Writer: Amber Green
Freebird Live is ending its 16-year-long journey of showcasing music acts for the city of Jacksonville. The venue was opened in 1999 as Freebird Café, a restaurant and bar, by owners Judy Van Zant-Jenness and her daughter Melody Van Zant. A few years later it became what we know it as today, Freebird Live, a music venue across from the ocean intimately designed for music lovers. According to current full owner Melody Van Zant, Freebird Live’s final music performance will be held on January 20, and the building will be officially closed on January 28.
The music artists slated for the final show at Freebird Live is Galactic. The New Orleans style funk band has played at the venue for the last 12+ years in the month of January, and was eager for the opportunity to play the venue’s final encore. “We’re going to try to do the last week, one big act from different genres of music, so that everybody kind of gets their last show at the Freebird, “ Melody said t-shirts will be made to commemorate the last week and some other activities for locals to celebrate the life of the venue.
Why would such a seemingly successful and locally treasured music venue cut ties with the city? “It’s a hard thing for me just to let it go. Its almost like a divorce, cause its been most of my adult life,” Melody said, “I know people are sad, people are mad, and I hate that about it, it tears me up”. She explained that even with the “amazing staff” she has had, especially general manager Bradley Churchman, her “rock”, the business was just as demanding as it could be fun. As a very involved owner, she says the music venue lifestyle has just taken a toll over these last 16 years and as a mother of a son and a now 15-year-old daughter she wants to change her focus in life.
“My new motto is I want to make an impact instead of an impression,” Freebird owner Melody said she’s always been interested in helping others. She will remain involved with music through her work with music festivals like Magnolia Fest and Spring Fest as the artist hospitality organizer but plans to be more active in volunteering in the community. “Ultimately I would like to event coordinate for a non-profit,” Melody said her daughter is a type-1 diabetic and has influenced Melody to become more involved with Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation recently.
“I was kind of hoping that somebody was just going to buy the Freebird from me and the name,” Melody said, “I made the decision when I decided to sell that it didn’t matter what went in after to me, I just knew that this was something that I needed to do for myself”.
The property will be leased to Surfer the Bar, a retail store combined with a bar and restaurant, which currently only has one other location in Kahuku, Hawaii. The new spot is an affiliate of the surfing journalism pioneer Surfer magazine and the company’s spokeswoman told Jacksonville.com that there would be less emphasis on music at the Jacksonville Beach addition. “It’ll be much more touristy [sic] at the beach, which is what City Hall and City Counsel want anyway,” Melody says she thinks the idea for the spot could do well based on its acclaim as such a well known brand.
A few years into the future and Jacksonville Beach residents will feel as if one day the ocean tide just swept away their local treasured venue. However, whether it be the time Willie Nelson hit the stage or the times local band Inspection 12 captivated the young beaches punk scene, the legacy and the memories held by Freebird patrons and employees will always remain a big part of the Jacksonville Beach culture.