Live Entertainment Venues in Jacksonville, FL
Originally opened in 1927, the Florida Theatre is Jacksonville last remaining example of the era’s “fantasy” architecture, soaked in the lavish Mediterranean Revival style that defined the building boom of the Roaring ‘20s. Designed for both movies and live performances, the theatre features a six-story-high proscenium arch, exceptional acoustics and near-perfect sightlines for each of the theatre’s 1,900 seats. The rooftop garden that once hosted starlit parties is gone. But the indoor replica of a Moorish courtyard complete with grand balconies and fountains beneath a starry sky remains.
The Florida Theatre holds the enviable distinction as the site of one of Elvis Presley’s first headline concert appearances – and the dubious distinction a juvenile judge’s chaperoning of the performance to make sure Presley kept his pelvis in moral check. Today the theatre continues to host concerts, stage plays, films and variety shows.
If you’re a classic Southern Rock kind of gal, you’ll immediately appreciate this venue’s name. Freebird Live, located just a block from the Atlantic Ocean, is indeed named for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most famous tune. In fact the facility honoring Jacksonville’s native sons is owned and operated by Judy Van Zant, widow of founding member and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, and is known as “ground zero of the Lynyrd Skynrd legacy.”
The two-story music venue has built a solid reputation as one of the nation’s premiere smaller live music venues. It holds 700 concert-goers and features an acoustically designed stage, dance floor, two full bars and a wrap-around interior and exterior balcony. It has been instrumental in launching the careers of other home-grown bands including Limp Bizkit, Shinedown and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
The horsey set were stoked when news broke of the Jacksonville Equestrian center. Opening in 2004, the multi-purpose indoor/outdoor complex features top-of-the-line equestrian facilities that rival those in any major market. High-dollar hunter jumper competitions, pro and amateur rodeos and 4H youth horse shows happen there. So do portions of the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair and Mudfest, a family mud racing event to benefit the Boselli Foundation.
The center features one indoor arena, two outdoor arenas, 422 permanent stalls, and high quality lighting and sound systems. It’s available for rent for large events and is open to individual riders most days. Just be sure to have proof of your horse’s coggings on hand or you and your horse will be escorted out.
Situated on the edge of the picturesque St. Johns River and backed by a downtown skyline, Metropolitan Park (known locally as Metro Park) is Jacksonville’s premier outdoor live events venue. The 27-acre facility features a 2,400-square-foot reversible stage with greenroom and production office, dressing room trailers, plus generous seating beneath a massive canopy.
Surrounding the stage are covered picnic shelters, a children’s play area and a 78-slip public marina with full boat docking facilities. Locals bring their boats to right up to the park’s edge for a variety of annual and special events including major music concerts, the annual World of Nations Celebration and Starry Nights, the annual outdoor concert series of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.
The Ritz Theatre and Museum is one of Jacksonville’s richest African American historical sites. The centerpiece of the LaVilla district, known as the “Harlem of the South,” the Ritz originally was built in 1929 as a movie house and concert venue. Over the years, it became an important stop on the “Chitlin Circuit,” a string of southern and eastern performance venues that were safe for African-American entertainers to perform throughout the Jim Crow era.
In 1990, following a decades-long decline, the Ritz was rebuilt on the same site, with its original façade impeccably preserved, and today is considered one of Jacksonville’s premiere cultural institutions showcasing African American art, music, drama, poetry, dance, etc. The Ritz’ 402-seat auditorium and Art Deco-styled lobby are regularly rented out for local events.