ARE BREWERIES REPLACING TRADITIONAL MUSIC VENUES?
BY MACKENZIE PATEL
The slight, awkward head nods that constitute my “dancing” can’t help themselves - whenever there’s blasting music, glasses of beer on every surface, and a crowd of tattooed students, something primal and musical comes out. The band is sweating. I’m increasing the enthusiasm of my nods. The darkness feels great. But the beer isn’t Miller - it’s not even Stella Artois. It’s a clear glass of First Magnitude’s Vega Blonde Ale.
Breweries are growing in popularity across the country, especially with the younger population of college grads, yuppies, and craft connoisseurs. According to Ibis World, revenues from breweries in the US have increased by 300% since 2007, in addition to the industry growing as a whole by 1.3% in 2017.
Since underground brewing has become mainstream, breweries have introduced other elements such as live music and board games to make the tap room more interesting. Locally, breweries such as First Magnitude and Swamphead have hosted local music events from The Savants of Soul and Whale Feral concerts to Swamp Records’ Fall Closing party. What does this mean for traditional music venues such as The High Dive, The Atlantic, and The Wooly? Will breweries revolutionize the music scene and make holes-in-the-wall obsolete? Possibly. The High Dive doesn’t have grain silos in its front yard, but its major asset is the A+ acoustics it projects to sweaty audiences.
Interestingly, both The High Dive and First Magnitude Brewing Co. shied away from describing the other as “competition”. First Magnitude doesn’t view any local businesses as competition (even other breweries) since the production of high-quality beer is their main focus. The High Dive, by contrast, thinks the growth of craft brewing has been a boon for their operations. “The sale of local craft brewery drafts by local breweries like Swamphead, First Mag, and Cypress & Grove has been a great thing at High Dive,” said a representative of the High Dive. “Music fans are willing to pay a premium price for their product at our bar.” In their opinion, the continuous music being played at breweries or in the corner of your neighborhood pizzeria has a “watering down” effect on the Gainesville music scene. As casual music consumers, the rep says, we’re used to background music accompanying our iced teas and IPAs rather than being the main act. “What sets High Dive apart from most other places in Gainesville that host live music is that live music is our primary purpose, and it is front and center.” The High Dive believes the focus at a brewery is on the rich malts and wheats, the boiling point and quality of head, not the live music on an outdoor stage.
However, First Magnitude does have a viable shot at becoming an entertainment staple. The corner stage in their beer garden is more charming than hardcore, and if that deters guests, their planned improvements to sound and light quality could make their downtown warehouse a malty rage. According to Liana Grantges, a frequenter of breweries and The High Dive, the sheer size of the brewery is an attractive difference to music-goers; instead of being stuffed in a marijuana-filled room the size of doll’s bedroom, patrons could have more space, relax in the tap room, or peruse the brewing equipment.
“I actually have space to breathe - and dance,” said Grantges.
Although that smoky claustrophobia is what makes the High Dive a Gainesville icon, certain guests would prefer something less college-esque.
With local craft breweries, there’s also the issue of giant conglomerates gobbling up smaller breweries and adding them to a repertoire of pseudo-craft brands. MillerCoors owns Blue Moon and Terrapin, Anheuser Busch InBev claims Shock Top and Wicked Weed. If these large companies decide to add big name music to their corporate strategy, local music could be in trouble. A recent article in the Houston Press entitled “Brewery Shows Are Watering Down Houston's Music Scene” described big breweries shelling out cash to host live music. Big brewing is a business, just as local music venues are, but the integrity of places such as the High Dive is still intact.
Age could also prove a sticky issue at breweries since under 21-year-olds could be gypped of alcohol and live music at breweries. The High Dive is a hotspot hangout for Gainesville high schoolers too young for brews but too old for their parents’ living rooms. As an 18+ venue, it captures the 18 to 20 crowd, although most breweries aren’t averse to under 21-year-olds who are hanging out with parents or older friends. While local breweries have imposed no age restrictions on their admission, breweries in other locations have age-restricted their late night events. Although beer can’t be consumed, live music can, as evidenced by Swamp Records’ Closing Party.
Gainesville’s downtown is thriving, but with a twisted (and double-edged) “T”. While places such as Heartwood are expanding and attracting new patrons, gentrification threatens to oust black residents from their neighborhoods and refurbishing their spaces for higher prices. The neighborhoods surrounding these breweries (in the traditionally “industrial” sector) are experiencing property value increases and a higher income, lower melanin-count resident pool.
The High Dive views gentrification (made possible, in part, by these new breweries) as a serious issue. According to the High Dive's representative, “Music venues like ours are always in jeopardy of being closed or relocated in favor of something more shiny, new, and homogenized.” It’s not unlikely breweries will become their replacement. And since the High Dive doesn’t make substantial profit from door sales, it’s dependent on other variable sources of income (i.e. alcohol sales) to keep their business afloat and still able to compete with these new breweries.
These issues have wide ramifications for the national brewery and local music scene. Small town breweries are going corporate and upping their music game – smoky (but wholesome) music joints are getting ousted by gentrification – and the exponential growth of music festivals is threatening to dissolve local, one-act shows. How our small-town music is being delivered to us is changing, but we’re all too tipsy on craft beer to notice.