Jack Rabbits, the San Marco live music venue, turns 25 in February. In human years, that makes Jack Rabbits approximately 2,000-years old. That is to say, live music is a tough business.
The life cycle of music venues tends to be truncated. The most celebrated clubs of all time were largely short lived endeavors – The Cotton Club, Max’s Kansas City, Fillmore East. Locally, many wax nostalgic about now-defunct venues like the Milk Bar (1990-1999), Freebird Live (1999-2016) and the all-ages indie club Einstein A Go-Go (1985-1997). In 2024, after a few turbulent years of shelter-at-home orders, social distancing and mandated capacity limits, consolidation of the venue and ticketing market by multinational corporations like AEG and Live Nation represents just the latest threat to independently-owned live music clubs.
Nevertheless, Jack Rabbits persists.
After moving to Jacksonville from San Diego, Anne and Tim Hall opened Jack Rabbits on Hendricks Avenue in 1999. (Anne is the owner. Tim books the shows under his talent-buying/promotion business Jax Live Presents.) At the dawn of the new millennium, well before music-streaming services or online ticketing platforms, music fans found out about upcoming concerts via listings in alternative newsweeklies or zeroxed flyers affixed to telephone poles or the windows of local businesses. They then had to arrive, in-person, to the box office of a venue in order to procure tickets. No doubt, much has changed.
Even if you’ve never been to Jack Rabbits, if you’ve been to an independent live music club in any city you’ve been to Jack Rabbits. Cheap beer. A decent-sized stage. Great sound. It’s a no frills, music-centered experience.
But Jack Rabbits is unique – and undeniably important – for the specific and multifarious roles it has played in cultivating, and often holding together, a Jacksonville music ecosystem that has long been fragile and fractured. Since its inception, the club has made space for local talent; you’d be hard-pressed to name a band that garnered any semblance of a local or regional following in the last two-and-a-half decades that Tim Hall had never put on a bill at Jack Rabbits.
It’s also been a place to catch a rising star. A short list of bands that have played to a crowd of 300 (or less) at Jack Rabbits: Modest Mouse, Paramore, Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, Le Tigre, Tegan and Sara, Camper Van Beethoven, Kurt Vile, Charles Bradley, Sturgill Simpson, Warpaint and Jason Isbell, to name more than a few. These acts largely built their careers touring and playing in smaller, independently-run venues just like Jack Rabbits.
And beyond the kind of top-of-the-festival-bill names that would make snobby “I-knew-them-before-they-were-big” music obsessives blush, Jack Rabbits has always made space for the kind of culturally important acts that, whether or not by design, were never quite absorbed into the monoculture – from dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry to groundbreaking guitar gods like Dick Dale and Link Wray to beloved weirdos like Jonathan Richman.
Throughout the club’s month-long 25-year-anniversary celebration, all three categories of artist are well represented; from local standouts of both today and yesterday – Trash Panda, Groove Inn, Inspection 12 (w/ The Julius Airwave) – to catch-them-before-they’re-too-big acts like Asheville alt-country group Wednesday, NYC shoegaze band Hotline TNT and Tampa hip-hop duo They Hate Change (all three actually share a bill on February 3). And, as evidence of the revarance artists have for the club, several big-name acts are also booked, including Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, BJ Barham of American Aquarium and hometown boy JJ Grey & Mofro.
The benefits of small, independently run music clubs to both artist and fan are myriad. For patrons, indie clubs’ lack of need to increase shareholder profits means ticket prices are often lower, drinks often cheaper. And not only are indie venues more likely to open their facilities to smaller, lesser-known artists, those artists are less likely to be shaken down for oft-unspoken taxes — say, merch cuts.
In many ways, buying a ticket to show at an independent venue is an act of solidarity. It’s a fist in the air in support of artists and with those risk-seeking enough — like Anne and Tim Hall — to provide a space showcase them.
Check out a full list of Jack Rabbits shows on our interactive live music calendar here or visit jaxlive.com. Listen to Tim Hall and the venue’s Director of Facilities and Marketing, Lisa Thomas, talk with First Coast Connect host Anne Schindler about the history and longevity of the venue above.