Hippodrome’s ‘Basement Sessions’ build support for Gainesville’s arts community

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On a typical night at the Hippodrome, Gainesville’s oldest playhouse, local residents might expect to catch local theater in the heart of the city’s ever-growing downtown area.

But traveling to the Hippodrome got you a different kind of show Thursday night. In fact, the show was so unique that it wasn’t located within the half-century-old building’s main theater. Rather, it was in the basement.

Thursday night saw the latest rendition in the Basement Sessions at the Hippodrome. Since January, the theater has presented a monthly show in the basement. There, attendees can take in live music, art, drinks, collaborative discussions and markets. Thursday was the fifth session since August, with a full lineup of live performers and local vendors from the area with which visitors could interact.

While the sessions have been a success for the theater itself, its impact expands into the local arts community. Le-Alem Getachew, a marketing and events associate at the Hippodrome, is responsible for organizing and executing the sessions. As a supporter of the local arts, she looks at these events as way to expand audiences.

Guests sit and listen to performers at the Hippodrome’s Basement Sessions on Thursday. (Sam Petosa/WUFT News)

“Basement Sessions is a way for local artists to merge audiences,” she said.

There are various types of audiences attending the different Basement Sessions. For one, there are supporters of local music attending to see their favorite performers. There are more arts on hand than just music. While guests in attendance can take in the live music, they also interact with local jewelers, artists and even poets. Additionally, there’s vintage clothing available to purchase.

With many forms of art to offer, the Basement Sessions attract a wide range of individuals looking to engage within the local arts community. According to Getachew, this is purposeful, as the sessions aim to immerse the community in different areas of local arts.

“(The Basement Sessions) are a way for the community to experience different mediums of art and to meet interesting and talented people,” she said.

Among the interesting and talented people one might meet at the Basement Sessions is Kyndall Baker. Baker, a Gainesville native, founded her own artwork brand — Ms. B’s — in 2016. Since 2021, she has been traveling to markets around the area to sell her canvases. In February, she attended the Black History Month edition of the Basement Sessions.

Baker had nothing but positives to say of February’s session, citing the poetry as her favorite part of the event. She said she plans to return for future sessions.

“Definitely,” she said. “The performances and the energy in here are really awesome.”

Baker supports the effort along with a variety of individuals and groups contributing to the local arts community. Headlining these individuals is the performers who play tunes for visitors in attendance. For Thursday’s show, there were four local headlining bands: Suddenly, Bambii Lamb, The Real You and Rugh.

Locally-based duet Suddenly performs at Thursday’s Basement Sessions. (Sam Petosa/WUFT News)

The first, Suddenly, kicked off the night playing an acoustic duet of original songs with echoes of guitar strings bouncing off the stone-clad basement walls. As the venue began to fill up with fans looking to support local artists, the music only intensified. Bambii Lamb matched the acoustic guitar of Suddenly with a ukulele of their own. The Real You brought the heart-throbbing pop punk sound of the 90s while “Rugh” capped the night off with anxiety-driven pop rock.

Kyle Lillard is a member of “The Real You,” a locally based, pop punk rock band emulating the sound of bands such as Nirvana. Lillard cites the band had never played at the Basement Sessions before. But, based on what he had heard, the band member was anticipating a good show.

“I know our bass player did a DJ set here a couple days ago that went really well,” he said. “We’re excited.”

Visitors filed in and out of the basement all night to hear local bands such as The Real You. Beginning at 7 p.m., guests were allowed to enter the venue for $8. However, as capacity increased as the night went on, so did the price of entry, fluctuating to $15. All ticket sales from the event were split among the performers.

Thursday’s session saw returning guests from February and January’s events. That said, many visitors attended their first Basement Session Thursday night. Among them was Josh Sanchez, a Gainesville native who first heard of the sessions from co-workers. While Thursday was his first event, the fan of local music will be returning, he says. It didn’t take him long to see what this event does for the community.

“I think it’s pretty good,” he said. “Small little local crowd where everyone knows everyone.”

While three Basement Sessions have now transpired, there are still more opportunities to get involved as the Hippodrome’s 50th anniversary approaches. There are two remaining sessions on the schedule, with events booked for April 13 and May 18, according to the theater’s website. To inquire about being a vendor or performer at an upcoming show, email Getachew at marketingassociate@thehip.org.

With more opportunities left, vendors and performers are flocking back to the Hippodrome. Milena Tillman, a local jeweler, owns Custom Reality L.L.C., which specializes in crochet, handmade jewelry and upcycled fashion. After attending a prior session, she returned Thursday and plans on selling her products at future sessions. Tillman, like other artists in attendance, sees the Basement Sessions as an opportunity to support the local arts community.

“It’s really empowering to see young minds in art being expressed in the local area,” she said. “I think it’s really important, so I appreciate being able to support that effort.”

Gainesville’s oldest playhouse, the Hippodrome, celebrates its 50th anniversary in April. (Sam Petosa/WUFT News)

About Sam Petosa

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

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