Where you see live music often informs the experience every bit as much as what you’re seeing and hearing. Different environments have different vibes, and let’s face it — a concert doesn’t exist in a vacuum; no matter how much you love to bitch about the loudmouths at the bar, live music is a social experience.
But, just like everything else, venues come and go, often leaving fans with pleasant memories of a certain club with no hope of experiencing it again. It’s as true for the folks who play live music as it is for the ones in the crowd. One of the best things about forging relationships with musicians from around the country and the world is the opportunity to share stories about the long-gone joints of someone else’s hometown, and find the common ground that almost always crops up during such conversations.
In that spirit, here are five late Tampa Bay venues I won’t ever forget, because each of them contributed to some of my favorite — or at least most memorable — music-scene moments.
The Stone Lounge
In the early to mid-’90s, The Stone was pretty much ground zero for Tampa indie rock. Names that would become huge (Everclear, Korn) played the same small stage as cred-heavy underground bands (Snapcase, Dwarves, Plexi, Letters to Cleo, Sense Field, hell, pretty much everybody) and locals. I created endless drama as a typical slacker rock-club employee and played my first sold-out show there — after which we were banned, due to our singer’s fighting with the sound engineer and my hitting a kid in the face with my shoe.
Weird, but fun. With owner/carpenter Flash Gordon’s handmade wooden furniture everywhere, it felt as if a huge party patio had been transported inside. I was introduced to the then-emerging alt-country scene there, and first saw and met Slobberbone, a Texas group that had a huge impact on my own songwriting. One night, the bartender gave my debit card to somebody else at last call, so during a smoke break outside I reached in through an unlocked window behind the bar and helped myself to some wine from an unattended bottle.
While underage, I first started making the trek from Tampa to Club D for its legendary “Channel Zero” night; I would hide in the bathroom and wait for friends to bring me beers. Later, I started going to see bands like Gas Huffer and Paw, and eventually ended up playing there several times. (Anyone remember Nudeswirl?) The two or three Brotherhood Jams organized by the Freaks Rule guys — which spilled outside to use the Jannus stage, too — are some of my fondest memories of playing with inspiring friends like Will Quinlan and Joe Popp.
Huge and modern, stylish and hip, right on 7th Avenue in Ybor (where The Honey Pot is today), The Rubb felt almost too nice to be a clubhouse for local bands when it wasn’t hosting national touring acts. I was in a band that opened for locals-gone-national The Hazies at their sold-out CD release party, and had the privilege of supporting several national acts that I loved, like Seaweed and Hum.
The Brass Mug
There’s still a Brass Mug in North Tampa, but it ain’t the original. There’s not one Tampa indie music fan or musician who came up in the late ’80s or early ’90s who doesn’t have a handful of stories about the Mug. I learned to be a “real” performing musician there: how to load in, time a set, talk to a crowd, fight with a crowd, get screwed over by a promoter, avoid getting screwed over by a promoter — all the things you don’t get from sitting at home or in a rehearsal space. I also learned that just being there, experiencing it all, was every bit as important as the music we were hearing or making.