Venues and music fans still singing the pandemic blues – Tallahassee Democrat

The Blue Tavern

I miss going out to hear live music.

I miss sitting in a “roomful of people” (the Blue Tavern tag line) with a bowl of owner Maggie McKeown’s gumbo to listen to some acoustic songsmithery.

I miss standing elbow-to-elbow in a crowd in front of The Wilbury’s stage, grinning like a rocketship monkey on blast off while some band turns it up to 11.

I miss sitting by the bonfire between sets at Bradfordville Blues Club, licking grease and salt off my fingers and wondering if I can get somebody to split another one of Ms. Ernestine’s fish plates with me — fuel for the slow grind to come on the dance floor inside.

I miss hearing what local bands like Once Great Estate, Phlox, Pat Puckett, Tuesday Supper Club, Naugahyde Park, The Intoxicators! and Lil’ Grizzly Boogie Band have cooked up. 

I miss lying back on a blanket at Cascades Park and letting the music wash over me as stars prick through the vault of the sky at sunset. And I miss settling into my seat in Ruby Diamond Concert Hall and closing my eyes to sink into the music as the Tallahassee Symphony plays the opening notes of a concert.

Judging from recent posts on social media, I’m not the only music-loving native who’s getting restless seven months into this corona-world reality. And though our governor has lifted restrictions on how many people can gather in bars and restaurants, and live performance is slowly returning to outdoor venues, as well as indoor spaces, most local venues — and the musicians who play in them — are choosing to err on the side of caution.

The Moon debuted its spectacular renovated space at a recent show by Tom & the Cats. Only 250 tickets were made available to enable safe social distancing, and even then, only about half of those tickets were sold.

Still, it was a start — a tentative return to hosting live shows.

The Wilbury will cease hosting live music and has disassembled its stage. With a large patio, it will continue as gathering place and eatery.

Other clubs that were mainstays on the live music scene — including Fifth & Thomas and Finnegan’s Wake — have shut their doors forever. Just this past week, I heard a rumor that The Wilbury will cease hosting live music and has disassembled its stage.

Owner Ryan Smith confirmed that rumor, saying that the Gaines Street bar will continue as a gathering place and eatery. 

“The long and short of it is that the mid-sized music venue is one of the absolute hardest business models to successfully run,” Smith said in an email. “We didn’t initially open for business with the idea that we would transform into a full-on (music) venue. The local scene kind of willed it into fruition for us.

“As for the future of The Wilbury, we have an amazing patio, delicious barbecue, the greatest wings ever, a sizable draft beer selection, cocktails, mini-bowling and three new pool tables to enjoy. We look forward to years to come as a place for all types of people to come hang out and simply have a good time.”

Jimmy Lohman shown playing at Blue Tavern. The small venue is still trying to figure a way to safely reopen.

Blue Tavern owner McKeown is hopeful that she can reopen the doors of her cozy Midtown pub, but only when it’s safe to do so.

“Reopening a music venue in a small bar is problematic,” she said. “Live music can increase aerosol transmission, and ventilation in a smaller space is worrisome. That’s why the reopening date for Blue Tavern has kept shifting. 

“We started with the idea of being closed for two weeks until April Fools Day. Fooled me! That evolved to reopening Aug. 1 outside at 50 percent capacity, part-time, but the (positive COVID) rates went up about that time with schools opening. The next shift was to open at the end of October for the fourth anniversary of Blue Tavern with the same conditions of opening outside only, 50 percent capacity, two to three days a week. The COVID rates are currently down in Tallahassee, but rates are up in most of the United States. And winter is approaching. The way forward? I wish I knew. Blue Tavern will reopen when the pandemic is waning and it feels reasonably safe for us to gather.”

As for Tallahassee’s beloved and historic juke joint in the woods, BBC owner Gary Anton says he will continue live-streaming shows from the empty club, as he’s been doing on Saturdays via Moose Magnificat Radio, and will wait to reopen when it’s deemed safe. Anton’s own health concerns make him hyper-sensitive to the safety of others.

Bradfordville Blue Club's Gary Anton: "We've been COVID-closed since March 14, although we started live-streaming ‘empty house’ shows via Facebook on Saturdays in May."

“We been COVID-closed since March 14, although we started live-streaming ‘empty house’ shows via Facebook on Saturdays in May,” he said. “The local music community has been wholly supportive and we’ve been able to raise some money to cover our ongoing expenses.

“Notwithstanding the fantasy that bars can safely reopen, we don’t share that reverie. The health and safety of those who come through our doors are more important than prematurely opening the doors. We’ll do so when we think it is safe. So, in the meantime, we’ll continue live-streaming while we can.”

I’m with Maggie and Gary. As much as I am jonesing for that communal musical vibe, I’m going to bide my time and practice patience. I know it’ll be worth the wait.

Kati Schardl

Contact Kati Schardl at

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