Heartwood Soundstage Newest Downtown Gem

Four men with musical ties to Gainesville are collaborating on the state-of-the-art studio that will celebrate its grand opening on Saturday by hosting the Heartwood Music Festival in the South Main art district.

From left, Paul Pavelka, Hoch Shitama and Bob McPeek inside the Heartwood Soundstage. (Photos by Gainesville Downtown)

In the early 1980s, Bob McPeek first had the idea of turning a fledgling music studio off South Main Street in Gainesville into a performance stage, where fans could watch their favorite musicians and bands in a high-quality audio/video environment.

In the meantime, McPeek’s Mirror Image Studios served its purpose as strictly a recording studio. Its most notable client was Less Than Jake, who recorded their Pezcore, Hello Rockview and Losing Streak albums there during the 1990s.

This week, however, McPeek’s original vision will finally be realized when his old studio reopens as the Heartwood Soundstage at 619 S. Main St., in the Historic Baird Center. The 140-seat studio, with all the modern bells and whistles, is expected to be a draw for all types of musical acts.

“This is kind of the seventh iteration of Mirror Image,” McPeek said. “Each one has gotten better. This one is going to be really, really different.”

The soundstage will open with great fanfare on Saturday when 24 acts perform indoors and on a temporary outdoor stage over a 12-hour period during the inaugural Heartwood Music Festival. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students with ID). Children 12 and under are free. A dollar from each ticket sold benefits the nonprofit Future Music Makers.

The event, sponsored by Springbok Booking and Swamp Records, begins at 12:30 p.m. with a performance by the jazz/folk sextet Wax Wings on the outdoor stage. The festival concludes after the electronica duo of Bells and Robes plays on the same stage beginning at 11:30 p.m. In between will be a who’s who of local talent, including Michael Claytor, Flat Land, Ricky Kendall, The Hard Luck Society and Locochino. (See complete schedule at the end of the article.)

The festival will also include food trucks, craft vendors and art installations. Parking will be available at the adjacent Poole Building off Southeast 2nd Street and in other nearby lots.

The Heartwood Soundstage is a result of the brainstorming of four men — McPeek; Hoch Shitama, president of Akira Wood; Dave Melosh, owner of Medusa Studios; and Paul Pavelka, a sound engineer with experience in Hollywood.

“It’s been such an honor to be part of this,” said Melosh, who has worked with many of the acts that are lined up to perform during the Heartwood Music Festival. “I’m getting 10-15 emails a day from bands looking to book this venue. It’s exciting.”

Earlier this week, the four men were working feverishly to complete the soundstage in time for this weekend’s festivities. McPeek was lying on the floor checking wires beneath the main soundboard as Shitama’s wife, Celeste, read off numbers. Nearby, Shitama and Melosh were discussing other details with Pavelka.

“I don’t think there’s any place like this anywhere else in Gainesville or North Florida,” Shitama said. “We’ll see if we can make a successful venue out of it.”

Paul Pavelka stands in the lounge area. On the other side of the glass is the control room and voice booth.

Pavelka, a stage engineer for Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles, did the acoustic layout of the Heartwood Soundstage, including the speaker system.

Each room in the upgraded studio is designed to double as a recording environment, including the control room, the voice booth, the adjacent lounge and even the office.

“We’re trying to make this like a studio-playback setup but live,” Pavelka said. “The idea is to be able to get a studio-quality recording in a live situation with hi-fidelity. This will be quite a step above a bar-band situation.”

Bob McPeek checks wiring beneath the soundboard.

McPeek, co-founder of the old Hyde and Zeke Records, and Pavelka actually started Mirror Image 40 years ago in McPeek’s home. It was originally known as Earborne Studio. Among other things, the duo worked together on a number of soundtracks for the Hippodrome Theatre.

In the late 1990s, McPeek sold Mirror Image Studios to Kinnon Thomas, who operated it until 2006 and then closed it down. Shitama had an option on the building and purchased it. He hired McPeek to run it.

“Hoch called me up and said ‘I don’t want to tear this place down’,” McPeek said. “He asked me if I’d help turn it into an operation studio. I sort of put everything back together again and made it work.”

Despite living on the west coast, Pavelka quickly got onboard.

“When Hoch got involved, things started to snowball,” Pavelka said. “I just wanted to be part of what they were doing.”

They eventually decided to retire the Mirror Image name and replace it with something more catchy.

“We tried to find a name we could all be happy with,” McPeek said. “Because the dominant theme of what we’re doing is music, the connection between the audience and the musicians is sort of a heart connection. Also, we’ve used a lot of natural hardwood in the construction.”

Shitama’s Akira Wood, a high-end architectural woodworking firm that anchors the Baird Center, did all the construction on the Heartwood Soundstage. The stage’s backdrop includes planks made of red gum heartwood. The double doors leading from a wood deck into the studio are made from cypress.

McPeek and Shitama are also local musicians. McPeek plays guitar for the Relics, a Woodstock-era tribute band, and the Erasables rock band. Shitama is a vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the Shambles, who cover Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac and many other bands.

McPeek said that Heartwood Soundstage will allow musicians to profit off their music through ticket sales.

“It costs very little to be a consumer of music these days,” McPeek said. “That’s great, but not for the music industry. Fortunately they haven’t found a way yet to computerize live performances. It’s still a way for musicians to make money.”

The Heartwood Soundstage shares a parking lot with the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre and is just a short walk from other venues in the SoMa area, including Depot Park.

“It’s known as the South Main arts district, but we’re turning it into a music district,” Melosh said.

— Noel Leroux

Heartwood Music Festival Line-up and Schedule

12:30 pm / Wax Wings / Outside Stage
1:00 pm / Matthew Melosh / Heartwood Stage
1:15 pm / Bears and Lions / Outside Stage
1:45 pm / Danielle DeCosmo / Heartwood Stage
2:00 pm / Endless Pools / Outside Stage
2:30 pm / Sarah Howe- Singer Songwriter / Heartwood Stage
2:45 pm / HEDGES / Outside Stage
3:15 pm / The Hard Luck Society / Heartwood Stage
3:30 pm / Pine / Heartwood Stage
4:00 pm / Hail Cassius Neptune / Outside Stage
4:30 pm / Nicholas Roberts / Heartwood Stage
4:45 pm / Masune / Outside Stage
5:45 pm / Rachel Grubb / Heartwood Stage
6:00 pm / Just Neighbors / Outside Stage
6:45 pm / Lance Howell (Of BIG SHOALS) / Heartwood Stage
7:00 pm / Locochino / Outside Stage
7:45 pm / Michael Claytor & His Friends / Heartwood Stage
8:00 pm / Jordan Burchel / Outside Stage
8:45 pm / Ricky Kendall / Heartwood Stage
9:00 pm / Flat Land / Outside Stage
9:45 pm / Austin Miller / Heartwood Stage
10:00 pm / The Delta Troubadours / Outside Stage
10:45 pm / Matthew Fowler & Max Helgemo / Heartwood Stage
11:00 pm / Levek / Heartwood Stage
11:30 pm / Bells and Robes / Outside Stage

For further info, visit the Heartwood Music Festival page on Facebook.


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