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A community of modern-day garage bands thrives at a local Gainesville warehouse

Deb Fetzer, a 60-year-old punk musician, stands in MiniMaxi bay 37. She’s owned this practice space for over 10 years and allows other local bands to utilize the intimate practice space. (Averi Kremposky/WUFT News)
Deb Fetzer, a 60-year-old punk musician, stands in MiniMaxi bay 37. She’s owned this practice space for over 10 years and allows other local bands to utilize the intimate practice space. (Averi Kremposky/WUFT News)

The greatest underdog story in Gainesville doesn’t take place on the football field. It takes place at a modest Gainesville storage warehouse — where guitars alone wipe the floor with boxes and knickknacks. 

Walking the narrow alley of more than 30 storage units at the MiniMaxi Warehouse, the likelihood of finding a unit that’s being used for actual storage is low. Instead of family heirlooms and old mattresses, the facility teems with rockstars like Adam Cooper, a 37-year-old sound engineer who’s been practicing at the MiniMaxi since 2006.

“I think there’s like four or five units that are people actually using them as a warehouse for stuff,” Cooper said.

Located at 2150 NE 31st Ave. near Gainesville Regional Airport, the facility sits dormant during the day as cars occasionally roll through. When daylight becomes sparse, the warehouse becomes a sanctuary for dozens of local artists. It’s reminiscent of the rock ‘n’ roll garage bands that exploded in the mid-1960s, except those garages are now arranged in neat, tidy lines. 

Their mission remains the same — play loud and play fierce. The allure of the MiniMaxi Warehouse, Cooper said,  is that nobody can tell them to stop. 

Cooper’s atmospheric black metal band, Vorn, is dependent on the ability to release an untamed sound. As an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, their sometimes 14-minute songs are characterized by shrieking vocals, distorted instrumentals and a guaranteed noise complaint.  

The MiniMaxi shoulders that commotion with ease.

“When you get a spot in there, you do your best to hang on to it because you can’t really practice anywhere else in storage units,” Cooper said. “It’s kind of frowned upon.”

The MiniMaxi warehouse is one of the last storage facilities in Gainesville that allows bands to transform their units into practice spaces. This rare approval coupled with access to electricity has created a unique stomping ground where community runs deep. 

This community is what keeps the local scene afloat and diversifies Gainesville’s sound. Oftentimes, friends from MiniMaxi will play shows together despite being opposite genres. 

On any given night at the warehouse, music can enter the ear from all directions. Bands seal themselves in ornamented rental spaces and put their amplifiers into overdrive. They lash at their drums and pluck their bass guitars until their ears ring — then they come out to breathe. 

Clad in the rock uniform of skinny jeans and faded tee cut by hand, 60-year-old musician Debra Fetzer has played in Gainesville bands since the 1980s. Even though she currently fronts the punk band Piss Test, she’s bounced between 11 different bands throughout her career. 

Storage facilities have historically been a place to practice, according to Fetzer, but never on this level. In decades past, practicing in a storage bay was taboo if not completely unauthorized.

“Back in the ‘80s and even into the ‘90s, you couldn’t really say you were in a band because it was a storage unit,” she said. “Now it’s a legit place.”

The MiniMaxi Warehouse charges bands an additional fee for practicing there, but the musicians understand, they said — they use a lot of electricity. 

Fetzer has owned bay 37 at the MiniMaxi storage unit for more than 10 years. While she uses the garage for her own practices, she also extends the space to other bands in the area. The revolving practice schedule is organized by a whiteboard fastened among a sea of other quirky adornments. 

The atmosphere in Fetzer’s unit feels like a combination of home and history. The string lights racing between the four walls cast a welcoming warm haze even after the sun goes down. The old show fliers elegantly assembled read like a timeline of Fetzer’s whereabouts and the snappy rock ‘n’ roll posters bolster the artistic attitude alive at the MiniMaxi, such as the reminder to “rock” — not shake — a baby. 

The real reason the MiniMaxi serves as the gem of local practice spaces is not because of one unit alone. It’s the combination of them all. 

Though there’s no roof over the MiniMaxi Warehouse, dozens of artists gather under the same metaphorical roof each night. When they finally hoist the garage doors open to attune their ears back to reality, it’s common to find artists of different genres conversing over a beer. 

“If you busted a string or lost a part, you can go over and ask somebody if you can borrow one — somebody will help you out,” Fetzer said. 

Michelle Nuñez, a drummer who’s practiced with multiple bands at the MiniMaxi for six years, said the storage facility a few years ago was like magic — especially on the nights where everyone kept their doors open. 

“It was almost like a musical block party. Every single room was just busy and poppin’ with different styles  — you’d be in and out of every room and everybody was so cool about it.” Nuñez said. 

The MiniMaxi Warehouse owner has implemented some new rules for the bands since then such as requiring bands to keep their units closed while practicing. 

Rules aside, The MiniMaxi stands as one of the last places in Gainesville where rock can prevail through the late hours of the night. Where ordinary storage units keep things hidden under a keylock, the MiniMaxi is a breeding ground of talent meant to be shared with the community. 

For some musicians, long nights at the MiniMaxi are an unrivaled aspect of Gainesville’s local music scene.

“For me, being out here on a Friday night with my band — and with other people being out here — it’s almost more fulfilling and fun than even playing shows,” Fetzer said.

Averi is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.