JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A 100-year casket factory is expected to one day be home to a museum showcasing Jacksonville’s rich musical history, which, as monumental as that band was, is way more than just Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The Jacksonville Historical Society is planning a music museum at the old Florida Casket Co. at 318 Palmetto St. near the city’s sports complex.
There’s no name for it yet, but the group plans to make it a home for musical performances as well as artifacts and displays on Northeast Florida music.
“We’re really, really excited about it, and the cool thing, when I talk to people, they’re excited too,” said Allison DeFoor, an Episcopal priest who’s one of a 14-member task force working on the plan. “The reaction is always the same — their eyes light up and they smile.”
Jacksonville’s strong connection to Southern rock — Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, .38 Special, Molly Hatchet and others — was an early impetus for the museum, he said.
But there’s so much more than that, DeFoor said. ’“It leads inexorably back to the roots, and the roots are in East Jacksonville and LaVilla, and that ties you into James Weldon Johnson, it ties you into the Harlem Renaissance, all the African-American blues and jazz talent that was here.”
Plans call for the museum to showcase music of all eras, up to the present-day.
“There’s a really deep legacy here,” DeFoor said. “This is our little modest attempt to begin mining that vein.”
It’s a good idea to go beyond Southern rock, as influential as that is, said Michael Ray FitzGerald, author of “Swamp Music,” a detailed look at the wide range of music that’s come out of Northeast Florida. He’s also working on a planned documentary on Southern rock.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “There are more than 100 signed acts out of Jacksonville, and from every genre you could think of, just about.”
Task-force member Charles “Chip” Storey, a consultant to for-profit and nonprofit companies, sees the museum becoming a tourist draw as well as a reminder to residents of the city’s music history.
“It’ll hopefully be a new anchor for a Jacksonville identity, something that locals as well as those visiting can appreciate, something that really powers the notion of Southern music,” he said.
The Historical Society’s senior archivist, Mitch Hemann, who is a musician, is recording a performance at the casket factory to kick off the museum launch. It’s called “Please Call Home: The Music of the Allman Brothers and the Birth of Southern Rock,” and recently went on the historical society’s Youtube page.
Members of what would become the Allman Brothers performed throughout Jacksonville, and the first rehearsal as a group took place in Riverside, where a state historical marker was put up last year at 2844 Riverside Ave., 50 years later.
DeFoor was on the board of the Florida Museum in Tallahassee when it had a Florida rock exhibit that was a big success. He expects similar results in Jacksonville.
“I can smell a winner, and I’m smelling a winner here,” he said. “This isn’t a blue blood and blue hairs deal — people love it. I literally have not even mentioned this to one person who hasn’t twinkled and smiled.”
The historical society hopes that locals will come up with artifacts from the various bands that formed or had history in Jacksonville. They will then become part of the exhibit. It’s asking people to contact the society at (904) 665-0064 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There are people here who went to school with Ronnie Van Zant [founder of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band] or knew Gregg and Duane Allman when they lived here for a brief time in early 1969 and established the Allman Brothers Band,” the historical society’s chief executive officer, Alan Bliss, said in a press release.
There should be no shortage of items coming in once the museum is launched, he said.