The opening night of Vinyl Music Hall was the most excitement downtown Pensacola has seen since Afroman played at Seville Quarter.
The line to get in stretched from Vinyl’s front door on the corner of Palafox and Garden streets to halfway around the block. Five thousand people showed up and managed to keep the 520-person-capacity club completely full for over 4 hours.
“An opening night is never perfect,” said Joe Abston, one of four of Vinyl’s owners. “I’ve opened a lot of businesses, and this was probably the smoothest opening yet.”
Harry Levin, Sherrod Levin, and Evan Levin, all cousins, own Vinyl along with Abston, who also co-owns Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen and Taproom.
“We all met through business,” Abston said. “They’d come into Hopjacks and eat pizza and drink beer.”
And just like many great partnerships born alongside alcohol and a hand-tossed crust, so came Vinyl. “I was looking to do something in the music genre,” Abston said. “And it just all seemed to work really well.”
Vinyl was 14 months in the making.
Handpicked antique doors from New Orleans were brought in to make the bar and a state of the art sound system was installed. 5 ½, a high-end wine and spirits bar, was also built next to Vinyl and will be open every day of the week. It can also be accessed through the inside of Vinyl on nights when shows are held.
“You’ll be able to get fine wines and hand-crafted beers there—kind of like a throwback to the speakeasy.”
5½ is decorated with quirky light fixtures, exposed brick walls and a comfy couch or two, as well as bar stools. It looks like a place Woody Allen or Andy Warhol might have hung out in during the 60s.
“We really tried to take our time and get it right,” Abston said.
A lot of time and effort went into making Vinyl a unique venue and Abston wanted that to reflect in the music played at the club as well.
“It’s really exciting being able to go on the fringe of the music genres and have stuff that’s not played on the radio,” Abston said. “We don’t want to be considered a rock club or a country club, just a really good club.”
Vinyl recently released the names of several acts scheduled to play within the next few months, including Dr. John, The Misfits, and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
“We’re touching on a lot of different genres and we want to embrace what the community wants,” Abston said. “We’re going to bring in a lot of people you probably heard on the radio growing up, and also a lot of people you may have never heard of at all.”
Diversity seems to be one of the main factors in Vinyl’s upcoming shows.
“We’re going to give 80s bands, country acts, and locals a place to play,” said Chris Wilkes, talent buyer for Vinyl. “We’re willing to try anything other than what’s expected.”
More acts will continue to be announced on Vinyl’s website. There’s even a place to request a band so that Vinyl can be completely tuned in to who the community wants to see.
In addition to hosting an unpredictable lineup of shows, Vinyl will hopefully do something else: get more people downtown, and more often.
“We really wanted this to help Pensacola,” Abston said. “We keep hearing people say, ‘There’s nothing to do here.’”
Downtown Pensacola has certainly had the blues—or at least has been moody—for a while now. If things go well, maybe Vinyl can change that.
“We really want to try and get people downtown who don’t normally come down here,” Abston explained. “If we can expose them to the city, it’s a win-win situation.”
Vinyl is just a music hall, not the coming of a saint, but it does have the ability to bring life into downtown Pensacola that may not have been there otherwise.
“I really do appreciate everybody really supporting us and waiting on us,” Abston added.
Now people are anxious to see what’s next.
Vinyl Music Hall
2 S. Palafox Place
The New Sound of Palafox—A Local Musicians Take On Vinyl
By Thom Ulmer
The mounting curiosity over Vinyl Music Hall was finally sated as thousands of people made their way in and out of its doors on opening night. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the 500-plus-capacity room, a collective agreement was made: “Wow, downtown Pensacola needed this.”
While much hype and discussion had been had over pretty much every aspect of Vinyl’s unveiling—from the upcoming months’ lineup, to The Gills’ last show, to the number of rooms and the variety of drinks, to even the possible job opportunities—I was there to find out one thing: how’s the sound?
All the strobe lights and fog in the world can’t make up for a lackluster sound system—something local musicians know all too well. For years, local musicians have found their favorite haunts around town, dug their niches and built their own followings in small clubs, dive bars and beach huts often with PA systems and sound equipment provided by the venues themselves to varying results.
Not to say that there aren’t some decent systems around town, but I’ve been electrocuted by faulty microphones enough to get a little giddy at the idea of playing a mid-sized venue equipped with a multi-thousand dollar state-of-the-art sound system. And that’s exactly what Vinyl is, and has.
You see, while Vinyl offers Pensacola music goers plenty of opportunities to enjoy themselves and see bigger and better shows, its greatest offering is to the local musicians that may now get to play like rock stars and share the stage with renowned traveling acts from around the world—fog machines and all.
There are a number of great touring bands that are going to be coming through town in the coming months, but let’s not forget to support our thriving local bands and make a special effort to catch their shows at Vinyl, too. Let them guitar solo with a foot up on the monitor. Let them lick the microphone like David Lee Roth. If they stage dive, catch them—even if there are five of you in that room. Short of booking a show at the Pensacola Civic Center or bringing a miniature Stonehenge replica to their next gig, Vinyl is the best bet local musicians have for getting a little taste of the grandeur and atmosphere only a mid- to large-size venue can evoke.