It has only been a year since Vinyl Music Hall opened its doors, yet it is hard to imagine downtown Pensacola without the cool little venue on the corner of Palafox and Garden. Vinyl has quickly become a staple for music, not only here in Pensacola, but along the entire Gulf Coast. So far in year one, a who’s who of fantastic artists have stopped in to get down, some more than once, which speaks volumes, as some of those artists might not have been able to play our town otherwise, while also offering up some rare opportunities for local acts to share the stage with some of their favorites, be it legends of funk like George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic or Dr. John, or punk rock pioneers such as Misfits and Face to Face. Hip-hop, dub-step, rock, pop, reggae—you name it, it has been featured at Vinyl this year.
The one-year anniversary bash is all set, featuring one of VMH’s favorite standouts The Constellations. IN caught up with the man behind booking the shows, Chris Wilkes, to chat about what the first year was like for VMH and what we can expect to see in the future.
IN: Congratulations on the first anniversary of Vinyl Music Hall. All in all, it’s been a pretty good year, don’t you think?
WILKES: It’s been a great year. We’ve come out of nowhere and really begun to build a reputation for not only the venue, but the market here as a whole. I’m consistently blown away by some of the talent that we’ve been able to get in here in our first year.
IN: Were there ever any doubts about how well received the venue would be, especially after some of the not-so-well attended shows? But then again, hit or miss is the name of the game.
WILKES: The concept of this venue was really foreign to a lot of people in this area. Pensacola has not had a strictly event driven, dedicated live music venue in as long as I can remember, and I have been going to shows here for 20-plus years. We look at other, similar venues in the Southeast and on the East Coast, like The 9:30 Club in D.C., The NorVa and The National in Virginia, The Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C., The Moon in Tallahassee and all of the House Of Blues locations as a template. We’re trying to bring that same experience to Pensacola, albeit on a smaller level, because this is a smaller market.
Trying to run with more established venues in other markets has involved taking some chances, some on bands and genres that have never really hit this area. Some of those chances have paid off, some haven’t, but we still have to try. We’ve had more successes than failures in our first year. And I hate to even use the term failure, because even on a show that underperforms, there is still a faction of die-hard fans of the artists that we were able to facilitate an amazing experience for. This venue is still a baby and still on training wheels, but with every show and every new genre we reach out to, we learn something new and use that new knowledge to keep the venue growing and evolving.
IN: Many of the artists brought into Vinyl have returned, some two or three times. It’s really cool to see that some artists who may not have ever played Pensacola are now more inclined to stop in and keep our city in mind when routing tours.
WILKES: We’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible artists in our first year, and even more lucky to find that some of those artists and their management and crews are amazing people to boot. This is a business, but we are not just in the business of keeping our customers happy, but also the performers that we host here. We strive to bring a level of friendliness and plain Southern hospitality to our dealings with these bands and make sure they are always taken care of and comfortable. Who wouldn’t want to come back to a venue that treats them well, not just when they are on the stage, or when they are getting paid, but from the moment they hit our loading door to the moment they leave town. We’re proud to say that we now consider some of our returning acts not just colleagues or “the talent”, but friends.
IN: When the concept of Vinyl began taking shape, you posted a sheet in Hopjacks asking people to jot down who they would love to see at Vinyl. How many of those wishes have been granted? Also, which of your personal favorites have you been able to bring in?
WILKES: I couldn’t even venture a guess on this. I do know that at least 30 or so of the bands we’ve had here are ones that popped up repeatedly on numerous physical and online wish lists, and that number is only going to grow in our second year as we have more cache’ on the touring circuit now and our name is not just known in Pensacola. As far as personal favorites for me, The Psychedelic Furs, Strike Anywhere, The Queers, Misfits, Robert Randolph, Rasputina, Agent Orange, The Electric Six and Dick Dale were all bands that I was a huge fan of before they performed here.
Some bands that I was introduced to by them playing here and that I now consider personal faves include Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, The Constellations, The New Collisions, Me Talk Pretty, Sons Of Bill and Enter The Haggis.
IN: While not so much a venue that holds many local showcases, you have always looked to the local crop when booking openers. How important is it to you to make sure that our local artists have an opportunity to play the venue?
WILKES: We have had a few local showcases and will probably do more in our second year. Our situation with local support for national acts is often tricky. We try to get locals on shows whenever we can, but artist management really dictates if and when we can add a local band to a show or not. They also often dictate who those bands are (a process known as “support approval”). When adding a local to a show we look for the quality of the band, what kind of online presence they have, are these people just in it for fun or are they really out there promoting themselves and the shows they are playing, and does the band fit the show? Now, we often mix genres within the same show. Nobody wants to go see four bands in a row that sound exactly the same, but we do try and keep at least a vague sense of cohesion in the bills.
IN: You have been adding some new elements of entertainment to your repertoire, like legendary comedian Gallagher, for instance. Are there any plans to keep mixing things up and bringing in more non-musical acts in the future?
WILKES: We would love to. It is just that music lends itself more to the standing room only set-up of the venue, whereas many other kinds of live entertainment virtually demand a seated situation. We were lucky enough with Gallagher to be able to cut it in the middle by offering both seated and standing room only tickets. Doing that would usually cut into our capacity to a point where it wouldn’t make financial sense for us, but Gallagher had heard such great things about the venue, he was willing to meet us in the middle to make it happen. But like I said, we are still in our learning stages and figuring out what we can and can’t make work in here, so expect even more “experimentation” in our second year.
IN: The Constellations are almost the Vinyl Music Hall house band by now. What is it about this certain group that really made such an impression on you, and how stoked are you to have them performing for your anniversary celebration?
WILKES: Thrilled, to say the least. All it took was one text message and they jumped at the idea. The Constellations rolled in here last October as support for The Electric Six, and I don’t think anyone here at the club (or in town) knew much of anything about them at that point. They proceeded to absolutely kill that night, blowing away both the crowd and everyone working here. We immediately set a date for them to come back as headliners and word of mouth on them had gotten around by then and they totally packed the house. When they came back as support for the sold out Robert Randolph show back in February, they were introduced to a whole new crowd of people and blew them away as well, which led to another packed house headlining gig here and also a slot in this year’s Deluna Fest. They are also great people and good friends.
IN: Any exclusive announcements or cool info on upcoming events?
WILKES: No exclusive announcements right now, but the rest of 2011 is going to be packed with more big names and talent than downtown Pensacola has seen since the days of Spring Fest. We’re really excited to be bringing such a diverse calendar down here. From moe (one of the biggest jam bands on the planet right now) to X (absolutely classic punk rock band whose influence on not just punk, but alternative, folk and indie rock is still being felt today), to Fishbone (one of my favorite bands in high school and still one of the best live bands out there) to Los Lonely Boys and indie heavy hitters like Okkervil River and Junior Boys. Year one was the dress rehearsal for Vinyl. Year two is going to be the real eye—and ear—opener.
VINYL MUSIC HALL ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY, FEATURING THE CONSTELLATIONS
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox