Review and photos: Jannus Live opens, and St. Petersburg celebrates
The restrooms smelled like wet paint. A few nails and sawdust were sprinkled in one corner of the VIP level. The stage was topped by a temporary roof. And by closing time, nearly everyone was soaking wet.
But at the end of the night, none of that mattered. What the people of St. Petersburg will remember about Thursday night was this: Jannus Live was finally open for business.
After more than five months in the dark, the venue formerly known as Jannus Landing reopened with a concert by local artists Greg Billings Band, Tom Gribbin and the Saltwater Band and Gale Trippsmith and Tracy LaBarbera. Still to come: Concerts by .38 Special on Friday and Gretchen Wilson on Saturday.
But as it was described to me, Thursday's kickoff event was 40 percent about the music and 60 percent about the party. With the Festival of States parade passing right outside and the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on deck for the weekend, St. Pete was in the mood to celebrate. At least 2,400 tickets were printed for Thursday's free show, and most were handed out. (Not everyone with a ticket showed up, apparently, but there were hundreds of people on hand, including local notables like Mayor Bill Foster and bon vivant Sterling Powell.)
Based on all the chatter I heard Thursday, the place is going to be a hit.
One guy told me it felt like something out of a much bigger city. Another, a native New Yorker, said he'd never seen a venue like it. Another said she wanted to hate it, but after seeing it in person, she was in love.
It's hard to disagree. The Jannus courtyard is a unique concert setting, and new owners Jeff Knight and Bill Edwards have worked hard to make it reach its full potential. With nine bars around the courtyard, attendants in the brand-new indoor restrooms, burly bodyguards lining the VIP area and statuesque hostesses in miniskirts at the gate, Jannus Live on Thursday looked as new as it ever will.
It's very clean, and with its brightly painted walls and blue and pink spotlights -- not to mention the plastic-topped koi pond patio -- it's definitely not the same old scuzzy Jannus Landing, and it's different from almost any other venue I can think of. It feels like something you might see in Downtown Disney or Universal CityWalk. You know the outdoor stage on Jimmy Kimmel Live? It feels a little like that.
The courtyard feels bigger and more open, with smoothed-out floors and a much higher canopy. Sight lines are improved from every corner, and there is very little wasted space. You can hang out in the back, near what used to be the Tamiami, and still have a great view of the stage, sipping a drink from the large permanent bar.
The VIP areas near the top were packed pretty tight all night, and they, too, had good views of the stage. When the rains came late in the evening, people could retreat inside the sleek private suites, which resembled those at any sporting arena, to watch basketball or hockey on flat-screen TVs.
The hardcore music fans who've been complaining about the Jannus Live upgrades (without seeing them first, I might add) need to go there and see the new venue for themselves. Gretchen Wilson and .38 Special may not be your cup of tea, but eventually, Jannus Live will book something that is -- and when that happens, you might be surprised to find you like the larger, cleaner, brighter, more comfortable version.
To me, the element that might need the most work is the koi pond. The massive orange and white fish looked cool, if a bit listless, and you can't resist hovering above them. But the backlit plastic floor was largely fogged up, and it got extremely slippery when it rained. Keep that in mind if it sprinkles this weekend.
Finally, yes, there was music Thursday night at Jannus Live. Greg Billings and his band played to the crowd with a mix of originals and high-energy covers, and they were onstage for the evening's surprise highlight: An appearance by Dave Mason, the founding singer of Traffic, who sang his 1968 hit Feelin' Alright. Gribbin and the Saltwater Band dished out a mean set of funk, blues and rock.
Will crowds get the full Jannus Live experience Friday or Saturday night? No. That'll come in a month, when the venue is finished and live concerts start up again.
But they won't mind. If they're anything like the crowd that was at Jannus Live Thursday night, they'll just be glad the heart of Central Avenue's nightlife scene is beating once again.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos: Lara Cerri, tbt*.