Josh Florence Talks About Homegrown Festival, Super Moons, the Night City Tavern Was On Fire
Josh Florence has a DOMA nomination or two under his belt, and was part of the team that made Homegrown Festival such a great success again this year. Further, he's an owner of prominent music spots Dada (reopened two years this January) and City Tavern. Florence tends to be an enthusiastic force for a lot of local artists, and it makes all the difference in his venues.
You're such a music guy, so I have to ask. Do you own or play any instruments yourself? Have you ever?
I own pretty much everything but a bass at the house. I know just enough to get a few beers in me and think I can play. I try not to do it in public very often. I'm meant to be behind the scenes.
OK, so let's jump to Josh behind the scenes, to the first time running a bar. What was the very first joint for you?
My first industry job was at Hula Hut in Austin and it was a BLAST. I loved the idea that people come to where I work when they're off work to have fun. I love the community a bar like City Tavern has as well. It's a place where you go and talk about life, politics, problems, success, receive support, give support. It's just overall something I truly feel plays an important role in our world. It's more than just a place to tie one on and try to meet the pretty girl in the corner. It's a family. That vibe was and is intoxicating to me. So when City Tavern was on the market and I was in a position to buy it, there was not much of a decision to make. Before I bought it, there wasn't live music.That was a no-brainer. I'd been going to see shows since I could drive, so the idea of having live shows at my own bar was a dream come true.
What happened to you as a kid to transform into who you are? A song, a band, a live show, maybe?
I was adopted as an infant so I pretty much feel like my whole life I've been playing with house money. I was fortunate to grow up with awesome parents who taught me to love hard and work hard. I feel like I do both pretty well. They also helped instill a confidence and comfort in taking risks, and anybody who's been in the bar, music or music festival business knows it's full of risks. My music consciousness didn't come along until I was about 15 and a buddy of mine, Sean Smith, started introducing me to The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Guess Who, The Who and all kinds of good old rock and roll. I still enjoy discovering artists that are new to me. I just bought The Essential Miles Davis a couple of weeks ago. It changed my life.
Speaking of best-of compilations, how about classic moments at Dada and City Tavern?
At CT, we used to do a series on Wednesday nights called Home Sessions, that was like a listening room vibe. It was acoustic bands, we recorded the shows and enforced a "keep your mouth shut" policy with those in attendance. Telegraph Canyon was playing one night and Chris Johnson unplugged his guitar and walked into the crowd, who circled around him as he began to sing and play while being accompanied by a violinist. The acoustics in the room were perfect for what was going on. I wasn't the only one with goosebumps.
Then there was the night this summer when we had a small fire on the roof caused by the A/C. Meanwhile, King Tuff and Natural Child were playing that night to about 125 people. When the DFD got there, the show was going nuts upstairs and I was on the roof with a fire extinguisher and a water hose praying that the fire wasn't going to get any bigger and cause real damage. The DFD stopped the show and put out the fire, then checked everything to make sure we were safe. They were only there for a little over an hour. The ENTIRE crowd waited outside on the sidewalk drinking beer. The firemen left to an ovation from the crowd. Everybody went back up and continued the rock show. It was freaking rad.
Nice. And at Dada?
At Dada, in March of 2011, there was a "Super Moon," and if I remember correctly, it was the closest the Earth had been to the moon in decades or something. The weather was perfect, in the low '70s with skies clear and the moon was HUGE right above the backyard stage. We had Toro Y Moi and Ishi play that night. The vibe was unreal. Super cool. I'll never forget that night. I love the shows in the backyard at Dada. And, one of the craziest things I've seen at Dada was the night Here We Go Magic played in 2011. It was a spring night and there was a classic Texas thunderstorm that knocked the power out. Those guys were so cool and just unplugged, lit some candles and kept on playing. It was an awesome vibe and show to remember.
How many local artists that you're crazy about can you name before you completely run out of steam? Go.
This is a fun question because there are a TON of local bands that I love. Tripping Daisy is probably my all-time favorite local band. Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb might be my favorite by a local band too. Also, Old 97's, Adam's Farm, Toadies, Hagfish, Spot, Funland, Centro-matic, Baboon, El GATO!!, Hi Fi Drowning, The O's, I Love Math, Somebody's Darling, Grant Jones & the Pistol Grip Lassos, Greg Schroeder, Madison King, Ishi, Gallery Cat, Seryn, Sarah Jaffe, Eleven Hundred Springs, Lonestar Trio, SpeedTrucker, Backsliders, RTB2, Slow Burners, King Bucks, Analog Rebellion, Sir Name & the Janes, Binary Sunrise, Burning Hotels, The Orbans, Beaten Sea, Fox and the Bird, Telegraph Canyon, Slobberbone, Larry gEE, The Mohicans and probably a ton more I'm forgetting.
Especially cool local shows other than ones at your joints?
One of my favorite local shows happened in 1995-ish in the Arts District. It was my first really cool outdoor festival to go to. Tripping Daisy, Spot and Funland played. I think Better Than Ezra was on the bill too. I just remember sitting on the lawn on a beautiful Texas day, watching the girls walk by and listening to awesome bands. It was right up my alley. I love outdoor live music to this day, hence Homegrown. Oh, and there was the time I saw Nirvana at Trees with the other 50,000 people that were "there."
Speaking of Homegrown, congrats on a really great day. What are some other irons you have in the fire?
I've got a pretty small group that helps me with planning Homegrown: John Solis, Phil Coward and Amy Jones. So that really gets most of my attention. I do like to help out with anything I can though. I've helped Downtown Dallas, Inc. and some other downtown groups put a few things together in the past. I tried to start a record label/management company a few years ago called Round One Records and helped some bands fund tours and records, like Grant Jones, Greg Schroeder, The O's. You should check out Greg Schroeder's self-titled record on iTunes or you can pick one up at CT. It really is awesome though. Couldn't resist the chance to plug it!
So, is one club tougher than the other to fill?
It's a lot harder to get 400 people to a show at Dada than it is to get 100 to one at CT. There's been a learning curve for sure. But we've got some exciting announcements coming up soon that I can't wait to let out of the bag. I'm proud to be a part of such a historic place, plus I get to hear Beard stories on a weekly basis.