Down by the Riverside

music cummer cafeIn the song “Take Me Down to Funky Riverside,” an anthem penned by local artist Mondo Mike celebrating that traditional Jacksonville neighborhood known for its diverse architecture and culture, there is the line “Music seeps up from the ground, grab the record, spin it around.” It is a clear reference to the enclave of musicians who have settled there and in its adjoining neighborhood, Avondale, as well as a nod to Deep Search Records, purveyors of new and used vinyl records and books located in Five Points. Riverside is not without a rock and roll back story as members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers lived and rehearsed there in their early careers.

However, a new generation of emerging musicians representing the city’s budding musical diversity has taken root in Riverside: Jonas Pierre of the world music/jazz group Tala, Emily Aldridge of Gypsy Fire, Eric Riehm and Chris Jackson of the new world lounge sound group Tropic of Cancer, as well as singer/songwriter Shawn Lightfoot and Antique Animals front man and indie crooner Joe Shuck and its bassist Mike Boff. But the area is not exclusive to new energy as established performers such as veteran troubadour Jobe Meiller, percussionist/music critic John Citrone, and playwright and songwriter Jen Chase, glowing from her recent successful production of La Caroline, also call this west side embankment of the St. Johns River home.

“It’s an eclectic and artistic scene in Riverside,” says Aldridge, who moved to Riverside in 2011 and belts out blues-rock and pop songs in a mezzo soprano voice. “You should live somewhere that reflects your soul. It has a great energy and I feel like I’m near my tribe. Sometimes in the evening I hear a trumpet player down the street practice, his horn echoing in the night.”

She says there are many musicians in Riverside to jam with, adding “the community radiates a good vibe and people pick up on that.”

Saxophonist Eric Riehm, who, when not playing with Tropic of Cancer or jamming at the Casbah on Sunday evenings, can be found at his and his wife Katie’s allergen friendly bakery on King Street, Sweet Theory. He says that Riverside is one of the most progressive parts of town, if not the only. “There are places to play and exhibit art and even though there is no university, it feels like a college area.”

Riehm studied jazz at the University of North Florida and found Riverside to be the place he wanted to live. “I never felt I had to leave town to play my music.”

Ironically, as filled as Riverside is with fine musicians innovating new sounds, there is not an abundance of music venues in the area. Rain Dogs, Mellow Mushroom, RAM, The Brick, Casbah and The Cummer Museum offer live music, with Bold Bean featuring an occasional performance. Notable House concerts, first forged by Jimmy Saal’s Atypical Arts and followed by local cultural icon Wayne Wood, have also taken root. Saal, a former executive for Spin and Vibe magazines, saw in Riverside a fertile ground to curate music.

“There was a lack of musical venues and the few that existed catered to a young audience,” says Saal, who recently moved to Pittsburgh but has plans to produce more house concerts in Riverside. “The area has a diverse demo that mixes well. People in the neighborhood were enthusiastic about music and supported local artists but had nowhere to engage it.”

While Saal’s house concerts have tapped into the neighborhood’s thirst for unique music by bringing in out-of-town performers such as Dave Eggar, Morley and Valerie June, Wood’s concerts and The Cummer Museum’s Tapas Tuesdays feature local musicians providing a vital symbiosis between artists and community. Chase has been a regular at The Cummer, which presents the events on the museum’s patio under its large spreading oaks.

“The Cummer Café supports local artists and provides a great musical experience,” says Chase. “We are really valued and recognized for what we offer as artists.”

Chase says she would never move anywhere else because Riverside is full of other like-minded independent people and it’s a total original.

“That makes for great conversation when I’m hanging out with other artists. By virtue of all the stuff going on here, I’m always inviting people to my neighborhood.”

Article written by Mike Bernos

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