[Interview] Jason Hunnicutt of 1904 Music Hall Talks Music, Business Philosophy, & Upcoming Projects

Jason Hunnicutt

Photo credit: The Elbow

As owner and proprietor of 1904 Music Hall and Spliff’s Gastropub, Jason Hunnicutt, has been a dynamic force for change and upward mobility within the Jacksonville music and arts scene. Opening in 2011, 1904 has seen an impressive array of musical talents grace its stage, a trend which doesn’t see any signs of slowing. We sat down to talk to Jason and get some insight into what motivates his decisions and occupies his time.

Read the interview below.

Is there anything, a person or a philosophy, to which you attribute your success as an entrepreneur?

Not really one thing. My overall philosophy is pretty much to be open to anything, to say “yes” to a lot of stuff, and be willing to take chances. To take risks – that’s the key to your rewards. And staying positive. Having a PMA, as I like to say. A positive mental attitude about whatever. No matter what, it’s all about perspective.

You’re not just a music lover, you play as well. Do you play any instruments besides the drums?

It’s funny you ask that. I dabble a little bit in guitar but, I want to actually learn it and become a more skilled guitarist. So, I’m about to take that up in the coming months. I’ve got an acoustic guitar at my house that I like to fool around on. I’ve downloaded some YouTube videos and some lessons, so I’m trying to expand my very basic knowledge. Other than that, just drums.

Any future music projects coming up?

Yes – Universal Green. Darryl’s moving back to Jacksonville. He’s been in LA for the last year, so it’s been one of those things that’s been on the back burner, playing when we can, when he’s in town. Once he’s back in town, we’re going be writing a lot more and putting out some new stuff, hopefully in the fall and winter.

Do you have a music room at home? If so, tell me about it.

Currently, no. I did have a room at my old house, but we just moved last month. I had a three bedroom house, but our landlord was selling the house and the new owner wanted us to sign a new lease. We didn’t want to do that, so we gave up our three bedroom house for a one bedroom studio here in downtown Jacksonville.

So, everything’s in one room?

Yep, everything’s in one room, in storage, and most of my music gear is stored here at 1904. I have four drum sets here right now. I had one at my house in my little jam room and it was fun. But I still get to rehearse here whenever I want. Usually on Sundays or a random Tuesday night.

I know you have been deeply involved in the music community in Jacksonville for quite some time. What was it that inspired you to take that leap from musician to music hall owner?

One of the biggest influences, I can definitely say, is watching what the guys from DubConscious did. Adrian and Matt and some of the other guys opened up New Earth Music Hall in Athens in 2010. Just seeing them transition from being musicians taking part in their musical community, to being musical ambassadors, who host and help grow the musical community, was a huge inspiration.

What was your mission at the outset?

More music in Jacksonville. That was pretty much it. Yea, we’ve always had great venues, but I think, especially for downtown, having something central in the city that is an embodiment of the local music scene was my goal. We have a lot of different styles and a lot of different genres that come through here. Just being able to showcase local, regional, and national acts and to have really good, enjoyable shows, was a central focus. And, again, saying yes to opportunities, no matter what show it is -and now we’re not pigeonholed into being just a jam bar or a metal club or whatever, you know.

Yes, that’s what I love most about this place is that you can see funk on one night and country on another. That’’s the makings of a true music hall.

Yep. We’ve got this Pop R&B show that we just announced, SoMo. He’s coming in November and it’s funny – this isn’t a genre we normally book and they have these VIP packages with a meet and greet for $299. That’s the highest priced ticket I’ve ever sold in my life. And we sold two right off the bat.

How has your mission evolved, as you get to know more about our community and their needs and desires?

I think mostly its the genres/styles we choose to book. Really, its what genres work and sell, versus my personal taste. I love Drum and Bass but I don’t think that’s really a hot item here in Jacksonville, Florida. I’ll think about a band and think “Oh, I would love to work with them.” Then we talk to their agent and find out they haven’t played in Jacksonville in ten years. That’s probably not a good show to book.

In true music hall fashion, you guys book all different genres of music. Do you have a limit as to what you are willing to book, or is everything fair game?

Nope, that’s been our philosophy since we opened. We say yes to everything. Our rule is – if it sells tickets and brings heads to the door, we’ll book the band. We’ve booked Gospel and church events. We’ve done graduation parties, weddings, and corporate events. Those are always fun. I have yet to book a polka band, by the way. So, if you know of a polka band that sells, let me know.

I don’t know if I know of a single polka band.

Yea, me either. But I’m sure the German beer would flow steadily that night.

The music hall also supports local artists, both through live painting and, as evidenced, by the pieces covering virtually every wall. How do you select the artists whose murals are throughout the facility?

They’re all by different people. They approach us and give us kind of a conceptual idea and we give them our feedback. I would never tell someone what to paint but we’ll definitely give direction as to what we like and what would go best in the venue. Really, I don’t think I’ve had to critique too much for any of them. Everyone has come to us with awesome concepts.

What your favorite show that 1904 Music Hall has hosted thus far?

Man, there’s been so many good ones. As of recent, like, top five, is definitely that Big Boi show we had. That was amazing. The John 5 show was super awesome. The Nth Power for New Year’s Eve was amazing. We had Richie Ramone here last year. That was great, having a member of The Ramones here. We’re about to have Strung Out, which is one of my personal favorite punk bands, on September 2nd. We also had The Floozies here, before they blew up. Lettuce and Snarky Puppy have also put on some amazing shows here.

It’s fun to watch a band transform throughout the years.

Yea, absolutely. I mean, The Fritz played quite a few years ago and there were maybe twenty people here. Now they’re back for an almost sold out show.

I’ve been coming to 1904 Music Hall for years now and have really enjoyed watching its transformation. Was Spliff’s part of your original idea, or did you just see an opportunity and run with it?

Well, the space over there was definitely part of the initial idea. When we first opened, we worked with what we could afford. We had the two bays and the plan was to eventually tear the walls down and have one big space. And then, after a year of being open, we started thinking a little bit more about what we were gonna do with the space next door. The subject of the liquor license came up. Adding the restaurant component would allow us to get a full liquor license. But, it was definitely a big challenge, building a restaurant from scratch. It was an office space. It was drywall and carpet, that’s basically it.

Oh wow. So, you guys did the whole kitchen buildout?

Yea, we had to build the kitchen entirely. We gutted everything. I had to dig a 40 foot trench for the kegerator. When we finally got it all done, the next goal was to make sure it was a really good restaurant with quality food. That’s where Chef Cassie came in. She was a big part of that. So, to get a liquor license, you have to have more food sales than alcohol. Once we got everything in line with that, it was time to combine it all together.

I’ve seen a post or two about an upcoming project. Can you give us any hints as to what this is all about?

Yea, it’s gonna be another bar/venue/restaurant, over in the San Marco area. 2019 is when we’ll be coming out with that. It’s definitely gonna be smaller than what we’ve got going on here. It’s kind of like a miniature version of what we’re doing now.

It seems that you devote a great deal of your time to this business. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I have an amazing wife and a little French Bulldog. I love hanging out with them. That’s what I like to do most in my free time. We take him anywhere that will allow a dog. So, I find myself at a lot of breweries. I love craft beer. Plus, it’s great research for my industry – seeing other trends and how other people do things. And then…music. That’s it. If I’m not playing or booking music, I’m watching it. I just saw The Smashing Pumpkins the other night.

Oh yea! How was that?

It was so good. So good. They played all their old school hits. So, Jimmy Chamberlin, the drummer, is back. Everyone’s back together except the bass player. So yea, it was really good.

If you could spend an evening hanging with one artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

James Brown. Definitely James Brown. That’s the hardest working man in show business. He’s an inspiration to me to never stop working. As they say – “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

1904 Music Hall has a packed schedule in the coming months. For a full calendar of events, click here.  

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