Gainesville is way more than just another college town—it’s a historic music hub. Check out our scene report on what swamp city has going on!
This article originally appeared in She Shreds Issue #18, released in April 2019.
The music scene in Gainesville, FL is like a watering hole where indie college bands and Tom Petty-esque dad rock meet local punks. If this metaphorical dive bar had a signature drink, it might be an alcoholic slushie from Fat Daddy’s (1702 W University Ave) with some absinthe and moonshine thrown in. Despite being landlocked in the middle of the state, musical tastes in Gainesville are wide-ranging, with something for everyone.
Many know Gainesville as a college town, as it’s home to the University of Florida (UF), an institution that’s accomplishments have included creating Gatorade in 1965 and winning national football championships with Tim Tebow. But there’s much more to Gainesville that exists outside of the campus’s brick buildings, making this the vibrant swamp city that it is.
The majority of Gainesville’s music venues are downtown, situated between late-night Cuban eateries and cigar bars. There’s a venue for every vibe, depending on if you’re feeling country, fancy, or anything in between.
The Wooly (20 N Main St) has an elegant, old-fashioned feel. The bar area is separated from the stage, offering distinct experiences. The Wooly books events ranging from the celebrated Emo Night to the National Women’s Liberation (Gainesville Chapter) Roe v. Wade Anniversary Show.
Heartwood Soundstage (619 S Main St) is a playground of venues, including a recording studio, an indoor stage, a large outdoor area with multiple stages, a bar, and a neighboring woodworking studio that makes the whole complex smell like a forest. It caters to diverse audiences, so if you’re into African drums, French dream pop, or dab festivals, this is the place for you.
The High Dive (210 SW 2nd Ave) is exactly what its name implies: a dirty-floor emporium and a good time. The High Dive is the default venue in Gainesville, and it attracts the biggest acts including Boris, of Montreal, SALES, and the Gainesville Girls Rock Camp Showcase. The outdoor beer garden is perfect for enjoying $3 PBRs and chats with strangers.
The Atlantic (15 N Main St) has shifted its identity over the years from being the host of Indie Night on Thursdays to a venue for local bands. It’s a Gainesville staple that is not only redefining itself with David Bowie and Queen-inspired nights but also offering its floor space to locals like flipturn, Pearl & The Oysters, and Driveaway.
Despite the diversity in Gainesville’s music scene, the city’s gear shops have had a hard time keeping up. Sure, there’s a Guitar Center stuffed between JOANN Fabrics and Publix, but in addition to the inventory not being very extensive, there are also several better local shops to support.
Hoggtowne Music (5200 NW 43rd St #503) advertises itself as “Gainesville’s School Band Headquarters” and has been serving the city’s musicians for over 20 years. The store definitely has a band camp feel, but the extensive guitar collection and online store offer options to those who prefer shredding over perfecting an embouchure.
2nd & Charles (2601 NW 13th St #2601) stocks a wide range of offerings, from guitars and drums to books, vinyl, DVDs, and rubber animal masks. This everything store sells new and used merchandise, and their back wall is devoted to acoustic and electric guitars as well as drum kits. And although they don’t sell any basses, they do have used banjos for $200.
Great Southern Music (6787 W Newberry Rd) is your traditional instrument store with sweet deals on leasing and rent-to-own instruments. They offer instrument repairs, as well as premier music lessons that are often taught by professors or PhD students at UF.
Any dedicated Gainesville music fan makes the trip downtown at least once a week to peruse our two major record stores. The walk from one to the other is only five minutes, and it’s worth checking out both for their drastically different offerings. Other random shops sell vinyl records (i.e. Books-a-Million, Goodwill), but the two below are run by local experts in the industry.
Hear Again Records (201 SE 1 St) occupies a tiny space, but their logo, featuring a family portrait with records for heads, is recognizable on stickers, t-shirts, and slipmats all over the city. Their constant inventory turnover (and livestream Facebook updates) is likely to bring Bikini Kill reissues one week and The Coathangers another.
At Arrow’s Aim Records (10 N Main St), the used CD collection is a cabinet of curiosities, where the used records are mixed in with the new—so there’s the thrill of discovering Weyes Blood on blue vinyl or a $5 used Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
For being a swampland, Gainesville has a surprising variety of music festivals and house shows. Heartwood Soundstage puts on their annual Heartwood Festival with acts ranging from college bands to folk music and jam bands. They also experiment with the double recording of live shows, so both the performers and audience can experience the differences or similarities, as with Pearl & The Oyster’s set this past February. The Parisian-turned-Flordian band captivated audiences with their sultry vocals and hypnotic jazz flute—and you could experience the spell twice with the recordings of two performances of the exact same set list.
Connected with Heartwood Soundstage is Swamp Records, the student-run record label of UF. A hotbed of future talent, Swamp Records supports four to five bands with graphic design, booking, PR, social media, and artist-reveal house shows.
The Civic Media Center is a downtown tour-de-force that concentrates on activism, curating the largest zine collection in the Southeast U.S., and hosting orgasmic poetry jams in one funky, tattered building. They often champion issues such as labor disputes, incarceration, and black feminism through live music and weekly workshops.
Changeville is a weekend music and arts festival that takes place at a variety of local venues throughout Gainesville. Curated with musicians and experiences that advocate for social change, a portion of the proceeds of Changeville are donated to local charities. Previous acts have included Princess Nokia, Japanese Breakfast, Laura Stevenson, and Big Freedia.
Finally, by definition, a profile of Gainesville must mention The Fest, a multiple-day/venue independent festival devoted to punk and pop-punk. Started in 2002, The Fest has become iconic of Gainesville, and this year’s fest includes acts such as Screaming Females, Laura Jane Grace, and War on Women.
Don’t let the crushed cans of Natty Light and PBR lining frat row fool you—Gainesville’s palate for craft beer is sophisticated, and it’s only getting more particular. Local breweries offer rich beers and relaxed atmospheres, and you’re likely to find even the most niche beers at downtown bodega Pop-a-Top and mega grocery store chains alike.
Swamp Head Brewery (3650 SW 42 Ave) has the highest quality craft beer in all of Gainesville. Located in the warehouse district, their brewery is literally in the wetlands, just outside of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Year-round drinks include Midnight Oil Oatmeal Coffee Stout, Big Nose IPA, and Stump Knocker Pale Ale. Swamp Head also offers special release beers, including the Reef Patrol Caribbean-style lager, of which a portion of the proceeds are donated to organizations protecting Florida’s shark population.
First Magnitude Brewery (1220 SE Veitch St) dominates the industrial side of downtown Gainesville with their sprawling indoor and outdoor complex. Children can busy themselves in the playground while parents knock back Vega Blonde Ales and Ursa IPAs. First Magnitude also hosts events including meetups, trivia, brewery yoga, and more.
Big Top Brewing (201 SE 2nd Ave #101) is the newest brewery to hit the streets of (surprise, surprise) downtown. Big Top Brewing was founded in Sarasota, FL, but the Gainesville location brings a welcome addition to the local brewery scene. If you want a central location for happy hour, this is the brewery to stop at.
Gainesville worships coffee after beer, and the city’s coffee culture is celebrated widely and with niche aesthetics. Whether you’re looking for a place that feels particularly smart, grungy, or Christian, Gainesville’s coffeehouses can hook you up.
Wyatt’s Coffee (202 SE 2nd Ave) is featured on way too many Instagram pages, but there’s something about that stylized “W” logo that reels in both locals and newcomers alike. Wyatt’s makes specialized drinks such as turmeric ginger tea and beetroot lattes, in addition to selling beer, wine, and regular coffees.
Volta Coffee (48 SW 2nd St) is tucked away downtown, but it’s only a few steps from some of the most vibrant murals in the city. The tea is prepared intricately with a timer and a mesh steeper, there’s comfortable air-conditioning, and outside is a bike rental kiosk so you can coast to Depot Park with an iced latte.
Pascal’s Coffeehouse (112 NW 16th St) is across from the campus library and prides itself on being a Christian Study Center (a noticeable juxtaposition to all of the midtown clubs and bars on the same road). Although their coffee choices are limited, the two floors of couches, wooden tables, and bright windows make it the perfect place for studying.