides itself on publishing original-source material, including transcribed speeches by such human-rights activists as Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Turé) and Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt.

“We’re a newspaper that tries to get information out to people that isn’t always covered,” Courter said. “Our coverage really stood out during the two Gulf wars.”

The double-spread in the middle of each issue is devoted to an impressive, if not exhaustive calendar of events around town. It’s not unusual for Courter to list meetings of the Interfaith Alliance for Immigration Justice, PFLAG or the Labor Coalition.

The Iguana gladly accepts advertising. The rate is only $20 for a business card-size ad and $40 for a quarter-page ad. Shockingly, those rates are the same as they were 30 years ago. The paper also makes money off $15 annual subscriptions (about 360 of them) and through donations.

To no one’s surprise, Courter is not in it for the money. He just wants people to read it and make informed decisions.

“I’m for a political system that promotes education and healthcare for all citizens,” he said. “Then you have intelligent, secure people who can vote.”

The Iguana appeared to go away for good in early 2010, after Brown headed to New York for a job.

“We decided to give it a rest,” Courter said. “Then I started hearing from people who said they missed the Iguana.”

In March 2011, the Gainesville Iguana was back in business. Today, Courter works with a copy editor in North Carolina and a layout editor in California to produce nine issues a year, including three combined issues.

So, just in case nobody else mentions it, Happy 30th, Iguana!

(For further info or to look at the paper’s archives, visit the Iguana website.)

Jan. 19, 2016: Cat Under a Warm Steel Hood

The rescued kitten, whiskers and all.
The rescued kitten, whiskers and all.

Most drivers like it when their engines purr, but the sound Jasmine Hall heard when she put her Toyota Camry in reverse on Tuesday morning was the real thing—a cat not so much purring as screeching.

“I think there’s a cat in my engine!” she told passersby on Southeast 1st Avenue, just off Main Street, across from Emiliano’s Café. Her car was stopped halfway out of a diagonal parking space.

Pedestrians and delivery people were drawn to the commotion, including James Parker, a detective with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. He parked his unmarked car in the street, lights flashing, to investigate.

Hall released the latch on her hood. When she slowly lifted it up, bystanders expected the animal to leap out of the engine compartment and dash to freedom. But there was no animal in sight, just more crying.

The kitten peeks out from the engine of Jasmine Halls car.
The kitten peeks out from the engine of Jasmine Hall’s car.

Parker took out his penlight and aimed it behind the engine block of Hall’s vehicle.

“He’s right there!” Parker told onlookers.

A pair of tiny, frightened eyes stared back up at Parker.

“Can’t be more than a few weeks old,” said another observer leaning over the engine for a look.

There was a chorus of “awws.”

The kitten appeared to be stuck near the bottom of the engine behind hoses and wiring going into the firewall.

“Maybe he’s tangled up down there,” someone said.

It was a possibility. All initial efforts to free the feline failed. The kitten was just beyond arm’s reach. Attempts to gently nudge him (or her) out of hiding with a stick also didn’t work.

A man stretches across the engine block to reach down to the kitten in distress.
A man stretches across the engine block to reach down to the kitten in distress.

Another woman said the kitten had darted out of her car’s engine earlier that morning after she had found a parking space. She realized she might have taken the animal for a ride. Prevailing wisdom was that the kitten had climbed into her engine area for warmth when temperatures dipped below freezing early Tuesday.

A younger man with long arms finally felt around for the cat’s tail.

“I can pull it up and out, but I don’t want to hurt the poor thing,” he said.

“Don’t worry, you won’t,” someone assured him.

The captured cat, before it bolted away.
The captured cat, before it bolted away.

With Parker directing him where to reach, the man soon got a firm hold on the kitten and extracted it from behind the engine of Hall’s car.

“He’s adorable!” several people said of the wide-eyed kitten with gray and black fur.

But the celebration was short-lived. The kitten bit or scratched his way from the man’s hold and leapt to the red-brick street. Groans were heard as the cat scampered back under Hall’s car, then under two other parked cars before disappearing into the engine area of yet another vehicle.

At some point, someone called the Alachua County Animal Services. When Angel Rodriguez arrived a half-hour later, the kitten had found yet another hiding spot underneath the cargo bed of a large pickup truck.

Animal Services worker Angel Rodriguez and his new-found friend.
Animal Services worker Angel Rodriguez and his new-found friend.

The kitten was nesting on top of the spare tire attached to the truck’s underbelly. Still, he was out of reach.

Rodriguez laid down on the hard brick surface behind the truck’s left rear tire. Wisely, he pulled on a pair of gloves before getting an angle on the kitten. He then reached above the spare tire, got a grip on the furry thing and lowered it to safety.

This time the kitten didn’t offer a fight. In fact, it seemed to appreciate Rodriguez’s gentle touch and calm demeanor. (Touched by an Angel?!)

A few minutes later, the nine-year Animal Services veteran caringly placed the lost kitten in a cage in the back of his truck for the trip to the shelter. He said a veterinarian would examine the kitten for any issues. If the checkup went well, the cat would be available for adoption by the end of the week.

That would be a purr-fect ending to this cat’s tale.

Jan. 18, 2016: Reading Between the Lines of Collected Stories

From left, Collected Stories director Lauren Warhol Caldwell and actors Sara Morsey and Juliana Davis.
From left, Collected Stories director Lauren Warhol Caldwell and actors Sara Morsey and Juliana Davis.

Hippodrome audience members got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Collected Stories on Sunday by posing questions to the director and two-person cast of the critically acclaimed play during a 30-minute talk-back session.

“I’m exhausted!” one audience member said after watching the matinee performance on the Hippodrome’s mainstage.

To which Sara Morsey, who plays Ruth Steiner in the production, nodded and responded, “We’re always amazed at how exhausted we are, too!”

Morsey and co-star Juliana Davis are on stage together for most of the two-hour performance, engaging in brilliant, often-intense dialogue courtesy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies.

Except for one aside, the play takes place entirely in Ruth’s Greenwich Village apartment during a six-year period in the 1990s. She is a short-story writer and college professor who tutors a timid grad student, Lisa Morrison, played with youthful enthusiasm by Davis.

The play gains momentum in the second act when Lisa, whose confidence and success are rising, is accused of betraying Ruth’s trust.

One audience member asked the cast how they could memorize so many lines.

“It’s very conversational,” Davis responded, “so it’s not hard to know what’s coming next.”

poster16Morsey added that it’s about being focused.

“People always say, ‘Live in the moment,'” Morsey said. “When you’re on stage, it’s a joy to be in the moment, but you’ve got to stay there.”

Davis said that good acting requires taking risks.

“The biggest challenge is trusting yourself to go there,” she said. “You have to be fearless.”

Director Lauren Warhol Caldwell said she is proud of how the two actors have grown into their roles.

“There’s a lot of time spent renting your character before you own it,” she said. “I trust [Sara and Juliana] completely to take the story where it needs to go.”

An unheralded star of Collected Stories is the set itself. Painstaking work went into every detail of Ruth’s apartment. Earth tones popular in the ’90s give her “sanctuary” a warm. cozy feel. Artsy paintings on the turquoise walls provide clues to Ruth’s eclectic tastes.

“It’s totally her space and anyone who enters it has been invited in,” Caldwell said.

Ruth Steiner Sara Morsey and Lisa Morrison eat mandel bread
Ruth Steiner (Sara Morsey) and Lisa Morrison (Juliana Davis) share tea and mandel bread during Collected Stories. (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

And then there’s her library. The 200 or so books lining the shelves include great works of literature and poetry to books on architecture, the arts and Jewish history. The authors include Tolstoy, Salinger, Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein.

All the books, including a complete Encyclopedia Britannica set, are quite real and courtesy of the Friends of the Library. Production associate Rob Leach found Ruth’s stately desk on Craigslist.

One of the props is an actual Time magazine cover from Aug. 31, 1992, showing director Woody Allen with the headline “Cries and Whispers.” In one scene, the actors share cups of tea and mandel bread (Jewish biscotti), which is the real deal made by a Hippodrome staffer.

It’s those type of details that help give Collected Stories authenticity. But it’s the acting of Morsey and Davis that make the play believable and memorable.

Bravo to the Hippodrome!

(You still have two full weeks to see a performance of Collected Stories on the Hippodrome’s mainstage. For ticket information, visit the the Hippodrome website or call the box office at 352.375.4477.)

Jan. 16, 2016: Another Downtown Mural Going Up at Market Street

An example of the mural work done by Interesni Kazki.
An example of the mural work by Interesni Kazki.

The large wall on the east side of Market Street Pub & Cabaret, at 112 SW 1st Ave., is ready for its extreme makeover! Work began Friday on the latest mural as part of Gainesville’s 352walls project.

The Ukrainian duo known as Interesni Kazki (Aleksei Bordusov, aka AEC, and Vladimir Manzhos, aka Waone) began marking the wall with a grid pattern from which to begin their massive painting. The public is invited to watch their progress over the next couple of weeks as they transform the wall into a huge piece of public art.

Vladimir and Aleksei in front of the Market Street Wall.
Vladimir Manzhos and Aleksei Bordusov in front of the Market Street Wall on Saturday. (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

In 2015, international artists flocked to downtown Gainesville and painted murals on eight walls—three north of University Avenue and five concentrated within a block of Southwest 1st Avenue. Another large mural was painted by local and regional artists on a wall of the old Stereo Hi-Fi building on South Main Street.

Interesni Kazki has taken the street-art world by storm in recent years with their colorful and surrealistic murals on all types of buildings, from India to Mexico, and from Miami to Moscow. The are famous for their unusual and imaginative imagery, as well as their wide range of characters, elements and symbols used, bright colors and smooth gradients.

Iryna Kanishcheva, the curator and founder of the 352walls project, is also a Ukraine native. She was born and raised in Lviv. Interesni Kazki are from Kiev.

The 352walls project is ongoing. In February, renowned Portuguese street artist Add Fuel will create multiple public artworks on downtown utility boxes.

Jan. 15, 2016: New Club(s) Opening in Former Sharab Address

For the first time in almost a year, the club space at 109 S. Main St. will be hopping this weekend when Saga (downstairs) and Fix (upstairs) open their doors to partygoers. The former home of Sharab Lounge has been vacant since Class came and went in early 2015.

sagaThe Dynasty Group, a local promotions company that specializes in staging parties and events in different venues around town, will now make Saga its base of operation, according to owner Antonio Mercado.

“We’ve been promoting events in this town for 10 years, and the limiting factor has always been finding quality venues,” he said. “Now that we’re here, we want to create the best nightclub and the best lounge in town.”

The two-story building has 5,600 square feet and a maximum occupancy of 622 persons, making it among the largest club venues in downtown Gainesville. The complex includes three bar areas, two VIP sections, two DJ stations, an outdoor patio and an upstairs balcony.

Mercado said he plans to host private events Monday through Thursday and be open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. Typically, there might be hip-hop and Latin music playing upstairs and Top-40 music downstairs, depending on the night of the week.

“We’re trying to be all things to all people,” said Mercado, who was scrambling on Thursday to finish work on the club in anticipation of tonight’s opening.

Saga and Fix will appeal to a younger crowd, in the 18-25 age range. The hope is to draw more UF and Santa Fe College students downtown. By opening the club, Mercado will be creating more than 20 jobs and breathing life into a historic building that has been fully modernized over the years.

The building has a storied history. Built in 1900, and known as the Porter-Haymans-Woodbridge Building, it served as the home to the Gainesville Daily Sun until 1926. In the past century, the building has also housed the United States Tung Oil Laboratory, an art studio, a beauty salon, a cafeteria and a variety store, according to A Guide to Historic Gainesville by Steve Rajtar.

Jan. 1, 2016: What to Look Forward to in 2016

Although it’s difficult to predict the future (especially in an election year), here are a few things to expect in downtown Gainesville this year:

Bo Diddley Plaza: A Feb. 25 concert by R&B recording artist (and Gainesville native) Charles Bradley will be the first scheduled event at the newly renovated community plaza. The Union Street Farmers Market will return there on March 2 while the city’s ever-popular Free Fridays Concert Series will resume at Bo Diddley Plaza in early May and continue through October.

An aerial rendering of Depot Park.
An aerial rendering of Depot Park.

Depot Park: Gainesville’s “Central Park,” as some officials have called it, is expected to finally open this fall after years of planning and development. Visitors to the 32-acre park will be able to experience the restored train depot, enjoy a system of meandering walkways and participate in family activities at several children’s areas. Also, the first phase of the new Cade Museum of Creativity + Invention will be near completion later this year on the Depot Park site.

Innovation Hub: Construction will begin early this year on Phase II of the UF Innovation Hub near Southwest 2nd Avenue at 9th Street. The 50,000-square-foot expansion will increase opportunities for technology startups and include an Entrepreneurial Woman’s Center. The Innovation Hub opened in 2011.

hippoHippodrome: The theatre will announce its summer musical in the coming weeks and later in the year announce its 44th season of performances for 2016-17. Executive artistic director Lauren Warhol Caldwell said one play next fall will be another co-production with the UF School of Theatre + Dance.

Movements: Shadow Health, a technology company, moved into the vacant Grooveshark space in Union Street Station as of Jan. 1. The company outgrew its street-front offices on Southwest 1st Avenue. … The Matheson History Museum will move forward with renovating the former Melting Pot restaurant building at 419 E. University Ave. The space will become a museum library and archives, as well as a meeting place.

Dec. 31, 2015: Looking Back at an Eventful 2015

Downtown Gainesville continued to evolve in 2015. Here are some of the more newsworthy occurrences from the past 12 months:

Bo Diddley Plaza is undergoing a facelift.
Bo Diddley Plaza is undergoing a yearlong facelift.

Bo Diddley Plaza: Gainesville’s downtown community plaza closed in March for a year of extensive renovations by the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency. Improvements to the plaza will include a green room for performers, a water wall, a café and an information kiosk. Meanwhile, the city’s Free Fridays Concert Series and the Union Street Farmers Market were moved to a temporary location at Lot 10.

Grooveshark-logoGrooveshark: The on-demand, music-streaming service based on the second floor of Union Street Station, lost a costly lawsuit with the music-recording industry and went out of business at the end of April. Dozens of employees lost their jobs. Worst yet, co-founder Josh Greenberg died in July of unknown causes.

The completed mural by Franco Fasoli JAZ on the Shadow Health Wall on Southwest 1st Street.
The completed mural by Franco Fasoli JAZ.

352walls: The large-scale mural project attracted several world-class artists, who painted on eight downtown businesses and buildings in November. A dozen local and regional artists got the ball rolling in October by painting a once-barren wall on the Stereo Hi-Fi building on South Main Street.

Restaurants: Several eateries opened in downtown Gainesville in 2015. They included O.A.K. (Original American Kitchen) at 15 SE 1st Ave., Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que at 12 SE 2nd Ave., Steamers at 102 SE 1st Ave (in the old Bethel Station), Omi’s Playa Azul in the Sun Center, BakerBaker at 407 SW 4th Ave. and LEJ Pretzel Co. at 620 S. Main St. Downtown restaurants that closed in 2015 included Five Bar at 104 S. Main St., Wholly BBQ at 205 SW 2nd Ave. and the Wine and Cheese Gallery at 113 N. Main St.

Bars and clubs: The bar scene had some notable changes as well. The :08 Seconds country bar at 201 W. University Ave. became Cowboys Saloon over the summer. Flashbacks Lounge at 211 W. University Ave. closed and reopened as the new Hardback Café earlier this month. The Arcade Bar, or “Barcade,” opened at 6 E. University Ave., next door to The Dime (formerly the “No-Name Bar”). Meanwhile, the Class Lounge (formerly Sharab) closed at 109 S. Main St. as did 8-bit Bar at 919 W. University Ave.

Old Joe
Old Joe

Old Joe: Perhaps the biggest controversy in downtown Gainesville in 2015 involved an inanimate (yet controversial) object. County Commissioners voted to remove the 1904 statue of a Confederate soldier, affectionately known as Old Joe, from the grounds of the county administration building at University Avenue and Main Street. However, the Matheson History Museum’s board of directors respectfully declined the county’s “donation” of the statue, leaving Old Joe’s future in limbo.

Also worth noting: The grand re-opening of the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center (the Doris) at 1315 S. Main St.; the groundbreaking for the new Cade Museum of Creativity + Invention on the west side of Depot Park; the ongoing construction of Rainstorm Brewing Co. at the old Ice House, 1001 NW 4th St.

Dec. 9, 2015: Last Call for 8-bit Bar

8 bitGregg Cee and business partner Chris Imler had this cool idea of owning a bar where patrons could play hundreds of video games on a selection of gaming consoles. Earlier this year, they fulfilled that dream by taking over the former 1982 nightclub space at 919 W. University Ave. and turning it into 8-bit Bar.

The location halfway between downtown Gainesville and the University of Florida campus made sense. The bar drew a nice college crowd while also attracting townsfolk who wanted to enjoy beer and wine, listen to some live music and compete on Sega, Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox and Wii consoles.

Unfortunately, the fun lasted only six months. On Saturday, 8-bit Bar will close. The owners announced their decision last week on the 8-bit Bar Facebook page.

“We loved it, but it was just unsustainable,” Cee said. “We had a lot of money sunk into this, and we could drag it out a few more months, but we’re going to go out with a bang.”

On Friday night, 8-bit Bar will host a show headlined by Baroness, the hugely popular rock/indie/metal band from Savannah. The show is already sold out.

On Saturday night, The Limbs, a rock band from Greenville, South Carolina, will headline 8-bit Bar’s “Going-Away Party.” The closing show will also include Thunderclap, Moonbeard, Dollar Signs and Former Planets, which is the band that opened 8-bit Bar in early July.

“We wanted a big party, so we invited all the bands we really like,” Cee said.

Many people are familiar with Cee through his stand-up comedy routine. The open-mic comedy night he sponsored each week at 8-bit Bar will soon be moving to the Whiskey House on Southeast 2nd Street. Meanwhile, Cee will continue to make appearances at Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar and other venues.

In their Facebook farewell, the owners of 8-bit Bar wrote: “We would like to thank all our loyal patrons, without whom we never would have been able to make this dream a reality.”

Dec. 3, 2015: Cinema Verde Returning to Hippodrome in 2016

cinemaThe Cinema Verde International Environmental Film & Arts Festival is returning to downtown Gainesville in 2016. The seventh annual event will take place Feb. 11-14 at the Hippodrome State Theatre.

Trish Riley, Cinema Verde founding director, announced the venue change and a preliminary list of films on Wednesday night during a Green Drinks Meets Cinema Verde gathering at Market Street Pub.

The event included the screening of several trailers from films to be shown, including the documentary This Changes Everything from director Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein’s non-fiction bestseller of the same name.

“I get the coolest movies,” said Riley, who binge-watched more than 60 films from around the world over several months before choosing the 20 or so finalists for the film festival.

Although the Hippodrome has hosted individual screenings of Cinema Verde films, this will mark the first time the entire festival has taken place at the downtown landmark since the event’s inaugural year in 2010. Last year, the Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival was held at the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Conference Center on Southwest 13th Street.

changeThis year, all selected films will be shown in the Hippodrome’s comfortable first-floor cinema rather than in converted conference rooms. In conjunction with the film festival, the final day of the event (Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day) will feature an Eco Fair in the Sun Center courtyard. Local businesses and nonprofits get an opportunity to show what they are doing for the environment and the community.

Riley said this year’s lineup of films, stretching across more than 17 hours, touches on such topics as food, energy and the environment to animal rights and human rights. For example, Kaziranga examines the poaching of rhinos in Africa while The Messenger looks at the mass depletion of songbirds.

Director Adam Pfleghaar’s critically acclaimed In Search of Balance—to be released the week before Cinema Verdeexplores the new paradigm of health, science and medicine based on the interconnections between humans and nature.

searchClimate change is the central theme in Normal is Over,  a feature documentary by Renée Scheltemaand, and the short film Evangelicals for Climate Action from Sam Kauffmann.

Meanwhile, Cinema Verde will stray from its documentary format to screen The Z-Nail Gang, an action/comedy/drama about a New Zealand coastal community taken over by a mining corporation (and inspired by actual events).

“We try to cover a number of issues—what I call the circle of sustainability,” Riley said. “A sustainable world is a world we want to live in. It goes way beyond things like pollution. The way our civilization has evolved, there have been some wrong turns.”

For further info and to order tickets, visit the Cinema Verde website.

Nov. 26, 2015: Ten Things to be Thankful for Downtown

With today being Thanksgiving, it’s only appropriate to look around downtown Gainesville and be thankful for several things that are obvious and maybe not so obvious:

The Hippodrome State Theatre provides a suitable backdrop for the art show.
The Hipp

The Hippodrome State Theatre: This is a no-brainer. Artistic director Lauren Warhol Caldwell and her incredibly talented team have provided Gainesville audiences with live professional theater for more than three decades. If you haven’t been to a show at the Hipp lately, make it a point to see The Snow Queen and/or A Christmas Carol this holiday season.

The Matheson History Museum: Executive Director Peggy Macdonald and her staff make the history of Gainesville and Alachua County come alive with engaging exhibits and guest speakers. Don’t miss the museum’s Polar Express Train Show Dec. 5-6.

Outdoor art shows: The Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival and the Downtown Festival & Art Show each fall draw huge crowds to downtown streets. They’ve been doing so for decades. Artists rave about the support they receive from the Gainesville community, and downtown restaurants and businesses appreciate the economic boost these vibrant events provide.

The Downtown Gainesville Public Art Initiative: Nava Ottenberg from Persona Vintage Clothing got the ball rolling a few years ago, and now 22 sculptures adorn the downtown landscape around Union Street Station, the Hippodrome and the Sun Center. Kudos to the artists who have offered their talents and to others who recognize the importance of public art.

Mural by L.E.O. from Miami
Mural by L.E.O. from Miami

352walls/Gainesville Urban Art Initiative: In the past month, Gainesville’s downtown area has been graced with a dozen large-scale murals by several world-class street artists. This is not graffiti but gorgeous artwork that will enhance Gainesville’s image for years to come. We are indebted to curator Iryna Kanishcheva for having the vision and determination to carry out such a massive, eye-opening project that will be the envy of cities much larger than ours..

The Historic Thomas Center: Attending an event at the city-owned Thomas Center is like traveling back in time. The one-time residence and hotel, built in the Revival style, serves as a classy venue for art exhibitions and other cultural events. The two-story Spanish Court is ideal for formal affairs. On Dec. 5, from 6-8 p.m., the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting will take place there. It’s well worth a visit.

Friends of the Library: You will never meet a friendlier and more knowledgeable group of dedicated volunteers than the ones who organize the two annual book sales that raise big bucks for the Alachua County Library District. The five-day sales in the spring and fall offer up more than 500,000 books and other items to the public for as little as 10 cents apiece.

first magFirst Magnitude Brewing Co.: Oh, sure, they produce great beer at First Magnitude, but the two-year-old brewery has also become a gathering spot for worthwhile causes and cultural events. The recent MASS 5 Visual Arts show was a success thanks to curator Bill Bryson, but also because brewery co-owners John and Christine Denny and Wells and Meg The Losen want to give something back to the community.

Fest: Although some people might not appreciate the music, no one can deny that the annual punk-rock festival brings 10,000 enthusiastic people from all over the world to downtown Gainesville on a weekend when the Gator Nation is away in Jacksonville for the Florida-Georgia game. Fest taskmaster Tony Weinbender of No Idea Records calls on a huge team of volunteers to coordinate almost 400 acts at 20 venues.

Civic Media Center: Activism is alive and well thanks to this South Main Street institution. The CMC’s mission is “to provide community access to information and points of view that are under-reported or distorted in mainstream media.” How cool is that?

Dance Alive National Ballet: Sisters Judy Skinner and Kim Tuttle transformed their mother’s local dance company into a professional touring company with world-class dancers from Russia, Brazil, Cuba, Italy, Turkey and Ukraine. This is the dance company’s 50th season overall, and Gainesville couldn’t be more thankful.

Okay, that was actually 11 things (if you’re keeping count). Perhaps you are thankful for something related to downtown Gainesville–a restaurant or club perhaps, or maybe a specific person. Please let us know by sending an email at gainesvilledowntown@yahoo.com, and we’ll gladly re-post your comments.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov. 11, 2015: The Restaurant Merry-Go-Round

It has been an eventful week for the downtown Gainesville restaurant scene. One eatery has closed its doors, another one has reopened them, and yet another has added an evening menu.

Wholly BBQ Cafe
Wholly BBQ Cafe

Sadly, Wholly BBQ Café closed at the end of business hours on Nov. 7, less than a year after resurrecting a long-shuttered building at 204 SW 2nd Ave. Rich Lugo, the walk-up restaurant’s operations manager, said owner David Williams and his investors decided not to put anymore money into the endeavor.

“It was a business decision,” Lugo said. “It’s a shame because business was starting to pick up. We were getting a good reputation in town and a nice following. More and more people were asking for my mac and cheese and Wholly buns.”

Wholly BBQ had benefited from being directly across Southwest 2nd Street from Lot 10, which this year became the temporary home of the Free Fridays Concert Series, the Union Street Farmers Market and the Fest.

With the slogan “We’ll make a believer out of you,” the barbecue joint’s savory pulled pork and landscaped picnic-table area made for an enjoyable dining experience. Hopefully a new owner will soon pick up where Wholly BBQ Café left off.

Manuel's Vintage Room
Manuel’s Vintage Room

Meanwhile, Manuel’s Vintage Room, at 6 S. Main St., reopens tonight after being closed two weeks for kitchen renovations. The 35-seat, upscale Italian restaurant had closed Oct. 28, right before the Fest, for what co-owner and executive chef Marco Chavez had hoped would be a quick fix of the tile floor.

“Then it just became a nightmare,” he said. “We ended up doing the subflooring, too.”

Chavez and his father, the restaurant’s namesake, are marking the eatery’s 10th anniversary in downtown Gainesville. Manuel’s Vintage Room specializes in Northern Italian cuisine and has an extensive wine list. For reservations, call 352 375-7372 or visit the Manuel’s website.

(Stay tuned to gainesvilledowntown.com for an extensive interview with Chavez.)

A few blocks away, Omi’s Playa Azul is now open for dinner six nights a week at the Sun Center (next door to the Hippodrome), at 101 SE 2nd Place. Omi Risco had opened the restaurant in September for lunch and catering, but recently hired general manager and sommelier Harry Rivera to create a full dinner menu.

Omi’s Playa Azul—in the airy atrium space formerly occupied by Grooveshark’s company cafeteria—offers such Cuban/Latin dishes as Ropa Vieja (shredded beef brisket), Puerco al Mojo (slow-roasted, marinated pulled pork), Pollo a la Parilla (grilled chicken with cilantro rice), Churrasco (grilled skirt steak) and various Paellas.

There are also a dozen tapas options, including Pastelitos de Cangrejo (Tasca-style crabcakes), as well as soups (including Omi’s award-winning lobster bisque), salads and a full dessert menu.

Omi’s Playa Azul is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. For catering information or reservations, call 352 373-0301.

Nov. 8, 2015: Tranforming Gainesville Into Artsville

The mural project in progress on the former Discount Stereo Hi-Fi building on South Main Street.
The mural project in progress at the former Discount Stereo Hi-Fi building on South Main Street.

Gainesville has long been known for its vibrant music scene. And the performing arts have thrived with a number of theatre groups and dance companies. Now, almost suddenly, the visual arts are dominating the conversation–and the local arts calendar.

Just look around downtown Gainesville. The MASS Visual Arts show is going on at First Magnitude Brewing Co., where the works of 48 artists are being displayed through Nov. 14 in a unique industrial setting. The Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center (the new Doris) just cut the ribbon on a new gallery/building at 1315 S. Main St. And this weekend (Nov. 14-15), the City of Gainesville welcomes 230 artists and nearly 100,000 visitors to the 34th Downtown Festival & Art Show.

Meanwhile, the city will be undergoing a quite striking visual transformation over the next few weeks and months in the form of an ambitious project known as 352walls/The Gainesville Urban Art Initiative. Thirteen local artists and 13 others from around the world will be taking blank walls around the city and painting colorful murals on them.

“The city is our canvas!” said Iryna Kanishcheva, 352walls curator and photographer who conceived the project. “This international project serves to strengthen our cultural stature.”

Gainesville artists Ras Justo Luis Rodriguez continues working on his mural of a mockingbird girl.
Gainesville artist Ras Justo Luis Rodriguez continues working on his mural of a mockingbird girl on the old Discount Hi-Fi building.

The project actually began over the summer when Italian street artist 2501 (that’s what he goes by) was commissioned to paint the exterior on what is now Cowboys Saloon at 201 W. University Ave. Beginning Nov. 16, a group of world-famous urban artists will converge on Gainesville and start creating more large-scale public murals.

The artists and their respective walls include:

  • Pastel from Argentina (The Top restaurant wall, 30 N. Main St.)
  • Franco Fasoli JAZ from Argentina (Shadow Health wall, 15 SW 1st Ave.)
  • Alexis Diaz from Puerto Rico (High Dive wall, 210 SW 2nd Ave.)
  • Axel Void from Spain (The Bull wall, 18 SW 1st Ave.)
  • L.E.O. from Miami (Loosey’s wall, 120 SW 1st Ave.)
  • Evoca1 from the Dominican Republic (Southwest Parking Garage wall, 105 SW 3rd St.)
  • Gaia from Baltimore (Southwest Parking Garage wall, 105 SW 3rd St.)
  • 2Alas duo from Cuba and Puerto Rico (Hector Gallery wall, 702 W. University Ave.)

In January, a Ukrainian duo known as Interesni Kaski will paint a mural outside Market Street Pub & Cabaret (112 SW 1st Ave.). In February, renowned Portuguese street artist Add Fuel will create multiple public artworks.

Former Gainesville resident Rachel Sommer, who now resides in Australia, poses in front of her time-themed mural on the old Discount Hi-Fi building.
Former Gainesville resident Rachel Sommer, who now resides in Australia, poses in front of her timepiece-themed mural on the old Discount Stereo building.

A group of local artists got a head start on the 352walls project in late October by going to work on a block-long wall outside the old Discount Stereo Hi-Fi building (now known as the Make.Work building) at 722 S. Main St., across the new traffic circle from Depot Park. Each artist was assigned a section of the wall and given a Nov. 12 deadline for completion.

Those artists selected from an application process are Blake Harrison, Tiara Henderson, Jefreid Lotti, Carrie Wachter-Martinez, Jesus Martinez, Turbado Marabou, Rachel Sommer, Point108, Ras Justo Luis Rodriguez, Evan Galbicka, Senta Achee, Clea Lauriault and Jenna Horner.

The mural-filled wall currently is partially hidden by scaffolding but will be unveiled at a reception later this week. On Nov. 19, the public is invited to meet and greet all the mural artists from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Historic Thomas Center.

Keep up with the progress of the mural project at the 352walls Facebook page.

Oct. 28, 2015: Visiting Playwright Applauds Hipp Production

Bob Fisher interacts with the audience at the Hippodrome on Tuesday night.
Bob Fisher interacts with the audience at the Hippodrome on Tuesday night.

When Bob Fisher proposed the idea for a stage production called All Girl Moby Dick, there was silence as if a punch line were pending. “I heard, ‘You can’t do that!'” he said. “They couldn’t imagine an actress portraying Ishmael or Ahab.”

And yet, Fisher and the Chicago Mammals theatre company pulled it off to mostly critical acclaim in 2011. A year later, he created a monster in All Girl Frankenstein.

On Tuesday night at the Hippodrome Theatre, Fisher enjoyed a rare treat when he saw All Girl Frankenstein performed by a professional theatre company outside the Windy City. And he couldn’t have been more pleased with how Hippodrome artistic director Lauren Warhol Caldwell and the nine-member cast interpreted his script.

“Fantastic!” he said. “I loved everything I saw. The one thing I wish is that I could see the show again, but I have to return home.”

Following Tuesday’s performance, Fisher sat by himself on the Hipp’s mainstage and fielded questions from audience members. He explained that he created the All Girl Project after coming to the realization that most good stage roles are written for male actors, leaving talented female actors to play traditional, often subordinate characters.

“So I just started thinking, why not take the gender restriction off the table?” he said, adding that the primary goal was simply to create more opportunities for women in theatre.

Fisher defended his use of the term “All Girl” as opposed to “All Women” or “All Female.”

“If an audience member believes it’s a provocation, that’s ok,” he said. “If anyone finds the term ‘All Girl’ offensive, it’s not meant to demean but to evoke emotion and capture attention.”

Then he confessed: “It’s also a marketing tactic!”

Once Caldwell decided to produce All Girl Frankenstein at the Hippodrome, she consulted with Fisher about a few things, but otherwise ran with it.

“I love that Lauren saw something in the script that compelled her to commit so much time and energy to it,” Fisher said. “I am incredibly proud and grateful to you guys for helping make this happen.”

Last year, Fisher staged All Girl Edgar Allan Poe in Chicago. This year it’s All Girl Dracula. What’s next? “Maybe All Girl Oedipus, or All Girl Beowulf because,” he said, “these stories belong to everyone.”

If you haven’t caught All Girl Frankenstein at the Hipp yet, performances continue through Nov. 8. For times and ticket information, visit The Hippodrome website.

Oct. 24, 2015: FOL Book Sale Brings Out Early Birds

Rod Havens, right, sits with Sharon Kissell and a friend on Friday night outside the Bookhouse.
Rod Havens, right, camps out with Sharon Kissell and a friend on Friday night outside the Bookhouse on North Main Street.

Rod Havens calls himself a “bad book-aholic.” He owns more than 8,000 books, but he always feels the urge to accumulate more of them. “At least I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict,” he said. “Books are better for your health!”

Books, however, are what possessed Havens to drive six hours from Camp Hill, Ala., to Gainesville on Friday to stake out a spot in line for the Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale. Never mind that the sale wasn’t scheduled to start until 9 a.m. Saturday, when a bagpiper led patrons inside.

Havens, 65, was among the first five people to set up camping chairs outside the entrance to the FOL Bookhouse at 430 N. Main St. He brought along a sleeping bag in which to spend the night and perhaps dream about that rare find that could temporarily satisfy his literary fix.

“I’m like a child on Christmas Eve,” he said. “It’s like a treasure hunt for me.”

With more than 500,000 books and other items in 40 categories to choose from at the five-day sale, there’s a good chance Havens will return to Alabama with a lighter wallet but with an expanded personal library.

While Havens has an interest in books on personal development and history for his own enjoyment, most of the folks who lined up early for the sale were booksellers or dealers looking for underpriced gems to resell.

Dan Drummond, co-owner of Mojo Books and Records in Tampa, has attended FOL sales for a number of years.

“It’s one of the better ones in the country because it’s in a college area. I’ve never been disappointed.” he said.

By 7 p.m. Friday, there were 12 chairs in line, each representing a book fanatic, many of whom had left to get dinner. The honor system was in force.

Sharon Kissell, a private bookseller from Fort Lauderdale, was enjoying some wine and cheese and talking with others while waiting in line as the sun set.

“The best part about this sale is that there aren’t any novice booksellers here. It’s a lot of old-time people,” she said.

The Friends of the Library prohibits buyers at the sale from using electronic scanning devices to determine their value.

“Most sales allow that, and it’s anarchy!” Kissell said. “Here, you have to use your mind to select your books.”

Kissell is interested mainly in children’s books. She looks not so much for the price as the rarity and demand for the book.

Inside the Bookhouse on Thursday, FOL volunteer Jim Dahlman was putting the finishing touches on the Collector’s Corner, where bookworms can pore over signed books, first editions and a large selection of Florida-related materials.

He pointed out five World War I recruiting posters that were available for $25 to $45 each. One limited-edition book came with a letter signed by T.S. Eliot. Another interesting book is a biography of Stonewall Jackson written by his wife that includes a picture of the Confederate general  in gold.

“Genealogy and the Civil War are really strong this year,” said Dahlman, in his 15th year as a volunteer.

Another area of the FOL Book Sale that remains strong is the music section. FOL volunteer Peter Levine is in charge of everything from CDs and vinyl albums to sheet music and even some eight-track cartridges from yesteryear.

“I was concerned about the record stock, but in the past five or six weeks, some nice donations have come in,” he said.

The FOL Fall Book Sale continues through Wednesday, when all remaining items will cost a dime apiece. For further information on the sale, visit the FOL website.

Oct. 19, 2015: Letting Loose in the Streets

University Avenue buzzes with activity during Active Streets. One mile of the thoroughfare through downtown Gainesville was shut down for four hours.
University Avenue buzzes with activity during Active Streets. One mile of the thoroughfare through downtown Gainesville was shut down for four hours.

University Avenue turned into a giant block party on Sunday. Well, actually more like a dozen blocks of partying!

Gainesville’s busiest east-west roadway was closed to traffic through the downtown area for four hours so that residents and visitors could take part in the Active Streets initiative.

Dozens of local organizations and businesses literally took to the street on a pleasant but gusty day. Some of them offered eye-popping demonstrations, such as the Gainesville Roller Rebels roller derby team, which set up an oval on the asphalt near Bo Diddley Plaza. S-Connection Aerial Arts set up a trapeze on East University Avenue and put on a high-flying demonstration.

Children and adults alike used large sticks of chalk to draw on the street itself. There was everything from Lego stations for kids to yoga classes for adults. Skateboarders shared the street with bicyclists and unicyclists. Others enjoyed massages and took dance lessons–all without having to worry about cars whizzing by at 30 mph.

Many people stopped in fascination to observe fencing lessons conducted by Brian Harper, director of the Florida Fencing Association.

A pair of youngsters express themselves artistically with chalk at the intersection of University and Main.
A pair of youngsters express themselves artistically with chalk at the intersection of University and Main.

“This is our second time out here,” he said. “We like coming out and sharing with people. Fencing is a niche sport, so this gets it out in the open a bit.”

Gainesville resident Judy Garis brought her 7-year-old grandson, Khaliq Cooper, when she realized that the streets had been blocked off.

“We could see something was going on, but we didn’t know what it was,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff here I’ve never heard about, but he’s having a ball!”

Several musicians performed during the event, including Gainesville favorites Flat Land, Michael Claytor and Sam Moss, Lauris Vidal and Bells & Robes. Food vendors were in short supply, but Flaco’s Cuban Bakery prepared for the masses by setting up tables right on University Avenue.

Active Streets is a family-oriented event that needs to become a monthly, if not a seasonal or quarterly attraction to downtown Gainesville. Perhaps organizers can consider blocking different stretches of roadway at different times of year so that more businesses on those streets get exposure. For example, an Active Streets event along Main Street would be welcome.

Check out our photo gallery of Active Streets/Fall 2015 and let us know what you think!

Oct. 15, 2015: Durty Nelly’s Reverses Smokeless Ban

durtyDurty Nelly’s smokeless experiment lasted all of two weeks. Owners of the popular Irish pub announced on their Facebook page that smoking will once again be allowed inside the bar at 208 W. University Ave. effective immediately.

“We would like to thank everyone who stuck with us in our decision to go smoke-free. However, over the past couple of weeks the message has become very clear, the decision has faltered,” the Facebook post announced.

smokeDixon, who has owned Durty Nelly’s for all of its 21 years, had declared her bar smoke-free as of Oct. 1. Loyal smoking customers began grumbling long before that. Some said they would no longer patronize the bar. Nonsmokers remarked that live entertainment, such as Scuttered the Bruce and Spade McQuade, would be more enjoyable without having to squint through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

For the past two weeks, customers were asked to light up either on the sidewalk in front of Durty Nelly’s or outside the back door, where a railed-off smoking area was created. However, the smoking ban apparently had a negative impact on business and was the catalyst for reversing the decision.

“Apologies to those that disagree with this decision, but know that the bottom line is that we need to resuscitate the Ol’ Gurl, and we want to keep our staff employed. Without your continued support, none of the two are possible,” the Facebook post continued.

So as of today, Durty Nelly’s rejoins Lillian’s Music Store as the only two downtown establishments to allow indoor smoking.

The reaction on Durty Nelly’s Facebook page to the decision has been mixed.

Ashley Baker commented: “So much for us coming to see Jig to a Milestone there now.”

Gregg Cee commented: “Judging by how much business was lost by not smoking, I would say good riddance to the non-smokers. You have almost every other bar in town. Let us have this one.”

Oct. 12, 2015: Sister Hazel’s Class Act

sister hazel 3If there was ever any doubt that Sister Hazel embraces Gainesville (and there wasn’t), the band gave their hometown fans plenty to cheer about on Saturday night with a free downtown concert that oozed authenticity.

From the popular opening song “Change Your Mind” to a rollicking, two-song encore 90 minutes later, Ken Block, Drew Copeland and Co. blended classic tunes with a batch of new songs before about 2,500 “Hazelnuts” crowded into Lot 10. The show, sponsored by 104.9 WOW FM and JVC Broadcasting sister station 101.9 Smooth FM, ended only when the Florida Gators’ football game against Missouri began on the big TV screen at the opposite end of the lot. (The 21-3 UF victory sealed the memorable evening.)

The concert was basically a large tailgate party. Sister Hazel made the crowd feel at home not only with their catchy brand of alternative rock but also with their folksy banter with the enthusiastic audience, which ate it up. At one point, Block reeled off all the Alachua County schools–from colleges all the way down to grammar schools–that the five band members attended during their youth. And after all these years, Gainesville remains home.

Sister Hazel in concert downtown.
Sister Hazel plays to the crowd during their free downtown concert on Saturday.

“We could’ve lived anywhere in the country we wanted to, but we chose Gainesville, Florida,” Block told the audience that included his mother, Judy, and many other family members and friends. The group even covered the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to celebrate Mrs. Block’s birthday.

While Block and Sister Hazel are grateful for Gainesville, likewise Gainesville should be grateful for Sister Hazel. The group not only is on the shortlist of great bands and musicians hailing from Hogtown, but has done wonderful charitable deeds for the area and beyond.

Block started Lyrics for Life cancer-research benefits to honor the memory of his little brother Jeffrey, who died of T-cell lymphoma in 1987. Meanwhile, the group strongly supports Feed the Children efforts and other noteworthy causes. The band, of course, is named after Gainesville’s own Sister Hazel K. Williams, whose charitable work for the homeless and incarcerated is renowned.

The hometown crowd is into Sister Hazel.
The Orange and Blue hometown crowd  couldn’t get enough of Sister Hazel.

Formed in 1993, Sister Hazel continues to crank out solid music. In 2014, they released “20 Stages, ” a CD and DVD compilation of live recordings and videos culled from 20 of the band’s favorite venues over the past two decades. “20 Stages” also is available in a limited-edition, double-vinyl LP. The band is also wrapping up a new album, “Light in the Dark.”

Saturday night’s crowd got a taste of the new, such as “Could You Kiss Me Without Whiskey,” but cheered at such Sister Hazel classics as “All For You,” “Mandolin Moon,” “Champagne High” and Drew Copeland’s melodic keyboard solo of “This Kind of Love.”

Block, Copeland, Ryan Newell (lead guitar), Jeff Beres (bass) and Mark Trojanowski (drums) epitomize everything that is right about Gainesville.

Oct. 7, 2015: Shadow Health on the Move

shadowShadow Health, whose unique storefront offices and oversized aquarium often attract window watchers on Southwest 1st Avenue, will soon be moving from one side of downtown Gainesville to the other. As of Jan. 1, 2016, the software developer for nursing and allied-health educational programs will occupy the former Grooveshark space in Union Street Station.

“The new offices will give us room to expand in size, personnel and staff,” Shadow Health CFO Patrick Bizub told gainesvilledowntown.com on Tuesday. “The McGurns gave us an excellent offer to join them in their building, and we’re excited about it.”

McGurn Management Co., owned by Ken and Linda McGurn, operates a number of commercial and residential properties in and around downtown Gainesville. The company has been seeking a tenant to fill the vacant 10,500-square-foot office suite on the second floor of Union Street Station since Grooveshark shut down earlier this year.

Shadow Health and its nearly 60 employees currently have about 6,000 square feet in the former Rice Hardware building at 15 SW 1st Ave. The company opened there in 2011 and expanded two years later, but now finds itself outgrowing the space.

Shadow Health, led by co-founder and CEO David Massias, began with six nursing schools utilizing its proprietary software program. Today, about 50,000 graduate and undergraduate nursing students at some 800 schools throughout the United States and Canada (and as far away as Africa) use the product to learn how to accurately assess patients’ healthcare needs.

Union Street Station
Union Street Station

Relocating to Union Street Station, at 201 SE 2nd Ave., carries several advantages for Shadow Health. Not only is it a larger space for growth, it is already wired for a technology firm, uses solar electricity, has more restrooms and includes parking for employees in the adjacent parking garage, also operated by the McGurns.

“We love downtown and we truly wanted to stay here,” Bizub said. “We like the vibe. A large percentage of our employees ride their bikes to work.”

Shadow Health’s lease at its current location doesn’t expire until the end of the year, but Nautilus Realty posted two large “For Lease” signs on the building on Tuesday, raising eyebrows of passersby. Bizub said Shadow Health has just about outgrown the building, which his company extensively renovated.

“It’s a great space, an eclectic space that’s served us well,” Bizub said. “But it’s also an old building with old problems.”

Oct. 5, 2015: Cathy DeWitt’s Big B-Day

Cathy DeWitt
Cathy DeWitt

Cathy DeWitt received the best birthday gift possible on Sunday when the Stetson Kennedy Foundation presented her with its annual Fellow Man & Mother Earth Award during a ceremony at the Civic Media Center. “He’s my hero. He should be everybody’s hero,” DeWitt said about Kennedy, the award’s namesake who was an author, folklorist and staunch human-rights activist before his death in 2011.

Sandra Parks, William Stetson Kennedy’s widow, gave DeWitt the award on the singer/songwriter’s birthday and one day before Kennedy would have turned 99. The crowd of 60 was rewarded with a performance by DeWitt’s five-women band, Patchwork.

DeWitt knew Kennedy the final decade of his life and even wrote a song about him called “Stetson and Superman.” One verse begins, “It was Superman on the airwaves, but Stetson was the hero on the ground…”

Stetson Kennedy
Stetson Kennedy

To anyone who knew Kennedy, the lyrics don’t need explaining. To the uninitiated, Kennedy took it upon himself to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups near the end of World War II. Kennedy approached producers of the popular Superman radio program and proposed a storyline in which the caped superhero battles the evil forces of the KKK. Sixteen episodes were broadcast under the “Clan of The Fiery Cross” title.

In his 1954 book “The Klan Unmasked” (known originally as “I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan”), Kennedy detailed his undercover work and exposed the KKK to authorities. Kennedy received death threats and his home on Lake Beluthahatchee in St. Johns County was firebombed. According to DeWitt, Kennedy had to leave the country for awhile. Nonetheless, he continued to champion causes that drove his life of activism.

“He was working for human rights until the day he died,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt has followed Kennedy’s passion for causes by giving of herself as a folk musician. In 1995, she joined the pioneering Arts in Medicine program at Shands, where she has helped transform the hospital environment and experiences of patients. For several years, DeWitt hosted the radio show “Across the Prairie” on WUFT-FM. She also is a tireless member of several local bands that have played in benefits to support the environment, arts and human rights.

On DeWitt’s Stetson Kennedy Foundation Fellow Man & Mother Earth Award plaque, the inscription salutes her “for the inspiration and understanding that her work communicates.”

DeWitt’s husband and fellow musician Rob Rothschild is rather proud of his wife.

“Cathy selflessly gives herself to the community and has been doing so for 30 years.”

In 2009, Stetson Kennedy donated his extensive personal library to the Civic Media Center. Visitors to the CMC, at 433 S. Main St., can browse the collection of more than 2,300 books. The titles are available on the Civic Media Center website.

As of this past weekend, the CMC is also home to the Travis Fristoe Zine Library. The collection honors the memory of Fristoe, who worked tirelessly to grow and promote zines and zine culture in Gainesville.

Sept. 23, 2015: Whirlwind Weekend 

“Mackerel Mania” by Mark Armbrecht, Tallwood Forge and Studio

Fall is in the air. Well, ok, maybe it’s not. Although the calendar says today is the first day of autumn, so far only a few sycamore leaves have floated to the ground around Gainesville. But it is starting to “feel” like fall. The Tennessee Volunteers come to town on Saturday for their annual showdown with the undefeated Gators (3-0) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

In downtown Gainesville, the change of seasons will be refreshing not only from a weather standpoint but from a business standpoint as more people visit the area to see what’s new and different. This week is a great week to explore downtown. Things will be hopping on Friday with the monthly Artwalk taking place from 7-10 p.m. at 18 locations in and around Gainesville. For a list of the September venues, visit the Artwalk Gainesville website.

While strolling the downtown streets and checking out the art, be sure to drop by the Free Fridays Concert Series taking place from 8-10 p.m. at Lot 10, the city parking area at the corner of SW 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street. This week’s music is provided by The Shambles, a local classic-rock cover band.

If you haven’t seen the crowd-pleasing play “Peter and the Starcatcher” on the Hippodrome’s main stage yet, this will be the final weekend of performances. And on Sunday, noted author Ilyasah Al-Shabazz speaks at 2:30 at the Alachua Headquarters Library. She is the third daughter of civil rights activists Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz and wrote the memoir “Growing Up X.”

Sept. 16, 2015: Crossing the Intersection

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Downtown Gainesville

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Downtown Gainesville 29.651941, -82.325043 1 West University Avenue, Gainesville, FL, United States (Directions)

We’re glad you joined us on the corner of University & Main, the blog area of gainesvilledowntown.com. We’re still trying to figure things out involving website design (what’s a plug-in anyway?!), so please be patient until we announce our official launch in Fall 2015. Why call our blog University & Main? If you know anything about Gainesville — and we’re sure you do — you know that the intersection of University Avenue and Main Street is at the very heart of downtown Gainesville. At gainesvilledowntown.com, we intend to be at the center of all things happening in the downtown area.

Defining downtown Gainesville in terms of geography can be a little tricky. Some people would argue that downtown extends only a few blocks in each direction from University and Main. After all, that’s the area where many of the restaurants, clubs, businesses and government offices are located. For our sake, however, “downtown” Gainesville is much more extensive, stretching south  past the new Depot Park, north to beyond Eighth Avenue, east to Waldo Road, and west pretty much to the University of Florida campus.  Anything that happens within that area is fair game for gainesvilledowntown.com.

You can expect to read articles from the Duckpond neighborhood (northeast), the Porters Community (southwest), the Sweetwater Branch/Southeast Historic District (southeast) and the Pleasant Street District (northwest). All are within walking distance of University and Main. We will provide you with stories about the people and places and events that make each of these areas unique but with emphasis on the downtown core, where most people gather and socialize.

On the other hand, downtown Gainesville should not be defined solely by geography. At gainesvilledowntown.com, we will define downtown Gainesville by its vibrancy and uniqueness. If you have a story to share or want to suggest a story idea, we’re all ears. Send us an email.