It’s hard to believe when you look at it now, but after Hurricane Ivan came through in 2004, Downtown Pensacola didn’t have much of a draw. There were a couple of bars and restaurants, including the venerable Seville Quarter, but if there wasn’t an event at the Saenger Theatre or a special occasion such as Mardi Gras, then Downtown — especially after business hours — was something of a ghost town.
That gradually started to change as new restaurants and nightclubs started to take a chance along Palafox Street, and by 2010, the district was really starting to buzz as an entertainment district when Vinyl Music Hall entered the scene and cemented downtown as a lasting entertainment destination.
Since then, Vinyl has become the beating heart of the Downtown Pensacola entertainment district, anchoring Palafox at the epicenter of the city, the intersection of Palafox and Garden Street. And that heartbeat is, by and large, driven by live music.
The space which now houses Vinyl Music Hall at 2 Palafox Place was originally the historic Masonic Lodge, and its stone seal can still be spied atop the building, above the venue’s neon-lit marquee. Extensive work went into remodeling and retrofitting the building to turn it into what has become a nationally-recognized concert hall that has attracted thousands of top performers over the past nine years. Artists love the incredible sound and light systems, the classic rock-club vibe and the Southern hospitality, with a state-of-the-art green room for their comfort and the allure of downtown’s many restaurants and shops. It’s not uncommon to see performers wandering the downtown streets on a concert day as their fans line up around the block to wait to be admitted.
Initially, Vinyl offered space for 525 concertgoers, and during that time, packed the house for such diverse acts as alternative band Fitz & the Tantrums, funk icon George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, hip-hop hero Big Boi, EDM favorite Diplo, reggae legends the Wailers, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, viral video sensations Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and outlaw country star Jamey Johnson.
But despite the name, Vinyl Music Hall has never been ONLY about live music. Stand-up comics have frequently appeared at the venue, including such famous names as Gallagher, Pauly Shore, Brian Posehn, Doug Benson, Todd Berry and Jimmie “J.J.” Walker. Vinyl has also become a regular stop for several burlesque troupes including the Suicide Girls, Pretty Things Peepshow and Big Deal Burlesque. Vinyl is also well known for theme parties such as its annual Harry Potter-themed Yule Ball and for movie nights including screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” complete with live cast and audience participation. Vinyl is also available as a rental space and has hosted everything from Mardi Gras balls and private concerts to political rallies and awards galas.
In 2018, Vinyl Music Hall closed for a few months to undergo a remodel that has expanded its capacity to 850 attendees with the addition of a new mezzanine wrapping around two sides of the main concert space. With the expanded capacity has come the ability to book larger draws, and acts that have sold out the venue since it re-opened in September include dance-punk duo Matt & Kim, bluesy Southern rockers J.J. Grey & Mofro, country sensation Tyler Childers and Celtic punk favorites Dropkick Murphys.
The expanded viewing capacity also led to Vinyl’s first foray into live theatre with a history-making run of “Evil Dead: The Musical” in January. Three stars of the original film upon which the comedic horror musical is based, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly and Ellen Sandweiss, were guests for the production, and in addition to meeting fans and signing autographs, each appeared in a cameo role in the show on closing night, the first time any of the stars of the film had appeared in a production of the musical.
Vinyl’s remodel also included the installation of a sophisticated and eye-catching new system for serving alcohol at the bar. Rather than bartenders having to rummage around for the correct bottle, bottles of the various premium liquor brands the bar uses are placed into a unique dispenser system along the back wall, connected to guns at each bartender’s station, so to dispense the alcohol, they simply press a button, much like a soda fountain. It makes for an impressive display as well as more efficient service, so you can quickly get your drink and get back to the action on-stage.
Vinyl Music Hall is always booking exciting acts. Check www.vinylmusichall.com for the latest. Here is a list of Summer performances:
• June 2: Mickey Avalon and Dirt Nasty
• June 18: Helzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue
• June 20: Citizen Cope
• June 29: Cowboy Mouth
• July 16: Built to Spill
• Aug. 1: Corey Smith
• Aug. 16: Drivin N’ Cryin
• Sept. 11: Agent Orange
• Sept. 18: The Growlers
• Oct. 11: David Allan Coe