Ale and Witch owner Brett Andress opened his downtown St. Petersburg bar with one goal: all-domestic craft beer taps. But four years later, the craft beer goes hand-in-hand with seven nights a week of really good live music. The adjacent courtyard allowed for a pseudo-amphitheater, one that musicians enjoy playing and patrons enjoy, well, enjoying.
“The music grew as a complimentary piece to the business,” Andress told CL. “It became part of our identity.”
What was he looking for in the beginning? “Not Jimmy Buffet,” he says. “I wanted original music, Americana music.”
Their first three acts were Rebekah Pulley, Geri X, and the Urban Gypsies. It wasn’t long before musical maven Jayne Kelli began hosting a weekly series. Jun Bustamante, brought in by Kelli, started her weekly series shortly thereafter.
“I remember it being so difficult for me to find folks in the beginning to book,” Bustamante said. “Nowadays i'm constantly turning musicians away because I get too many requests to perform there.”
Andress says that it was those early acts, along with Kelli and Bustamonte’s audiences that helped establish the Witch as a musical venue with musicians like Damon Fowler, the Applebutter Express and more.
“I think that the space is unique because Brett Andress has a passion for music and beer,” Bustamante said. “To tell you the truth…I believe that musicians enjoy playing there because they get treated well.”
And just like the constantly shifting draft list, Andress likes to diversify the music on tap as well.
“We rotate our music as much as we rotate our beers,” he said.
The Catch-22 of Andress’ craft beer-infused amphitheater in downtown St. Petersburg? He doesn’t charge a cover, ever.
“Never have and never will,” he said. “We cover the music, that sometimes limits what tier of bands will play here.”
So occasionally, Andress springs for something bigger, like the eight-piece New Orleans brass band Soul Rebels. Because, he said, "sometimes like to have one heck of a party.”
Ale and the Witch is located in the Tower Plaza Courtyard, 111 Second Ave N.E., downtown St. Petersburg, 727-821-2533, facebook.com/thealeandthewitch.
Ramblegrass (8/1); Uncle John's Band with Ronny Elliott (8/2); Currentz (8/8); Ari and the Alibis (8/9).